Posted in Blogging, Short Story, Writer’s Unite!, Writing

Short Story Time

Dearest Readers,

Here is my short story of the month! Please be sure and take a look at the other wonderful authors on the Writer’s Unite! Blog. I hope you all enjoy, and, please, feel free to share/like/comment on here or my social media pages.

Thank you all for reading and your continued support! Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more updates.

Trust Me, Trust Me Not

By: Amber C. Deck

Trust is never easy. It can be fragile – much like a delicate snowflake. It can also be as dangerous as the brutal winter cold.

Interpol Agent Alerra “Allie” Montague had always had trust issues – ever since she’d been abandoned as a baby. After twelve foster homes and one failed engagement, the thirty-three year old was done with people disappointing her. She’d learned that not trusting others led to less heartache, and it made her one good agent.

At least, it had made her a good agent until this case.

Allie’s assignment had been to escort a visiting government official back to his hotel from the agency’s office in Paris. It had been a routine assignment that she’d done countless times – only this one went wrong. Horribly wrong.

Now, here she was in the snowy woods outside of Berlin with a poorly covered knife wound to her shoulder. She was heading to the one place of the one person she’d swore to never ask for help – Eli Kastnen.

A loud knock on his cabin door caused Eli to reach for the rifle he kept in his coat closet. Peering out of the peephole he’d installed when he’d first moved in, he was surprised to see a woman standing there. Actually, he was more surprised at who the woman was rather than why she was pounding on his door at midnight.

Eli took a moment to glance over the trim, toned frame of the red-haired woman at his door. She was about five-foot-seven, which made her quite a bit shorter than him. Her fair complexion peeked through her bundled up attire, but, even with the layers of clothing, Eli could tell something was a bit off about her by the way she stood.

Golden eyes looked up into the peephole as if she knew he was staring at her. Eli froze for a moment – unsure if he should open the door or act like he wasn’t home.

“Open the door, Eli. Please. I need your help.” Something in her voice made him reach for the door handle. He unlocked the heavy wooden door and pulled it open – waiting until she was inside to shut and lock it again. “Thank you.”

Allie gently shook the snow off of her as she glanced at Eli. He still looked as handsome as ever. His intense blue eyes, dark-blonde hair, and muscular body were all too familiar to her – mostly since Eli was the one who’d called off their wedding. Had that really been four years ago?

“You look good, Eli. I must say that growing a beard works for you..” Allie eased her coat off before glancing at him. His beard was cut short and neat – just like his hair. Typical Eli. “It looks like leaving the agency suited you, too.”

“What are you doing here, Allie?” Eli crossed his arms over his chest. He wasn’t up to dealing with her nonchalant attitude after she’d just shown up out of the blue. “How did you even find me? It’s been four years since you went back home to Paris.”

“I only transferred because you dumped me a week before the wedding. I was heartbroken and scared about being abandoned again..” Allie tensed at the accusing tone in his voice – causing pain to radiate through her shoulder. She forced herself to relax as she looked up at him. She could tell her statement had bothered him by the way he shifted uncomfortably. “I knew you always planned to move out to your family’s cabin. That’s beside the point, Eli. I need your help.”

“I can tell.” A smirk formed on his face. “You kind of look terrible. Have you slept at all in the past four years?”

“For your information, I have slept fine,” Allie replied sharply. “I am only here because I have nowhere else to go. The assignment I was working on fell apart, and… and a member of the French government is in the hospital.” She eased the neckline of her shirt over – revealing the blood-soaked bandage. “The assassination attempt has the hospital on lockdown, which has somehow put me in the assassin’s crosshairs. I was attacked the minute I entered the parking deck at my apartment.”

Eli frowned. “Who knew about the route you were taking on your assignment?”

“Only a handful of people, Eli.” Allie saw the concern in his eyes as he looked at her shoulder. “Don’t worry about this. It’s just a scratch. I need you to help me, Eli, please. You’re still the best agent – even if you refuse to ever walk into an Interpol office again.”

