Midnight Surrender by Kris Kendall


Midnight Surrender


by Kris Kendall


―It looks like tonight‘s activity just arrived.‖ Jared‘s comment made me snap my head up from the bar. The only activities my friend cared about involved girls—he had my attention.

Midnight Surrender
Midnight Surrender  by Kris Kendall



It didn‘t take long to see what caught his eye. She was gorgeous—especially those long tan legs that were shown off nicely in the short yellow dress she wore. Slim but clearly athletic, I could already imagine how much fun she‘d be.

I finished off my Jack and Coke, tossing the empty glass down on the mahogany bar. The new guy who bought the place had gone to town on the hunk of wood. I doubted he had any idea that the hotel he‘d purchased housed a hell of a lot more than rooms, food, and booze.

The girl walked around the lobby like she
owned the place, her eyes taking in every detail. Finally they found me, and I got a look at her bright green eyes. I gave her my trademark smile; it worked every time. She smiled back, and I nodded, telling her to come
over. I thought she was going to, until she shook her head and kept on walking. She didn‘t even give me a second glance. What the hell?



I was barely aware of Jared talking. ―I call dibs
on the blonde.‖

―Blonde? She was a brunette.‖

My other friend Owen laughed. ―There were two girls, Levi.‖

―Oh, I only noticed the one.‖

Jared smirked. ―You seriously didn‘t notice that
blonde? That top didn‘t leave much to the imagination.‖

―Did you see where they went?‖ I really didn‘t care about the blonde, but I had to find Miss Legs. I couldn‘t believe she‘d blown me off like that. I was right—she was going to be a lot of fun.

―They‘re probably in the court yard.‖ Owen yawned. He seriously worried me sometimes. Some girl dumped him, and he‘d been practically a monk since. The guy needed to get laid; Jared and I were going to have to try harder to get him out there.

―I could really use a night with that one,‖ I said to Owen. Our taste in women had always been more similar. Jared only went for busty blondes, where as I wanted the brunettes with the long legs. A nice chest



didn‘t hurt—not at all, but a short skirt on the right girl could drive me crazy.

―I noticed her.‖ Owen‘s small smile would have been enough for me to let him have her usually, but this one was for me.

―I‘ve got to find her. She might even be worth a
second night.‖

Owen snorted. ―Real nice.‖

Jared finished his drink. ―We‘ll find them, but we need to get moving. Your dad‘s going to get pissed if we‘re late.‖

―Yeah, I know.‖

I took one last glance around to make sure she hadn‘t changed her mind and come back, before I walked over to the elevator. I smirked at the weird bellboy that was always staring at us. He took a step back and lowered his eyes.

Once the doors shut, I inserted the key and pushed the button for the basement.

―What do you think he wants us for this time?‖
Jared asked, leaning back against the wall.



―Like I‘d know, but he didn‘t sound happy.‖ I only listened to one message, but I had a feeling it was the latest of many.

―I guess we‘ll find out.‖

The elevator doors opened, depositing us into a room that would be dark for the average person, but we had no problem seeing. I pushed open the doors, and we headed toward my Dad‘s office, which was located just
off the main chamber.




called.

I knocked on the door loudly. ―Who is it?‖ Dad


I knocked one last time just to be a pain. ―Who do you think?‖

―Come in, Levi.‖

I walked in, Owen and Jared following behind.

―Close the door.‖

Jared slammed the door harder than he needed to. The action wasn‘t lost on my dad. His glare had Jared standing up straighter.

Dad didn‘t miss a beat. ―You missed last night‘s council meeting.‖






week.‖

―What are you talking about? We just met last


―I called an emergency meeting last night.‖

Shit. I knew there were more messages. ―Yeah, well, I didn‘t know.‖

―Is that all you have to say for yourself? Twenty-two years old, and you behave like a child.‖

My dad never minced words, but he usually kept his cool. Things had to be serious for him to be flipping out on me in front of my friends.

―I‘m sorry. It won‘t happen again.‖

―It better not.‖ His icy stare left little doubt he
was serious.

―What did you discuss?‖ I shifted uneasily from
foot to foot.

―The Blackwells. There‘s talk of a takeover attempt.‖

―Like those Yankees could do anything,‖ Jared spat. He never kept his mouth shut, not even in front of my father.



―Has your father taught you nothing, Jared? The second you start underestimating your opponent you‘ve lost your advantage.‖

―Yes, Sir.‖ Mentioning Jared‘s father usually had that effect. His dad was essentially the head of security for my family‘s business. We‘d spent many nights getting wasted and talking about how much we hated our fathers. Neither of us would ever live up to their expectations.

―So what‘s the plan?‖ I slunk down in a high
back chair, this could take a while.

―The plan is that you grow up and find a girl.‖

―This again? I‘m not ready. Just because you and Mom got married at twenty doesn‘t mean I have to do it.‖

―You‘re not twenty. You graduate college in a year; it‘s time to stop chasing after everything in a skirt. Find someone worth your time.‖

―What does this have to do with the takeover attempt?‖

―Don‘t play stupid.‖



―No one cares whether I have a mate. They
know I can have a kid, it‘s not a big deal.‖

―Everyone cares. Everyone.‖  He cracked his knuckles; he only did that when he was particularly worried.

―Well, I‘ll take a mate when I meet the right girl.‖ I leaned back in my chair and stretched out my legs. Getting angry wasn‘t going to help the situation, but I was tired of this bullshit.

―You can‘t find her unless you look.‖

―He does plenty of looking,‖ Owen mumbled
under his breath.

―Looking for a mate is different from looking for a girl to jump in bed with. I‘d have thought you‘d understand that, Owen.‖ Dad really liked to get you where it hurt. Owen definitely got that.

―You told me I have until graduation, that‘s months from now.‖ I planned to enjoy every last day of my freedom until then, starting with tonight. I needed to get out of the meeting so I could find the girl.



―Building a relationship takes time. Do you expect to meet someone and bind yourself to her the next day? Don‘t wait too long.‖

Jared sniggered.

―I‘m tasking you two with making sure it happens. We all have a lot to lose if Levi can‘t keep his pants on long enough to find a worthy girl.‖

―Absolutely, sir.‖ Of course Owen agreed
immediately.

―Can we please talk about the real plan? The one that doesn‘t involve my sex life?‖

―All we can do is stay alert and make sure our
own ranks are loyal. If things come to blow, we can‘t have any mutiny from within.‖




asked.

―I‘m guessing my dad‘s already on that?‖ Jared


―Yes. But I expect you all to do your part.‖

―Will do, Sir,‖ Jared replied. Even he knew that
pushing my Dad could have dire consequences.

―Good. Now get out of here. I have better things to do today.‖



―Bye Dad, great talking to you.‖ I got the hell out of his office and back to the elevator. I was angry, and I could feel the transformation wanting to happen. I relaxed and pushed it back. I had better things to think about.

