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Olivia's jaw dropped. "Drago? Is that really you?"
It was hard to say which of us was more startled to see him there at our witches' paraphernalia shop, Smuggler's Arcane. Dorothy took a step back. Brian took her hand. Elsie's eyes narrowed. And I stared. I couldn't help it.
So this was Dorothy's infamous father. He looked like a pirate, dressed in tight leather pants and a leather vest over his white cotton shirt. He had a slash of a smile on his lean, tan face, as though he were laughing at us. Tall and thin, his hair was white and cut close to his well-shaped head. His eyes were a shade of brilliant blue.
"I've come to see you, Dorothy," he said. "I think it's about time that we met, don't you?"
As he advanced toward Dorothy, Olivia put her ghostly form between them.
"Oh no. I've worked too hard all these years to keep you away from her. You can't have her, Drago. If you knew what I had to go through to keep her a secret-you'd know you can't just barge in here and take her away."
Drago put his hand right through Olivia to take Dorothy's. "You are so lovely. So like your mother." He glanced at Olivia when she tried to keep herself between them. "At least as lovely as she was when you were born."
"I'm warning you!"
He was a powerful witch. There wasn't much we could do about him being there if he wanted to stay. I was disappointed that our protection spells hadn't held up better. That would have to be the subject of another time.
Drago laughed, puffed out his cheeks and directed a breath of air at Olivia. She was thrown out of the way as surely as if a hurricane had come into the room.
Olivia Dunst was Dorothy's mother. She'd only been dead a short time and was having trouble using her ghost powers to their best effect. She still looked like her old self, if you were looking at her through a glass of water. Fine blond hair framed spritely features that she'd carefully maintained until the day she'd died in her late fifties. Her gray eyes were less well defined since she'd come back as a ghost, but her voice was never in question.
"You stop that right now, Drago Rasmun!" Olivia came back at him without hesitation from the side of the shop that held clothes. "Leave my little girl alone."
The little girl in question was Dorothy Lane, full-time librarian, and now full-time witch as she followed in her parents' footsteps. She'd become a member of our coven last year while we were looking for three witches to replace us, as we were three witches who were ready for retirement in Boca.
That would be me-Molly Renard-Elsie Langston and Olivia at the time. She'd still been alive back then. We'd wanted to give our coven and our spell book to three other witches who would continue the tradition in our hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina. There had been witches from our coven for hundreds of years. It was as important to the area as the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean. Not something to mess around with!
But that was before Olivia was killed and our spell book was stolen. It seemed like such a long time ago. The last year had been a difficult one for us.
And now Dorothy's evil witch father was here. Could anything else go wrong?
"Why don't we let Dorothy decide if she wants to spend time with me?" Drago suggested.
Dorothy, in her twenties, tall like her father and a little plain with her short brown hair and matching eyes, looked a trifle starstruck.
Up until last year, Dorothy had thought she was an orphan. Olivia had given her up at birth to keep her father from finding her. It was a huge sacrifice but one Olivia was willing to make so her little girl wouldn't be ruined by her father, who'd been designated an "outsider" by the Grand Council of Witches. Elsie and I knew nothing about Dorothy. If you knew Olivia, you'd know what a major feat this was for her not to tell us, her best friends.
Olivia had located Dorothy as an adult, and we'd recruited her for our coven. Besides learning the beginning magic most young boys and girls learned when they were starting to walk and talk, Dorothy had also learned about her father. All she'd ever heard about him were stories about his powerful yet evil lineage and magic.
I wasn't privy to the discussion between mother and daughter about how Olivia had allowed herself to be seduced by an evil witch, but I was certain it was interesting.
"I think-" Dorothy paused and shot a glance at Brian, her new boyfriend. "I think I'd like a cup of tea. Really strong tea."
Brian Fuller was a powerful young witch in his own right. He was her exact opposite in that his family was not only magically powerful but also politically so. His grandfather was on the Grand Council and held great sway among witches. Brian was wealthy and careless, and he knew magic that he'd cobbled together since his family had taken almost no interest in him.
Elsie and I were trying to convince him that he should join our coven. He had power but had never learned control. Having Dorothy with us was turning out to be a strong incentive.
He stepped up and took Dorothy's free hand in his and gave it a squeeze before he smiled provocatively at her father. Brian was handsome and sure of himself in a way that comes from too much money and not enough common sense. "Good to meet you, sir. Dorothy and I have been spending a lot of time together. You might know my grandfather-Abdon Fuller-he's on the Grand Council of Witches. And my parents are Schadt and Yuriza Fuller. Fuller is a respected name in the witch community."
Drago's expression was less than welcoming and definitely not impressed. He looked as though he wanted to blow Brian away as he had Olivia. He didn't release Dorothy's other hand, nor did he offer his hand to Brian. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Fuller. I'm afraid I don't know your parents, although your grandfather, Abdon, and I have crossed swords from time to time. I think the last time was during the French Revolution."
Brian would have had to be a moron not to hear the hostility in Drago's voice. Thankfully Brian, with his thick brown hair and lovely blue eyes, was neither a fool nor a moron. He also didn't plan to let Drago take away his girlfriend.
"Maybe it would be better if you left, Drago." His tone was hard on the name. "What's that about anyway? Related to the dragon?"
"Yes." Drago was quick to claim his heritage. "Perhaps it would be better if you left, Mr. Fuller. What's that about-too much in the gut?"
"Why don't we have some tea?" Elsie suggested with a toss of her fading curly red hair. "I think we could all use a cup or two and certainly a time-out. I'll get some water started."
I was relieved when she gestured to the kettle and murmured a spell for hot water. The kettle filled and the hot plate turned red. In short, everything went exactly as it should.