“Yeah, and you already know what being an agent cost me.” Eli walked down the hallway and into his bedroom – emerging a few moments later with a first aid kit. “We need to properly dress that wound before it gets infected.”

Allie sat down on his couch as he took a seat beside her. Eli placed the kit on the coffee table and began taking supplies from it. Both remained silent as he started tending to the injury on her shoulder.

“I know you left the agency because of me, Eli.” Allie hissed lightly at the burn of the antiseptic before continuing to speak. “I have trust issues – I know that. Despite all of my fears in my personal life, I’ve always trusted you. You’re the only one I could think of to help me. I don’t know who to rely on at the agency right now.” She glanced at him. “Someone wanted a high-ranking government official dead, Eli. I stood in their way, and I’m the one they want dead now.”

Eli remained silent as he finished bandaging her shoulder. Allie tried to get him to look at her – to see what he was thinking. She sighed as she shook her head.

“You don’t have to help me, Eli,” Allie told him as she stood up. “I should never have come here and brought up old memories. I’ll figure out what to do on my own. I always have, haven’t I?”

Eli gently grabbed her hand as she turned away from him – careful not to hurt her shoulder. Allie turned to see him staring up at her with a mixture of emotions that clouded his deep-blue eyes. No man had looked at her like that in a very long time…

“You have always been too stubborn to see that you’re not alone anymore, Allie.” Eli stood up as she turned to face him. “It took years for me to figure out why you had such a hard time settling in one place. I just thought you didn’t want a rough-around-the-edges guy from Berlin, but I soon realized you weren’t used to staying in one place for long.” Eli released her hand. “I will always be here to help you, Allie. No matter if we ever make a relationship work again or not. I’ll always be here.”

Allie didn’t know whether to hug him or slap him for making her feel so terrible. She’d harbored quite a load of guilt since their broken engagement. She’d assumed Eli would have blamed her for everything and just forgot about her. Leave it to the agency’s former best undercover operative to keep such a big secret from her.

Before Allie could respond to Eli, a low alarm sounded from somewhere in the room. She watched as Eli’s reaction tensed before he grabbed his TV remote off the coffee table. Pointing it at the TV that hung over his fireplace’s mantle, Eli flipped the screen on to show several security camera feeds. Allie stared at the screen as she watched figures cloaked in white fatigues, moving carefully through the snow.

“They tripped my perimeter alarm,” Eli’s voice was almost a growl. “They are about a mile out from the cabin. I need to get you out of here and call reinforcements.”

“No, Eli.” Allie shook her head vigorously. “I can’t run anymore. About five guys are coming – according to the cameras. I think we can handle this.” She gave him a worried glance as he pulled out his cell phone. “I don’t know who I can trust at the agency, Eli.”

“Luckily, I do.” Eli grinned as he dialed his best friend’s number. Xavier Graffe picked up on the first ring. “X, this is Eli. Got a situation at the cabin. Bring reinforcements, but only people you trust with your life. I don’t know when these guys will take out the cell…”

The line went dead before Eli could finish his sentence. That meant these guys were coming in faster than expected. Eli knew it would take at least half an hour for back-up to get there. He just prayed that he and Allie could stay alive long enough for his former team to get there.

“They’re scrambling the cell signal now.” Eli walked over to the coat closet by the door and opened it. He pushed aside the thick coats to reveal a small assortment of weapons neatly hung on the back wall. “How much ammo do you have?”

“Just what is in this.” Allie pulled her 9MM Glock out from where she had tucked it into the back waistband of her pants. “I didn’t exactly get time to go by my apartment and pack a bag. I even rode here in the back of a moving van – not the best place to transport heavy artillery.”

Eli couldn’t hide a grin at her remark. Allie could always make him smile at the worst possible times. Like when they were surrounded by five armed guys who wanted her dead.

“Here, take this.” Eli handed her another 9MM Glock as he grabbed his Ruger 45-caliber handgun. He inserted the clip and grinned at her. “Ready to make some noise, baby?”