***

―So where do you think those girls are?‖ I knew I was being ridiculous. There were plenty of attractive girls around, but there was something about her that got under my skin. She wouldn‘t be escaping from me
again so easily.

Jared tossed me a beer from the fridge. We were back in our apartment hanging out. ―It‘s their first night in the French Quarter, they‘ll be at the Cat‘s Meow. They always go to the Cat‘s Meow.‖

―No way. She‘s not the type.‖ I tried to picture her at a place like that. No, she was classier. She‘d probably be looking for a lounge or something.

―Not the type? I guarantee they‘ll be there. I bet you fifty they‘ll sing karaoke.‖

Owen walked in, dumping three po-boys on the
table. ―Who? Those girls from the hotel? Yeah, I‘m in



on this. My bet is Girl’s Just Want to Have Fun. They
always sing that.‖

―No, I bet they‘re more the Like a Virgin types,‖
Jared threw in.

―I‘m game. But let‘s make it a hundred. I haven‘t washed either of you out in a while.‖ Things were always more fun when there was money involved.

They both laughed. ―All right, a hundred.‖

The door burst open again, and the flash of red
hair made it immediately obvious who‘d arrived.

―Have you ever heard of knocking?‖ Owen
snapped at his little sister Hailey.

―If you have a problem with it, lock the door.‖
She swiped a Coke from the fridge.

―Is there a reason you‘re gracing us with your presence?‖ I‘d known Hailey my whole life and she was like a little sister—the annoying, won‘t ever leave you alone type. She was only three years younger than us, but sometimes it seemed like ten.

―Yeah. I need Owen to talk to Dad.‖



―I doubt I‘m going to, but about what?‖ Owen
answered, finishing off his sandwich.

―He‘s making me request J.L. as a dorm, there is no way I‘m living in an all-girls dorm!‖

We all laughed. I still couldn‘t believe she was starting at Tulane in the fall. How was she old enough for college?

―Come on, this is so not fair.‖

―You can‘t be surprised.‖ Owen tried to keep a
straight face.

―So he caught me making out with a guy? It‘s
not like I was sleeping with him!‖

Owen cringed, probably mentally picturing his sister hooking up with someone. ―Hailey, Dad‘s always been protective. Inviting a guy over when they weren‘t home—not the smartest decision—but how could you be stupid enough to get caught? You always wait until you know they can‘t possibly come back.‖ Owen said it snidely, but I think he actually felt bad. Their parents definitely treated them differently.

―So you really won‘t talk to him?‖ she whined.



―Living in a girl‘s dorm isn‘t that bad. It‘s nicer than a lot of the others.‖

―I guess.‖ She slumped down on a couch. ―I
hope I at least get a cool roommate.‖

―Me too, because then maybe you won‘t show up here uninvited all the time.‖ I couldn‘t resist. She was so easy to annoy.

―Arrgh! You guys are useless. Thanks for
nothing.‖ She stormed out just the way she arrived.

Owen got up, pushing back his chair.
―Seriously, how am I related to her?‖

Jared collected our plates and brought them to the sink. No one would believe how much of a neat freak he was. ―I don‘t know, she‘s hot and you‘re ugly as shit.‖ He grinned.

―Don‘t even start.‖

I laughed. My roommates were definitely entertaining.

***

―You better be ready to pay up,‖ Owen taunted. We‘d spent the better part of an hour searching the



Quarter. After striking out at a few places, I didn‘t want to admit that my friends were probably right. I finally gave in and we walked into the Cat‘s Meow. It had
been a while since I‘d dragged myself into that place. It‘s not like it was much worse than the rest of the Bourbon Street bars, but you also had to suffer through horrible singing. The current song was no exception.

I looked over toward the stage and sure enough there they were, singing Girls Just Want to Have Fun. I had really misread her, or maybe it was the friend who convinced her to come. ―Fine, I‘ll get you your money later.‖

It‘s not like I cared about two hundred bucks. The important part was that I‘d found the girl. Mm yes, and she was wearing a short skirt. So maybe singing wasn‘t her strong suit, but she looked good doing it.

I bought a beer and went ahead and got a shot for her. I had a feeling she was going to need it when she was done. There was something about her expression that said she wasn‘t having as much fun as she was pretending to. But I was. Hell, I was having a great time. That jean skirt was so short, I got a real nice view.



―Are you sure they‘re legal?‖ Leave it to Owen
to ask such a dumb question.

―Yeah, they‘ve got to be eighteen.‖




bait?‖

―You sure? Do you really want to mess with jail


―Shit Owen, they‘re not kids. They got in here
didn‘t they?‖ Jared argued.




view.

I tried to ignore them. I was still enjoying my


―They could have fakes. But it‘s your problem, not mine.‖

―Exactly, go find your own. Or wait, you don‘t do girls anymore.‖

―Shut the fuck up.‖

―Both of you shut up.‖ The song ended and I watched as the girls jumped off the stage. I waited until they separated to make my move.

She was definitely flustered, not even paying attention to where she was going.

―You look like you could use this.‖ I pushed the
shot into her hand.



She looked up at me, and I saw the recognition in her eyes. She remembered me. She nodded and then downed the shot.

―What was that?‖ She coughed a little. I probably could have gotten her something tamer, but what would have been the fun in that?

―A jaeger shot.‖ I laughed. ―Feeling better?‖

―Yeah. I can‘t believe I did that.‖ She looked back over her shoulder, like she was making sure the stage was still there.

―It really wasn‘t so bad. It was more
entertaining than if Cyndi Lauper performed it herself.‖ Much more entertaining. I looked at her up close for the first time. She was even hotter. I finally tore my eyes from her legs and checked out the rest of her. She had a nicer chest than I originally thought. I watched as a few drops of sweat ran down from her neck and disappeared
into her tank top.




friend.‖

―So, thanks for the shot, but I need to find my


―Hey, you can‘t run off on me again.‖ If she
thought she was getting away this time, she had another



thing coming. She was mine. ―Besides, your friend appears to be unavailable.‖

Surprisingly, Jared didn‘t already have her in a corner somewhere. She was occupied by some guy who looked like he was in town for a conference. I knew that type. He was looking to score, have a story to run home with. The blonde was drunk enough he might get lucky.

―Run off on you again? That implies we have run into each other before.‖

So she was going to play that game?

―I saw you at the Crescent City Hotel this afternoon, but you took off before I could say hello.‖ I leaned in closer, using the blaring music as an excuse, even though I could hear perfectly well. Damn, she
even smelled good. I didn‘t recognize the perfume—but it was light, the right kind.

―Oh, I didn‘t notice you.‖

It was time to act interested in her life. ―You here for vacation?‖

―I‘m here for work actually, at the hotel.‖



―Are you around for the whole summer then?‖ Not the tourist I expected. If the sex was as good as I knew it would be, a longer stay could be convenient.

―Yeah, I‘m here until I start school in the fall.‖ So Owen wasn‘t completely off. She was probably fresh out of high school.