We'd had some problems with our magic the last few years. What had once been simple tasks for our magic had become uncertain mountains of anxiety. Would the magic work or wouldn't it?
Elsie's magic had begun to fade first. She was about twelve years older than Olivia and me. As our magic had begun to fade from simple nonuse, Elsie's magic became even more unpredictable. We were never quite sure what would happen when she muttered a spell.
This was a tricky situation in which not to be absolutely sure about our magic.
Obviously Drago was more powerful than all of us-probably combined. No doubt that was one reason the council had banned him. They tended to be afraid of anything or anyone they couldn't control, just like people without magic.
He could take Dorothy and we couldn't stop him. Even given time to prepare, I wasn't sure if the three of us could fend him off. And I wasn't sure if Dorothy would help us or not. After all, he was her father. For all the stories she'd heard from Olivia about him being evil, there also were the stories of how much Olivia had loved him. It had to be confusing.
Brian released his hold on her hand to allow her to go with her father. He followed behind them with an angry, protective expression on his handsome young face.
And despite all the nightmare stories we'd heard about Drago and his brand of outsider magic, he finally nodded and led Dorothy to the table set in the middle of Smuggler's Arcane. He sat beside her and talked to her in low tones. She giggled a few times.
Olivia seemed ready to burst seeing them together, knowing there was nothing she could do to get rid of him. She'd done everything she could while she was alive, but parents' influence changes once a child becomes an adult.
I was going through the same thing with my son, Mike, who was in college. It wasn't easy to see children grow and begin making their own, sometimes bad decisions.
"Chamomile or green tea?" Elsie asked as I hurried behind the counter to help her.
"Whatever you have on hand is fine," Drago said. "I've come a long way and waited a long time for this moment. It was worth every second."
He turned away to study his daughter again and take her hand. His eyes said she was the most wonderful thing he'd ever seen as he asked about her life and magic. Dorothy being Dorothy, she quickly spilled everything about herself. She was even worse than her mother about keeping secrets.
But I loved that ingenuous quality to her.
"Do you think we should send some kind of terrible curse at him while he's not looking?" Elsie asked me.
I admit that I was holding my mother's amulet as she spoke. I didn't think it would put a curse on Drago, but I might use it for protection against him. We all knew why he was here. There wasn't one of us who wouldn't lay down our life to keep Dorothy safe.
"I doubt if we could," I finally answered, though I knew she was only joking. "He's so much stronger than us. Let's hope he doesn't try anything. Maybe he really is just here for a friendly visit."
Elsie made a humphing sound in the back of her throat. "And I'm the queen of Sheba. But I suppose you're right. We shouldn't attack him willy-nilly. We need to be together on this. I don't know about Dorothy, but take a look at Brian's face. He'd be willing to banish Drago to the underworld."
She was right, of course. But what young man was comfortable around his girlfriend's father? We had no real sense of Drago at all-only what the council and Olivia had said about him.
"We should wait and see what happens."
"Wait and see what happens?" Olivia came behind the counter with us as we put cups of tea on a tray to take to the table. "This is the Alamo, ladies. We need to strike hard and fast if we don't want to end up dead."
"He knew we were coming," I reminded her as I added sugar and milk to the tray. "He was already here, and could have struck us down as we walked into the shop. Our wards weren't strong enough to keep him out. I think we should give him the benefit of the doubt."
"I don't see where we have much choice anyway." Elsie added a small bowl of lemon slices.
"That's easy for the two of you to say! You don't know Drago and the things he's capable of," Olivia said. "And that's not your daughter he's threatening. What if it was Mike or Aleese?"
Dorothy laughed. She seemed to be enjoying her father's company. Given that she didn't know him either, he seemed to be pleasant enough. He was very handsome and charming, probably the traits that had led Olivia to take up with him in the first place. If he decided to take Dorothy with him, I wasn't sure we could discourage her from going. What a life he could offer her.
And being on the good side of the Council of Witches wasn't exactly enough to tip the scales. Dorothy had already run into them and seen what they were like-including Brian's grandfather.
"Ah, tea!" Drago sat back as we put the tray on the table. "The old-fashioned way. Ladies, you've made a splendid home for yourselves here. Am I to assume Dorothy is part of your coven?"
"Yes." Brian leaned forward and glared at him. "So am I."
Without a sign of anger or hostility, Drago helped himself to Olivia's cup and ignored him. "That's wonderful. It's important for young witches to have support. I was with a coven for most of my formative years. The things I learned while there have stood the test of time." He kissed Dorothy's hand. "And for me, that's a lot of time!"
Dorothy stared at him as though he was about to sprout wings and fly away. The stunned look in her eyes said it all. How could anyone compete with a thousand-year-old super witch?
Olivia quietly pouted. "He took my cup, Molly."
"Hush. You can't drink out of it anyway. No theatrics right now. We need to concentrate."
She backed down. I knew she was terrified, having dreaded this moment for so many years. But it was upon us now. We needed to be very careful what we did and said next. Attacking Drago didn't seem like the best course of action to me. It wasn't completely my decision, but I hoped even Brian would see that Drago's magic was beyond us. This needed a diplomatic solution.
Elsie and I sat at the small table with Dorothy and Drago. Olivia hovered above us. Brian sat just behind Drago and Dorothy as though it was a strategic choice for him. I doubted it was, but it did keep him from glaring at them.
In the old days, before Olivia's death, and before Dorothy joined us, it was just the three of us. We'd sat at this table in Smuggler's Arcane surrounded by books of magic, herbs, candles and other witch's tools. We'd worked on our spells and discussed the world across tea, and the occasional chocolate cake.