Allie smiled and nodded as she cocked her guns. Taking cover behind the sofa, she watched Eli flip over his solid-oak dining table. He grinned at her again as he knelt behind it. Now, it was time to wait…

The front door flew open after one of the intruders gave it a few swift kicks. Four men entered the room – slowly sweeping their weapons from side-to-side as they walked.

Rookie mistake. Eli thought as he nodded at Allie. Time to show these guys who they’re messing with.

Both Allie and Eli raised up slightly behind their hiding spots and fired two shots apiece. The four masked men went down instantly – with each howling in pain. Crimson stained their white fatigues as the men clutched where the bullet went in below the kneecap.

Eli stood and rushed over to the four men – kicking away their weapons. Thankful that he’d remembered to grab the zip-ties before the men arrived, he flipped each one over and secured their hands behind them. Each man groaned in protest as pain shot through them.

“Wait,” Allie said as she stood up from her spot behind the couch. “There’s only four of them. Where is the fifth guy?”

“Slipping through a window in the kitchen as all of this went down.” A female voice with a noticeable French accent came from behind Allie. She spun around to face the fifth masked intruder- gasping as the person removed their face covering. “Surprised to see me, partner? Or, should I say former partner?”

“Claire LaRue.” Allie eyed the handgun that was aimed at her chest. Her former partner stood about the same height as her, which gave Allie clear visibility to the hatred in the blonde woman’s dark-brown eyes. “I’m not the reason you got fired, Claire. You chose to destroy that evidence – not me.”

“Allegedly. I allegedly destroyed evidence.” Claire spoke through clenched teeth. “You were my partner, Allie. You were supposed to have my back – no matter what. That’s what partners do.” Claire spotted Eli moving toward her. “That’s far enough, Kastnen. Any further and I put a bullet in your long lost love.”

Allie eyed the gun in Claire’s hands. She clutched the two she held in her hands. If she could only get off a shot first…

“Don’t even think about it, Allie.” Claire glared at her. “Toss your guns over toward the kitchen – both of you.” She grinned as they both did as they were told. “Excellent. Now, we’re just going to have a little chat. One that ends with you confessing to destroying the evidence and me getting my job back.”

“No one would ever believe that,” Eli spoke to her in a calm tone. “Allie is as by-the-book as they come. Not one agent would believe your lies.”

“Shut up!” Claire yelled. The gun in her hand wavered slightly before she steadied it. “They will, too – by the time Allie’s body is found with her heartfelt confession and apology.”

Eli felt his blood run cold. “I won’t let you get away with this, LaRue. I’ll hunt you down and make you pay.”

Claire cackled. “You’ll be dead, too. Poor Eli Kastnen. The former fiancée of a corrupt agent. Allie came to you for help in covering up her crime, but you refused to help the woman you left years ago. In a crime of passion, she shot you before deciding to end her own life.”

“You have thought of everything, haven’t you?” Allie’s mocking tone caused Claire to glare at her. “I do have one question. Why go after a government official first? Why not come directly after me?”

“I needed a diversion, Allie. You taught me that.” Claire gave her a sarcastic smile. “I just had to be a little more extreme in my plan. You can’t always apply your specific methods to everything. How would spilling a drink on my dress make everyone take their attention away from you?”

“How did you get information about the route we were taking? That plan was made weeks after you were terminated from the agency.” Allie was more curious than afraid or angry now. She had to identify any leaks in the agency.

“That was easy.” Claire waved her free hand in the air dismissively. “A group I helped out owed me a favor. They had a hacker, and I needed a way into Interpol’s servers without detection. I was in and out with the information I needed before anyone knew even knew it.”

“I take it that this group is the same one you allegedly destroyed the evidence for?” Eli’s voice had taken on a hardened tone – as if something had him on edge.

A slight movement in the kitchen caught Allie’s attention, but she kept her expression neutral. She had to be careful not to tip-off Claire. It looked like the Calvary had arrived just in time to save them.