―All right, so where are you going to school?‖

―Princeton.‖

―Nice.‖ Smart girls weren‘t necessarily bad, as long as they didn‘t overanalyze everything.

―You in school?‖

―Yeah, I‘m going to be a senior at Tulane.‖ Maybe she‘d loosen up a little if she realized I was in school. Some girls were like that. They assumed you were a good guy if you were in college. It made no sense, but it usually worked.

―Oh, so you live here?‖

―Born and raised.‖




this.‖

―I didn‘t think locals hung out at places like



―We don‘t usually, but they‘re great spots to meet girls from out of town.‖ Or more specifically, it
was a good spot to find her.




them.‖

She shook her head. ―Ah, so you‘re one of


―One of who?‖ I tried to figure out what group she was throwing me in with.

―The type to prey on innocent tourists.‖

―Innocent tourists? You make me sound like the big bad wolf.‖

―And you‘re not?‖

A wolf? As if she was dealing with something that tame. ―Only if you‘re Red Riding Hood.‖ I‘d pretend to be a wolf if it involved her.

―Wow, that‘s original,‖ she said snidely, but her face gave her away. She was definitely interested.
―Well, nice talking to you.‖

What? Was she seriously trying to blow me off again? I had to act fast. ―Hey, I didn‘t even get your name yet.‖

―Allie.‖



―Is that short for Allison?‖ I needed to keep her
talking.

―Yes, but no one calls me Allison.‖

―I‘m Levi.‖ I held out my hand.

―Is that short for something?‖ She gave me her hand and it felt nice in mine. I didn‘t want to end the contact, I liked touching her, but I finally dropped it.

―Leviathan. But you can call me whatever you like.‖ Hell she could call me a wolf if she was doing it in my bed.

―Well, nice to meet you.‖ She actually started
to walk away. What the hell was going on?

―Wow, it‘s hotel bar guy.‖ The blonde swayed as she walked over drunkenly. Either she was a light weight or she‘d had more to drink than Allie. Allie—it was nice to have a name.

―So you did notice me.‖ I leaned in closer to Allie again, if she‘d noticed me enough to talk to her friend, I was good to go. She was just playing hard to get. I didn‘t mind a good game of chase.

―So, does this mean you changed your mind?‖
the blonde asked.



―Changed her mind? About what?‖  Had she
talked about me more?

―Allie‘s sworn off men, or so she claims,‖ Blondie said while taking a swig from her beer. If she drank much more she‘d pass out before anyone got her home.

―Is that so?‖ What did that mean exactly? I‘d have thought she was into girls, but I wasn‘t getting that vibe.

―Yes, not that it‘s any of your business.‖

―Any particular reason why?‖ I was intrigued. Had someone hurt her? I felt an unfamiliar feeling of protectiveness take hold. I shook it off.

―None that I wish to explain.‖

―She thinks it‘s because she has bad luck with relationships, but really it‘s because no one is good enough for her,‖ Blondie tattled. Allie‘s eyes got all big—I got myself ready for a cat fight.

But then Allie relaxed her shoulders. ―I think I
need another drink.‖

―My pleasure. What can I get you?‖



―Surprise me.‖

―I will.‖ I winked at her. ―I‘m good at surprises.‖

I needed to find the perfect drink—Allie seemed like the kind of girl who liked them sweet and strong. I ordered her something different—my own invention. I called it the Oasis. I heard the girls continuing to argue. One of the many benefits of enhanced hearing was eavesdropping in on conversations. The blonde‘s name was Jess and she was really egging Allie on.

As I returned to the girls, Jared caught my eye. He and Owen were sitting at a table. He nodded, wanting us to come over. Normally I‘d have made him get off his ass, but I wanted Allie‘s attention, which meant getting her friend fixated on someone else.

―A few of my friends are sitting over there, care to join us?‖

Jess glanced over and answered first. ―Why not?‖  Her words were casual but it was obvious she was interested in one of my friends. I hoped it was Owen—that would make tonight interesting.

Allie still hadn‘t said anything, so I looked to
her. She finally nodded.



I made the introductions. ―Girls, this is Jared and Owen. And this is Allie and Jess.‖  I realized afterwards that they might have thought it was odd that I knew Jess‘ name, but they didn‘t seem to notice.

―Well, hello there.‖ Jared grinned. He looked
over Allie, but then moved his attention to Jess.

Owen just nodded. ―Hey.‖ He smiled again, but
I didn‘t worry about it. He knew not to get in the way of what I wanted.

Jess sat down next to Jared, he must have been the one who caught her eye. I‘d hoped she‘d keep Owen occupied so he‘d stop looking at Allie, but it didn‘t actually matter.

I put down our drinks and pulled out a chair for Allie, careful to make sure she sat in the one closest to the wall. I wanted her attention all to myself.

―You can‘t really mean to punish the entire male gender for the errors of a few.‖

I watched her pick up her drink and taste it. She liked it, and I liked her smile. It went all the way to her eyes.

―Because it would be really unfair to do that.‖



―Um, can we please talk about something else?‖ She turned away from me, and I saw her looking at Owen. Not what I was hoping for.

―Sure, for now. What made you decide to take the job at the hotel?‖

She turned towards me again. ―Oh, I needed a job and my dad was able to get it for me.‖

―Because Allie‘s dad is super rich and bought the place.‖ Whoah. This was the new owner‘s daughter? I wasn‘t sure what to make of the information at first. ―What? It‘s true.‖ I must have missed an exchange between the girls. Was she trying to keep it a secret? Most girls would brag about something like that.

―Your dad bought the Crescent City Hotel?‖ Jared asked, sitting up straighter. He seriously needed to keep his cool.

―Yeah. The deal went through earlier this year.‖ She downed her drink. Something about this conversation was stressing her out. I wanted to find out what it was. I doubted she knew anything about the hotel. It was something else.



I wasn‘t about to ask her about it. I‘d just have
to find out another way. She set down her empty glass.

―I guess you liked it?‖

―Maybe a little. What was it?‖

―Want another?‖

―No, don‘t worry about it. I can get one for myself if you‘ll tell me what it is.‖  I could practically see the wheels turning in her head. She was the type of girl who worried about guys buying her drinks—afraid that meant she owed them something. Such bullshit, buying a drink for a girl was just an opening… where it went after that depended on her.

―I‘m getting up anyway. Besides, if you don‘t know what it is you will have to let me keep buying them for you.‖ I enjoyed the look of annoyance that flashed across her face.

―Don‘t worry, she‘s not always so uptight.‖
Jess‘ voice surprised me as I ordered some more drinks. I hadn‘t expected Jared and Jess to follow me. That left Allie alone with Owen—not the plan—definitely not
the plan.



―I‘m not worried about it,‖ I said offhandedly, wanting the bartender to move faster. This was taking far too long. Owen was laughing. What could she be saying? At least she didn‘t look as amused.

―Levi‘s good at, uh, breaking through tough
exteriors.‖  Jared ordered them a couple of shots.

―She‘s worth it,‖ Jess said as I walked away.

―It looked like you two were having a good conversation. Did I miss anything?‖ I shot Owen an annoyed look. He was seriously beginning to piss me off.

―Nothing worth repeating.‖

Owen smiled. ―Well, Allie was telling me that she isn‘t interested in you.‖
Hmm, well at least they were talking about me. I leaned in close to her, letting her know what I
thought of the statement. ―It‘s because she‘s sworn off
men. But I think I‘ll just have to be the exception.‖

She took a few large sips of the second drink I‘d gotten her.  ―What in the world would make you think that you would be an exception?‖



―One, you‘re attracted to me and two, I can be very persistent.‖

―I am not attracted to you!‖

―Like hell you‘re not,‖ Jess said before bursting into laughter. She hadn‘t even sat down yet.

―You know there could be a few females alive that are not into you Levi,‖ Jared mocked. I was ready to knock that smirk off his face.

―It‘s always a possibility, but that‘s not the case this time. She likes me, she just won‘t admit it.‖ I scooted my chair closer to her.

She sighed and closed her eyes. I actually felt a little bad. She seemed pretty stressed out. I‘d love to do something about that… I put an arm around her shoulder, it felt nice, natural.

I moved close enough that I could kiss her, but I resisted. It wasn‘t time yet. She moved to turn away but I caught her chin, making her look up at me. ―Stop looking away. I love green eyes.‖

―Does that line usually work for you?‖

―Usually. I‘m guessing it‘s not going to work tonight.‖



―Not a chance.‖

―I‘ll just have to get more creative.‖ As frustrating as her resistance was, it was also a nice change of pace. It would make finally getting her all the more worth it.

―You do that.‖ Her look was teasing—she was definitely challenging me.

―So, what do you think of New Orleans so far?‖ Owen asked her, having to pull her attention away again.

Jess answered. ―It‘s been fantastic. It‘s so
awesome to get away and meet new people.‖

―And what about you, Allie?‖ I asked, finding I
actually cared about her answer.

―Well, considering we‘ve been here less than twenty-four hours, it‘s hard to have much of an impression, but I like it so far.‖

―You‘ll have to keep me posted as you have
more time to form an opinion.‖

―I‘ll be sure to keep you updated.‖



―You girls want to see the rest of the Quarter?‖
Jared asked.

―Yes!‖ Jess squeaked. ―We haven‘t seen anything but here and the hotel.‖

―You interested?‖ I whispered in Allie‘s ear. I liked how it made her shiver a little. I definitely had an effect on her.

―Sure. Why not?‖ She finished off her drink and stood up. She tugged down on her skirt. I had to resist the urge to reach out and stop her. The skirt was fine
the way it was.

I put an arm around her, leading her out. I shot
Owen a backwards glance to let him know to stay
away. ―I guarantee you‘re going to love New Orleans.‖




sigh.

She slipped away from me. I held in a frustrated


―Is that right?‖ She sounded distracted and I noticed her staring at her friend and Jared. Was she worried about her?

We walked down St. Peter‘s Street, and crossed over into Jackson Square. Allie seemed impressed by it. I noticed her eyeing the wrought iron railings. That was



the second time I‘d noticed her checking out
architecture. Maybe we had that interest in common.

We maneuvered through the square, past the usual crowd of musicians and artists showing off their work.

―Care to have your fortune read?‖ a palm reader
called out.

―No thanks.‖ Allie waved her off.

―Are you sure you don‘t want a glimpse into your future?‖

―I prefer surprises.‖ Her response seemed at odds with how uptight she seemed. I sensed there was a lot more to her that I still wasn‘t seeing.

―Same here,‖ Jess agreed. ―This is too cool. It might be even better than Washington Square Park.‖

Washington Square Park? So they were New
Yorkers.

―Of course this is just where all the tourists hang out. There are much cooler places, hon. Maybe I‘ll
show you sometime,‖ Jared crooned.



―Like where, your apartment?‖ Allie raised an
eyebrow. She had a nice sense of humor.

―Why, you want to see my place?‖ he threw
back at her.

―In your dreams.‖

I laughed. She had some nerve. I couldn‘t resist touching her. I came up from behind her and wrapped my arms around her waist. She fit perfectly. ―Would you change your mind about that if you knew I was his roommate?‖

―Why would that change my mind?‖ She
pushed away. I reluctantly released her.

I held back, maybe I needed to give her space so
she‘d come to me.

I tried to pay attention to everything else going on but then, of course, Owen had to go talk to her again.

I heard them talking about the crow on the fence. She seemed to find it creepy. I wondered what she‘d think if she knew what I was. When I heard them talking about going home, I had to intervene. She was thanking Owen for giving her a heads up.



―The heads up on what?‖

―I was simply suggesting she pry Jess away from Jared if she wants to get her home tonight.‖

―What‘s the hurry? The night is young.‖ I smiled at her, resisting the urge to punch Owen. If I wasn‘t stronger, my eyes would have changed.

―We have our first day of work tomorrow.‖

―Your first day of work at your father‘s hotel. Can‘t you skip out?‖ I was definitely not ready to say goodnight, and it was looking unlikely she was coming home with me.

―No! I am not missing my first day of work. I‘m not like that.‖

If I couldn‘t have her that night, I‘d just have to try again. ―Really? Maybe I can learn more about you tomorrow night? Maybe over dinner?‖

―Not a chance.‖




men.‖

―Oh, that‘s right; you think you‘ve sworn off


She pretended to ignore me, but I saw the tiny
curl of her lips. ―Jess, let‘s go!‖



―Now? Seriously?‖ Jess whined.

―I‘m sure you can meet up with your friend
another time.‖

Her friend? Allie had a bit of edge didn‘t she?

―What‘s the rush all of a sudden?‖ Jared asked,
glaring at Allie.

―Owen decided to point out the late hour to
her.‖ I knew Jared would appreciate it as much as I did.

―What the hell, man?‖ Jared lunged at Owen; his eyes turning black. I hoped the girls didn‘t notice, and I put myself between my friends. We‘d have to settle this later.

―Let it go, Jared. I‘m sure we‘ll have plenty of opportunities to see them again. We‘ll walk you girls home.‖ I wasn‘t happy to see Allie leave, but I also wanted another chance—it was time to cut our losses and regroup.

She waved. ―Goodnight.‖

―I‘ll be seeing you,‖ I said before walking away. I‘m sure she had no clue how true my words were—there wasn‘t a chance in the world I was letting this girl go.





Learn more about Alyssa Rose Ivy and The Crescent Chronicles at:
www.alyssaroseivy.com

Available now at: Amazon














The Gathering




By Charlotte Abel






Channie bolted upright, smacking her forehead against the pine log above her bed. She groaned and ran her fingers over the wet, sticky lump already forming over her eyebrow. Blood. Yuck. She considered using a healing spell, but with her luck, she‘d wind up with more bumps than a hedge-apple.