“Enough talking.” Claire gave Eli a look full of hatred before turning her focus back on Allie. “It’s time for you two to play your part in my plan. To make things extra special for you, Allie, I’ll kill him first while you watch.” Claire gave Eli an evil grin. “She never stopped loving you, Kastnen. She’s horrible at telling people anything or sticking by them, but she always loved you.”

“I still love her, too.” Eli’s statement caused Allie to turn her head to face him. “That’s why I am calling the shots on this mission… and I always call for back-up.” He started moving toward Allie. “Allie, get down!”

Eli dove for Allie and knocked her to the floor – pinning her underneath him as a shot rang out. Silence followed, which sent a wave of fear through Allie.

Eli isn’t moving. Has he been hit? Allie thought as her mind race to catch up just happened. Please, Eli. Please be okay.

Footsteps came from the direction of the kitchen – stopping in front of the couple. From her position, Allie couldn’t see who the person was. She was hoping they were on her and Eli’s side.

“Uh. Are you two just going to lay there?” A gruff voice with a German accent asked them. “The threat has been neutralized.”

Allie could feel Eli chuckling as he moved away from her. She gave him a fake scowl as he stood up and extended a hand to her. She glanced briefly at Claire’s still body lying nearby – blood pooling around her as she laid face down on the floor. Allie quickly turned her attention back to Eli.

“I should hit you for that,” Allie told him as she accepted his help in getting up off the floor. “I thought you had been shot.”

“I’m going to let you two sort this out.” The man who’d helped them said – a bit of humor was in his tone. Allie remembered him as being Xavier – Eli’s best friend. “It’s good to see you, Allie. I wish I could stand around and catch up, but I have to call this in. Your team will want to know your safe, too.” Xavier handed her his spare satellite phone. “Use this to call. We haven’t found the scrambler yet. Bound to be on one of our lively friends over there.”

Allie thanked him as she accepted the phone. She stared at it for several minutes before Eli placed his arm around her waist.

“What’s wrong, baby?” Eli asked her. “Your team is probably worried sick about you.”

“I’m just trying to think of a way to tell them that I am not coming back to the agency.” Allie looked up at Eli and smiled at his shocked expression.”Do you know you haven’t called me ‘baby’ in over four years? I’ve missed it.”

Eli bent down and kissed her before replying. “You better get used to it then… Baby.”

Allie grinned at the man she trusted and loved more than anyone in the world. She knew trust was dangerous, but she had been in more danger by not trusting someone to accompany her on the assignment.

It only took a familiar cabin in snow-covered woods to help her realize that trust made her stronger than ever before.

Posted in Blogging, Writer’s Unite!, Writing

A Holiday Story

Dearest Readers,

I’m a little late posting the December short story to my blog. I apologize for this, but I have been quite busy preparing for my next chapter in life – pursuing my Ph.D. In Criminal Justice-Homeland Security. I start this journey on January 18th, so any positive thoughts and prayers are appreciated.

Aside from that, I promise that I will keep writing and working on my novel(s). As promised, here is my contribution to Writer’s Unite!’s December prompt. Please be sure to check out their page to read some of the awesome stories from other writers!

Enjoy, and thank you for reading and your support!!

(Follow GatorGirl’s Writer’s Nook on Facebook and Twitter for more updates.)

The Secrets of Mistletoe Canyon

 Amber C. Deck

Ana Garrett sighed as she chained her bike to a metal stand in front of her bookstore. It had been two years to the day since her ex-fiancé had walked out on her — leaving the bike as the only memory of him.

Well, a bike and a whole lot of hurt. Ana ran her hand over the cold blue metal between the handlebars. At least you won’t leave me for my former business partner.

Ana frowned as she walked to her shop door and unlocked it — stepping inside as a cold winter wind blew by. She sighed again as she turned on the lights and flipped the sign to OPEN. It was still early morning in the sleepy little town of Mistletoe Canyon, which was why she knew no one would be by as she tossed her things in the office. Mistletoe Canyon was predictable in that way — even at Christmas time.

The faint jingle of the bell above her shop door caused Ana to look up from the coffee station near the register. As the aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled the air, Ana glanced around a table of current bestsellers to see who had entered the small bookstore. To her surprise, she saw two men standing there — both looking out of place in their three-piece suits.