What time was it, anyway?

Moonlight streamed in through the window, casting long shadows across the braided rug on the floor — which meant it had to be well past midnight. What had startled her awake?

The triplets were cuddled up against Abby‘s
side like a litter of pups, sound asleep.

The pine tree outside their window swayed back and forth as if rocked by a storm. Something was in that tree. Plink, plink-plink. And something was tossing pinecones into the loft.

Channie‘s heart stopped. She reached out with her magic and felt the presence of another mage. Confident that Momma‘s keep-away spells would protect her, Channie probed a little deeper to read his energy field.



He raised his shield and blocked her, but not before Channie sensed his strongest emotions. He was excited and … hopeful? Not exactly what she‘d expect from an intruder. And no thief would announce his presence by chucking pine cones through the window. Whoever he was; he wanted to wake her up.

Or maybe he wanted to wake up Abby. He could even be the trips‘ daddy. The thought spread a grin across Channie‘s face. If she could discover that little secret, she‘d never have to do dishes again. Only an idiot would pass up such a perfect opportunity for blackmail.

Channie kept to the shadows as she made her way to the window. She had to see his face before he saw hers. The low angle of the moon striped the landscape with bands of light and shadow — perfect cover for lurking.

Fog swirled over the ground and flowed down the hollow like a river of milk. Channie strained her ears but didn‘t hear so much as a single cricket. Well, two can play at this game. She picked a pine cone up off the floor and threw it at the tree.

Branches shifted and swayed, but Channie
couldn‘t see a darn thing.



A dull thud drew her gaze to the ground. Whatever had been hiding in the tree was now in the back of Daddy‘s old Chevy truck.

That vehicle had been propped up on cement blocks since before Channie was old enough to crawl under it for afternoon naps. All sorts of critters had nested in it over the years, but that was no varmint creeping onto the truck‘s cab. Channie craned her neck to get a better look, but all she could see was a vague shape … until he sprang straight at her.

An instinctive burst of defensive magic shot out of Channie‘s power-well, surrounding her with a protective wall of energy.

She covered her mouth with both hands to stifle a scream. She recognized Hunter Feenie's mop of light blond hair, shining silver-blue in the moonlight. She slid her hands to the base of her throat and lowered her shield.

Hunter grabbed the splintered windowsill, dug his toes into the chinks between the logs and clung to the side of the cabin like a tick on a dog. ―Gimme a hand.‖

Channie leaned out the window and grabbed the
straps of Hunter‘s overalls while he adjusted his grip.



The scent of pine sap clung to his skin. How long had he been hiding in that tree? Had he been spying on her? Watching her sleep? As soon as Channie was sure he wouldn‘t fall into Momma‘s protection spells, she let go.

Hunter poked his head inside the loft and flashed a crooked grin at her — as if climbing through her window in the middle of the night was the most natural thing in the world.

―Hey, girl.‖

Channie folded her arms across her chest. ―How the heck did you get past Momma‘s protection spells?‖

No one but a family member could get within ten feet of the magically enhanced shrubs surrounding the cabin. Not without getting hit with a bolt of pure
energy.




in.‖

Hunter smirked at Channie. ―Move over. Let me


―Are you crazy? My folks‘ll kill you.‖

―Your Daddy‘s out runnin‘ moonshine with mine. They won‘t be back till sunrise. And I ain‘t afraid of your momma.‖



―Well, I am. What do you want?‖

Hunter pulled a sliver out of his palm with his teeth. ―Are you gonna let me in or not? I cain‘t hang on much longer.‖

―That‘s a lie.‖

The Feenies had more kids than food so they were all a little skinny, but they were stronger than they looked. They were also ornery and tough as nails. Hunter could hang from her windowsill all night if he had to. But he was making too much noise.

Channie shushed him then whispered, ―Meet me
at the sycamore tree behind the kitchen garden. And
stay outta sight.‖

Hunter tucked his knees against his chest then let go with one hand, twisting around so he faced the ground.

―Hunter? What‘re you doing?‖

He let go and pushed off from the cabin, arching his back, arms and legs spread eagled behind him.

Channie‘s heart leapt into her throat. She tried
to grab him, but all she got was air. ―No!‖



Sparks exploded when Hunter hit Momma‘s
protection spells. But instead of getting fried to a crisp
— he bounced — skimming across the surface; like a stone skipping across a crawdad pond.

―Wow.‖ Channie‘s jaw dropped.

Hunter used his shield and the energy from the protection spells to propel himself through the air.

He bounced on his belly three times then swung his hips forward and flipped over backwards. He landed feet first on the roof of the Chevy then rebounded into the pine tree.

―Good lord!‖ How‘d he do that?

Hunter dropped from the branches of the still swaying pine tree, waved at her then turned and trotted off.

Channie waited until he disappeared into the shadows then crept down the ladder to the main floor. She took three steps then froze when a floorboard creaked. She squeezed her eyes shut and prayed Momma hadn‘t heard her.

What was she thinking — sneaking out to meet
a boy in the middle of the night? What if Momma woke



up and decided to check on the trips and found Channie missing? It‘d be better to wake Momma up right now and tell her she was going to the privy so she wouldn‘t come looking for her.

She stood outside Momma and Daddy‘s bedroom until her heart rate returned to normal, then opened the door.

A stinging spell set Channie‘s skin on fire. She cried out and knocked over the potted fern holding the curse, cutting off the flow of magic.

―Enchantment? Is that you? Oh, baby girl, I‘m so sorry. I set that spell for your Daddy and fell asleep. What are you doing up in the middle of the night?‖

Channie panted until the pain subsided then blinked the tears out of her eyes. ―I just wanted to let you know I‘m going to use the privy and … it might be awhile.‖

―I told you kids to lay off those dried apricots.‖ Momma sat up and swung her legs out of bed.  ―I‘m all out of slippery elm, but I could brew you some raspberry leaf tea.‖

―It‘s not that bad.‖ Channie took a deep breath and focused on calming herself. She‘d have a hard time



explaining why she was so nervous if Momma decided to scan her. ―I didn‘t want you to worry about me if you got up and found me missing, that‘s all.‖

The lie pricked Channie‘s conscience but since she‘d already been hit with a stinging spell, she figured she‘d paid for it in advance.

Momma yawned and tucked her feet back under the covers. ―Come get me if you don‘t feel better before morning.‖

~***~

Channie wished she‘d thought this through a little better and thrown a pair of jeans on under her gown or at least brushed the tangles out of her hair. She combed her fingers through the worst of it as she walked towards the privy. When she was certain Momma couldn‘t see her, Channie gathered the loose fabric of her gown into her arms and left the path.

Bluestem grass, heavy with dew, tickled the backs of her knees. A mosquito buzzed past her ear. Channie swatted at it then cast a bug-be-gone spell on herself. She should‘ve done that before ever stepping outside. Hopefully, the chiggers weren‘t out yet. Channie‘s legs itched just thinking about it.