Ana approached the men cautiously. She was unsure why two professional-looking — and rather handsome — men would be in her shop. She wasn’t the only place open in town this early. Plenty of shops on Main Street had been open for at least an hour now.

“Welcome to Mystic Mistletoe Books, gentlemen,” Ana said to them. She tucked a strand of long, wavy, dark brown hair behind her ear. Two pairs of vivid green eyes met hers — causing her own dark brown eyes to widen. The duo had to be brothers — with one slightly shorter than the other. They both towered over her, but that was to be expected when one was five-foot-five. “Can I help you with something?”

The shorter one — who probably stood a little over six feet — was the first to speak. His jet black hair was cut short, while the taller one had shaggy, light brown hair. Both were very fit, which is why Ana assumed the two meant business. Whatever that business was, of course.

“Are you Ana Whitmire?” The man’s voice was gruff. His stern expression made her feel uneasy.

“Who?” No one had called her that in years — 200 years, to be exact. She had left that name behind when she left England — and her grandfather. It had been his advice to change her name and eventually adopt an American accent. It was to keep her safe. “I do not know of anyone by that name.”

“So, you’re not Ana Whitmire? Should I instead ask if you are an 800-year-old sorceress or the granddaughter of Merlin?” The sarcastic tone in the man’s voice caused a flare of anger in Ana, and he could see that. “Relax. Merlin’s still alive and kicking in London. He’s got more guards to protect him than most of Europe, I hear.”

“Cut it out, Cal,” the taller man said. He smiled reassuringly at Ana. “We are not here to hurt you or your grandfather. You have both been through enough with losing your entire family in one day during the war of 1224.” He took a step closer to Ana, who instinctively stepped back — causing her lower back to hit the table behind her. “We’re not going to hurt you. We need your help.”

“I don’t know who you are talking about, gentlemen.” Ana tried to make herself sound stronger than she felt at the moment. “My name is Ana Garrett. I’m from Mistletoe Canyon, and I own this bookstore.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Garrett.” The taller one smiled at her. He was undoubtedly the more handsome one of the two — if she had to pick. Something in his eyes made him seem sincere and… trusting. “My name’s Bradley Sloane, and this is my brother.”

“Cal.” The man’s gruff voice confirmed. “Listen, you can go by whatever you want. We know who and what you are. It’s our jobs, and we’ve been searching all over town for you.”

Hunters. That single word caused fear to grip Ana. She’d seen the work of the Sloane brothers plastered all over the supernatural media sites she followed. She should have recognized them by the description from some of her non-human friends. Well, those that had survived meeting the two.

“You’re hunters,” Ana whispered as she tried to back up more. The table full of books was blocking her potential escape route. “I haven’t done anything wrong. I’ve not used any major magic — only a few healing remedies to help some people in town. You don’t have to kill me.”

“Whoa, Miss Garrett. Calm down. We are not going to hurt you.” Bradley spoke in a calming tone. “We need your help. Our dad recommended you. He said you helped him years ago when he got attacked by something. His name is Dylan Sloane. Remember him?”

Ana nodded slowly. “He was injured after a wendigo attacked him. It surprised him as he was laying a trap for it. Luckily, I was gathering berries for a remedy for a person in town that day.” Ana eyed the two men cautiously. “I heard him yell and helped him destroy the creature. I treated his wounds afterward, and he promised to keep my secret. That was the only time I used big magic, too. That was almost thirty-five years ago. He still remembers me?”

“You bet.” Cal grinned at her this time. “You helped him get home to his wife, a two-year-old, and a newborn. Right, little bro?”

Bradley looked slightly embarrassed at being called the younger brother. Ana thought the endearment was rather cute, and it made the two hunters a little less scary to her.

“Well, how can I help Dylan’s two boys?” Ana walked back to the register that sat on a tall wooden counter. Cal and Bradley followed her closely. “I owe him for keeping my secret.”