When she found Hunter leaning against the sycamore tree, one bare foot propped against the trunk, Channie‘s stomach muscles tightened. And it had nothing to do with dried apricots.

Hunter‘d grown since the last time she‘d seen
him. A lot. His shoulders were broader too.

Channie wanted to ask him how he‘d learned to bounce across a protection spell on his shield; but he was cocky enough without her acting all googley-eyed.

She let go of her gown and jammed her fists on her hips, trying her best to look annoyed instead of impressed. ―What‘s so important it couldn‘t wait ‗till morning?‖

―What happened?‖ Hunter pushed away from the tree and traced the bruise on Channie‘s forehead.

Startled by the tenderness of his touch, Channie turned her head. ―It‘s nothing. Just a bruise.‖

―I thought you were apprenticed to Ms. Wisdom. How come you didn‘t heal it?‖

―I‘m not allowed to use healing magic until I
pass my herbology exams.‖



―You better get someone to heal it for you soon or it‘ll leave a scar.‖

This time, when Hunter touched her, Channie
held perfectly still. She didn‘t even breathe.

He brushed his fingertips across her brow and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. ―Are you gonna be at Spring Gathering?‖

Channie nodded.

Hunter edged closer. He trailed the back of his fingers down Channie‘s jaw, leaving behind a path of fire and goosebumps.

Channie‘s pulse thundered behind her ears as Hunter leaned in. He whispered her name — her real name. ―Enchantment.‖

She gasped and jerked away from Hunter when she realized her power-name was influencing him. She pulled her magic back inside her body and hoped he hadn‘t noticed.

Hunter blinked and shook his head, as if coming out of a trance. He rocked back on his heels and
jammed his fists in his pockets.



Most of the time, Channie loved her power- name, and the sound of it on Hunter‘s lips warmed her heart. But right now, she didn‘t know which was more embarrassing — the fact that she wasn‘t in control of it; or that Hunter thought she was trying to enchant him.

Channie squirmed as Hunter chewed on his bottom lip and studied her. She wished she knew what he was thinking. Should she try to explain and apologize or just keep her mouth shut?

Hunter lowered his gaze to his feet and flicked a pebble across the ground with his big toe. ―When you get to The Gathering, tell Lovie Schmidt that you want to talk to her in private — and do it in front of her momma.‖

―What?‖ Lovie Schmidt was not supposed to be
a part of this conversation.

―Once you‘re outta sight, tell her to meet me
inside O‘Riley‘s barn.‖

Anger lit up Channie‘s energy field like a hay field on fire. ―You‘ve got some nerve dragging me out here in the middle of the night! If you think I‘m gonna cover for you so you can sneak off with somebody else you better think again!‖



―Whoa.‖ Hunter‘s eyes widened as his jaw
dropped. After a moment, a grin spread across his face.
―You‘re jealous.‖

―I am not!‖

―You‘re mad because I asked you to help me
sneak off with somebody else. So, that means—‖

―It don‘t mean a damn thing!‖ Channie whirled around and stomped back to the cabin with Hunter‘s laughter ringing in her ears.

~***~

The next morning, Channie woke up with a pounding headache. One look in the mirror was all it took to convince her she needed a master healer. She didn‘t want to risk Momma trying to heal it and leaving a scar. So she wrote a note on the chalkboard in the kitchen then rode her bike to Aunt Wisdom‘s place.

Channie found her in the greenhouse, grinding herbs with a mortar and pestle.

―Good lord, Channie. What happened?‖

―I bumped my head on that old pine support beam again.‖



―Come here.‖ Aunt Wisdom shifted from favorite aunt to master healer. She set the mortar and pestle on the work table then cast a cleansing spell on her hands. ―Let‘s have a look.‖

Aunt Wisdom tilted Channie‘s head from side to side as she examined the cut. She pursed her lips and frowned. ―Have a seat. I‘ll go get my supplies.‖

Channie hopped her butt up onto the table then picked up the mortar and pestle. Might as well make herself useful. She swung her bare feet back and forth as she worked. The sharp, clean scent of lavender
tickled Channie‘s nose. She rubbed the tip of it with the
back of her hand to keep from sneezing.

When Aunt Wisdom returned, she poured a quarter cup of magically enhanced disinfectant into a glass bowl and added a handful of cotton balls. ―This might sting a little.‖

―Wait!‖ Channie hugged the mortar and pestle to her chest and leaned away from Aunt Wisdom. ―Just clean it with regular witch hazel. I don‘t need the enhanced stuff.‖

―If this were a fresh wound, I might consider it. But it‘s already scabbed over.‖



Healing Magic — whether administered directly from a healer‘s hands or through enhanced herbal remedies — was painful. The more powerful the magic, the greater the pain.

As a first year apprentice, it was Channie‘s job to enhance the plants. She knew exactly how much magic was in that tincture. ‗Sting a little‘ nothing. This was gonna hurt like hell.

Channie flinched every time Aunt Wisdom
dabbed at the cut. ―Ouch!‖

―Keep grinding that lavender. This‘ll hurt less if you focus on something else.‖

―It‘d hurt a whole lot less if you‘d just use regular disinfectant.‖ Channie knew she was acting like a child, but she hated pain and Aunt Wisdom was
taking forever.

When she finished, Aunt Wisdom patted
Channie‘s knee. ―That wasn‘t so bad now, was it?‖

Actually, it was, but Channie didn‘t ride her bike all the way over here just to have her cut disinfected. She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. ―Finish it.‖






clean.‖

―Are you sure? It‘ll heal just fine if you keep it


Channie gritted her teeth and nodded. ―I don‘t want any hint of a scar.‖

Aunt Wisdom didn‘t waste any time. She held her hand over the lump on Channie‘s head and closed her eyes. ―On the count of three. One … two … three.‖

White-hot pain flashed across Channie‘s forehead. It was quicker than a heart-beat, but hurt worse than ten of Momma‘s stinging-spells combined. Channie blinked away tears.

―That bump on your noggin was more severe than usual. You must have smacked that beam pretty hard. Did something startle you awake?‖

Channie gasped. There was no way Aunt Wisdom knew about Hunter‘s visit last night. She winced, hoping Aunt Wisdom would think her gasp
was one of pain instead of guilt. ―It wouldn‘t have been so bad if I hadn‘t hit my head on a knot.‖

―It‘s been four years since your daddy built that loft. There‘s no excuse for him not finishing it.‖






home.‖

―I‘m gonna whittle it off myself when I get


Aunt Wisdom smiled and winked at Channie.
―Just carve a heart and a couple of random initials into the knot. I guarantee your daddy will have it ground down to nothing before sunset.‖
―Nobody‘s gonna believe I have a boyfriend.‖ Aunt Wisdom‘s smile disappeared. She sighed
and shook her head. ―We‘ve already talked about this.‖

―Please, I‘ll do anything you ask. I‘ll clean out your chicken coop every day for a year. Just boost my hormone levels a little. I‘m sick and tired of being flatter‘n a pancake.‖

―You‘re just a late bloomer, that‘s all. Be patient. Your time will come.‖




away.‖

―But Spring Gathering is only two weeks


Aunt Wisdom put her hand on Channie‘s shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. ―There are consequences for tampering with nature.‖



Channie dropped her chin and let her shoulders slump, rounding her back. ―There‘s consequences for looking like a bean pole, too.‖

―Listen to me.‖ Aunt Wisdom cupped Channie‘s face in her palms and tilted her head up. ―You are a beautiful young woman with your whole life ahead of you.‖

Channie twisted her head out of Aunt Wisdom‘s hands. ―All the best boys will be spoken for before I ever get a chance.‖

―I won‘t risk your health just so you can fill out a new dress.‖

―I ain‘t getting no new dress. Momma‘s taking one of Abby‘s in for me so it won‘t fall off.‖ Channie dropped her gaze to the crushed gravel floor of the greenhouse. ―Not that anyone would notice.‖

―What‘s it going to take to get you to stop using double negatives and saying ‗ain‘t?‘‖ Aunt Wisdom took the mortar and pestle from Channie then nodded towards the house. ―Go grab some shoes out of my closet.‖

―What for?‖



―We‘re going to town.‖

~***~

Channie ran her hands over the front of her new dress as she examined herself in the mirror. She still wished Aunt Wisdom would have cast a growth spell
on her, but the new padded bra helped. She wasn‘t
nearly as curvy as Lovie Schmidt, but it was a definite improvement.




you.‖

―Channie, get down here. We‘re all waitin‘ on


―Yes sir. Be right there.‖ Channie wrapped a shawl around her shoulders and tied the ends then hiked her skirt up to climb down the ladder out of the loft.

Abby curled her lip and narrowed her eyes at Channie. ―I ain‘t never got a new dress and new shoes on the same day.‖

Daddy turned away from his shaving mirror and glared at Abby. ―She works for Wisdom. What she chooses to give Channie ain‘t none of your business.‖

Abby snorted and folded her arms across her chest. ―But, it ain‘t fair.‖ The whiney sound of her voice was worse than fingernails on a chalkboard.



Daddy‘s face bloomed scarlet. ―Abundance, that‘s enough.‖

Everyone froze, even the trips. When Daddy used your power-name, you knew you were in trouble. Channie started counting silently in her head and prayed she‘d get to ten without Daddy taking off his belt …eight …nine …ten.

Daddy exhaled through pursed lips then rubbed
the side of his face with his palm. ―I‘ll be in the bus.‖

Everyone else heaved a sigh of relief and went back to whatever they were doing.

Momma grabbed Zeal with one hand then licked her thumb and rubbed at the corner of his mouth. ―What in tarnation have you been eating?‖

―Nuffin.‖ He squirmed out of her grasp and
made a dash for the door with Coco hot on his heels.

Savvy tugged on Momma‘s dress and batted his feather-duster eyelashes at her. ―It‘s booberry jam. Coco shared wif Zeal but not me.‖

Momma held Savvy‘s chubby cheeks between her palms and kissed his forehead. She narrowed her eyes at Abby. ―That jam was on the top shelf. You‘ve



got to do a better job of watching these babies. Especially Courage and Zeal.‖

Abby rolled her eyes. ―You‘re the one that gave
‗em their power-names, don‘t blame me.‖

Channie ducked outside before she got caught in the middle of Momma and Abby‘s argument. She rarely agreed with anything Abby said, but she was right
about the trips‘ power-names.

Daddy laid on the horn then stuck his head out the window of their old VW bus. ―I‘m leaving! Y‘all better git your bee-hinds in this here vehicle right now or plan on walking.‖

~***~

By the time they got to the gathering, most of the food was gone. Channie wasn‘t surprised. Most folks‘ pantries were bare by the end of winter. You came to Spring Gathering for the games, music and dancing, not the food.

Momma gave orders as she spread their quilt out next to Old Pappy and Aunt Wisdom. ―I expect
everyone to stay in the clearing. Don‘t go wandering off into the woods. Abby, don‘t let them babies outta your sight for one second, you hear me, girl?‖



Abby rolled her eyes. ―Yes, ma‘am.‖

―Channie, take the food to the community table and if you see so much as a single fly, recharge the bug- be-gone spells.‖

―For the whole table?‖ The darn thing was made out of heavy cedar planks and spanned the north end of the clearing. If she protected the entire table, not only would it drain most of her magic, it‘d leave her too tired for dancing.

Momma raised her eyebrows and put her hands
on her hips. ―You got a problem with that?‖

―No, ma‘am.‖ Channie waited until she was out of range then cast a bug-be-gone spell on herself. She kept her gaze lowered to the ground to be sure she didn‘t see any damn flies.

A line formed behind Channie as she wove her way through the crowd.

Momma fed the family biscuits and gravy before they left so Channie wasn‘t hungry. She set Momma‘s squirrel casserole on the table and scooted it to the side so the folks behind her could dig in. But she hovered over the apricot pie and scanned the crowd, looking for Hunter.



The pie would be gone in a matter of seconds, so she cut a piece and put it on her plate. Her mouth watered but this piece was for Hunter. Where the hell was he?

Hunter‘s daddy waved her over. ―I‘ll give you a catfish for that there piece of pie.‖

―Sorry, it‘s spoken for.‖ Channie ducked her
head to hide the blush heating her cheeks.

Mr. Feenie rubbed his chin and smirked at her.
―You wouldn‘t be planning to waste that on one of my boys, now would you?‖

―Uh …‖

He laughed and patted her back then pointed towards a crowd of young men. ―They‘re all over yonder, watching Hunter and Shep arm wrestle.‖

Channie‘s face went from warm to hot. ―Thank you, sir.‖

Hunter had looked mighty good when they met in the middle of the night under the sycamore tree. He looked even better in broad daylight.

At the last gathering, Hunter‘s hand-me-down dress shirt had hung off his shoulders and covered all



but the tips of his fingers. Now, it strained across the muscles of his upper body. The cuffs ended a good three inches above his wrists.

Shep was eleven months older than Hunter, but you wouldn‘t know it by looking at the two boys. Shep scrunched his face into a grimace and ground his teeth. His whole body trembled.

Veins stood out on the backs of Hunter‘s hand, but his arm didn‘t so much as twitch. A smattering of fine blond hair dusted his upper lip and sparkled in the sunlight. He grinned at the crowd, obviously enjoying all the attention.

When his gaze met Channie‘s, she lifted the plate to show him the pie, and mouthed, ―For you.‖

Shep slammed Hunter‘s arm onto the stump they were using as a table then raised his fists over his head with a shout of triumph.

Hunter grabbed Shep‘s arm. ―I was distracted by
Channie‘s pie. I wanna rematch.‖

Shep laughed and shook his head. ―I‘m gonna go get me a piece before it‘s all gone.‖



―Too late.‖ Channie had just come from the
table. ―This is the last piece and I got it for Hunter.‖

Shep elbowed Hunter out of the way and
reached for the plate. ―To the victor go the spoils.‖

―You don‘t want this.‖ Channie dodged his
grasp and tapped into her power-name, but Shep got his shield up in time to repel her persuasive magic.

―Oh yes I do.‖ He made another lunge towards
Channie.

Hunter stiff-armed him with one hand and reached for the plate with the other. ―You keep away from Channie.‖

Shep arched an eyebrow as his gaze darted back and forth between Channie and Hunter. ―I thought you and Lovie—‖

―Uh-uh.‖ Hunter shook his head. It was hard to understand him with his mouth full of pie, but it sounded like he said, ‗Lovie‘s just for fun.‘

Shep snorted and rolled his eyes. ―Does her
daddy know?‖

Hunter‘s Adam‘s apple bobbed as he
swallowed. He wiped his mouth with the back of his



hand and glared at Shep. ―You keep your big mouth shut, Shepherd Feenie.‖

Shep smirked and held his hand out, palm up.
―The only way to shut my mouth is to fill it with pie.‖

Hunter pressed his lips together so hard a rim of white encircled his mouth, but he handed the plate to
his brother.

Shep shoved the rest of the pie into his mouth. His eyelids fluttered closed as he groaned and smacked his lips.

Channie glared at him. ―If you‘re done with my plate, I‘d like to have it back, now.‖

He licked it like a dog then shoved it at her.
―Thank‘s for the pie, Miss Enchantment. It was delicious.‖

Channie crossed her arms over her padded chest and stepped back. ―You are not welcome. And you can just go put that plate in my momma‘s basket. I‘m not touching it after you slobbered all over it.‖

Hunter took Channie‘s hand and led her away from the group of laughing boys. ―It was right nice of you to bring me that piece of pie.‖



―I‘m sorry your jerk of a brother stole it.‖

―Me too. But I‘m in enough trouble with Lovie's daddy. I don‘t need Shep spreading rumors.‖

―What‘s going on with you two, anyway?‖ Channie licked her suddenly dry lips. ―What‘d you mean ‗Lovie's just for fun?‘‖

Hunter dropped Channie‘s hand and shot her a
sideways glance then scratched the back of his head.
―There‘s two kinds of girls. The kind you have fun with and the kind you marry.‖

Channie untied her shawl and let the ends hang loose. She pulled her shoulders back, pushing her padded chest forward just a bit. ―Why can‘t a girl be both?‖

―It don‘t work that way.‖ Hunter‘s eyebrows arched as his gaze traveled the length of Channie‘s body. ―Though lord knows, I wish it did.‖

Channie grabbed the ends of her shawl but before she could tie them, Hunter stepped in front of
her and took both her hands. ―I shouldn‘t have said that. You‘re definitely the marrying kind of girl.‖



Channie‘s heart leapt into her throat. Was Hunter declaring his intentions? They were a little young to get engaged, but Momma and Daddy had gotten married when they were sixteen.

Hunter caressed the back of Channie‘s hands with his thumbs. ―And someday—‖

A shrill whistle interrupted Hunter. Someone
yelled, ―Grab a partner and line up!‖

Channie recognized ―Fire on the Mountain‖ even before the fiddler joined in. Hunter grabbed her around the waist and ran with her to line up in front of the band.

All the Feenie boys were light on their feet, but Hunter was by far the best dancer in the entire Ozark region. He whirled and twirled Channie ‗till she was so dizzy she could barely stand. His feet were a blur as he beat out a rhythm on the ground that had people dropping out to watch. When the music stopped, he kissed the back of Channie‘s hand, thanked her for the dance … and disappeared.

~***~



An hour later, Channie still hadn‘t seen hide nor hair of Hunter, but she spotted Lovie Schmidt‘s family. Lovie was not with them.

When Momma started in on Abby for losing track of the trips, Channie jumped to her feet. ―I‘ll go look for ‗em.‖

She headed straight for the barn.

Lovie's high-pitched giggle boiled Channie‘s blood. But it was the husky sound of Hunter‘s voice that drove a knife through her heart.

―Pleeease, Lovie. You‘re making me crazy.‖

Channie froze then took a shaky breath and peeked through a gap between the rotting boards of the barn door. Dust motes swirled in the golden hued light of the setting sun.

Hunter pressed Lovie against the back wall. He held her wrists above her head with one hand and tangled the other in her hair.

Lovie‘s lips parted as she lifted her chin.




mouth.

Hunter kissed his way up her throat to her



Channie turned and fled into the lengthening shadows of the woods. Brambles snagged the fabric of her new dress and clawed at her skin; but she barely felt it. Why would Hunter practically propose to her then
run off and do that with Lovie?

~***~

―Channie?‖ Aunt Wisdom‘s voice drifted through the woods. ―Where are you, sweetheart?‖

Channie swiped the tears out of her eyes and turned towards the sound of Aunt Wisdom‘s voice. She reached out with her magic. ―Over here.‖

The soft glow of a kerosene lantern wove a trail of light between the trees.

Aunt Wisdom set the lantern on the ground then
wrapped her arms around Channie. ―He‘s not worth it.‖

Channie pulled back and frowned. ―What do you mean?‖

―I mean…‖ Aunt Wisdom brushed the hair off Channie‘s forehead. ―That Feenie boy does not deserve you.‖



―What makes you think this is about Hunter?‖ There was no point denying she was upset, but she might be able to salvage a scrap of pride.

―Well, my first clue was the way you lit up while you were dancing with him.‖

―You read my energy field?‖ Channie pulled
away from Aunt Wisdom.

―I didn‘t have to. You were glowing like a sky
full of lightening bugs.‖

Channie buried her face in her hands and groaned. ―Everyone knows?‖ Could this get any more humiliating?

Aunt Wisdom tugged Channie‘s hands away from her face. ―No one‘s judging you, sweetheart. But that Feenie boy didn‘t do himself any favors tonight.‖

―Why doesn‘t Hunter like me the way he likes
Lovie Schmidt?‖

Aunt Wisdom gripped Channie‘s chin between
her thumb and index finger then tilted her face up.
―You do not want any boy to like you the way they all
like Lovie Schmidt.‖



―But it hurts.‖ Channie pressed her hands against her chest, as if that could ease the pain. ―It feels like Hunter ripped my heart out and stomped on it.‖

Aunt Wisdom hugged her again. ―I know baby, I know.‖ She kissed the top of Channie‘s head.
―Someday, you‘re going to find an honorable man. A man willing to place your happiness above his own. A man willing to sacrifice everything for your benefit. A man willing to lay down his very life, to protect you.‖

―Where am I gonna find a man like that?‖

―I have no idea.‖ Aunt Wisdom picked up her lantern then wrapped an arm around Channie‘s waist. She guided her back towards the clearing — taking a large detour away from the barn. ―But I do know this much … he won‘t be from around here.‖


The end.

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