“It’s a bit complicated, Miss Garrett.” Bradley ran his fingers through his hair. “It has to do with a curse — much like the one that killed your family.”

Ana froze. That curse was supposed to have been destroyed years ago. Merlin had decreed that it was to be removed from all spell-books immediately. The curse had driven the kingdom mad — affecting only humans who entered its path. Both armies couldn’t stop tearing each other apart until Merlin broke the curse. By then, only he and Ana remained in the Whitmire bloodline.

“That spell was outlawed after the war of 1224.” Ana’s eyes locked with Bradley’s. “If it has returned, that means the true originator of the curse has as well. They are the only one who could remember the curse without a spell-book.” Ana motioned for the men to follow her to the office behind the counter. The three entered the room, and Ana shut the door before walking to a bookcase on the far wall. “What I am about to show you hasn’t been seen by mortal eyes — ever.”

Ana removed a book and felt behind it. A soft click sounded, and she quickly replaced the book before the large bookcase slid to the side. A staircase was slowly revealed as the massive structure slowly moved out of the way. 

Ana walked up the stairs as the two men followed. Lights flashed on as they ascended the stairs, and she heard the bookcase slide back into place as they reached the floor above her shop. She waved her hand over the heavy wooden door in front of her — hearing it unlock before opening it. The trio stepped inside, and she could see the look of amazement on the two men’s faces as she closed the door behind them.

“This room holds all of the memories from my past.” Ana walked by the two brothers as she spoke. She approached a large wooden trunk nestled between two tall bookcases — both filled with ancient-looking books written in Latin. “My ex-fiancé never even knew about this room. Of course, I never got to tell him who I truly was before he left me.” She felt Bradley and Cal standing behind her now as she knelt in front of the trunk. She whispered a few words in Latin before the trunk popped open. “I guess I didn’t need to use magic to make him run away. My former business partner was already pushing me out of the picture.”

Bradley knelt beside her and placed his hand on her arm. “I’m sorry about what happened to you. It was probably a good thing this guy never realized who you were, though. He could have tried to hurt you.” He grinned at her as she nodded in agreement. He topped his head toward the open trunk. “Now, how about you show that jerk what he lost while helping us save the world?”

Ana smiled at him. “Alright, I’ll help — since you put it that way.” She glanced at Cal, who had knelt beside her as well. She cleared her throat as she reached into the trunk and pulled out a thick, leather-bound book. “This belonged to my grandfather, but he gave it to me when he decided to advise for the current royal family. I honestly thought I would never have to use it, but Grandfather told me that I might need to one day. He always knows these things…”

The sound of Cal clearing his throat startled Ana. It was clear that he was getting annoyed with her trip down memory lane. She glanced over at Bradley and saw him giving his brother a sharp look.

“You said that this curse could only be brought back by the person who created it.” Cal was trying to hide his annoyance as he spoke. Ana could tell he was an “all action, no thinking” type of guy. “So, we’re looking at an ancient dude who’s bored?”

“Cal…” Bradley warned as he gave his brother another stern look.

“It’s alright, Bradley. I can handle this.” Ana readjusted herself to where she was sitting cross-legged on the floor. She opened the book and turned several pages before laying it on her lap. “Cal, this ‘ancient dude’ you so casually speak of nearly destroyed two kingdoms during one war. In that same war, I lost my parents and siblings. The only reason I survived is because I was in the castle with my grandfather. He had created a magical barrier to prevent the curse from reaching the rest of the royal family. Sadly, the Queen did not survive the war after the King became cursed on the battlefield.” Ana stared directly into Cal’s eyes. “I was four years old and lost almost my entire family. If I hadn’t been born with powers, I could have fallen to the curse just as easy as my siblings did.”

“I’m sorry, Miss Garrett,” Cal muttered as he looked down at the floor.

“It’s okay. I’ve made my leave with everything that happened back then.” Ana took a deep breath. “Please call me Ana — both of you. Miss Garrett makes me sound like an old librarian. I’m only 800 years old, not 8000.” She gave a small smile as they grinned at her. “Now, let’s get back to the curse. The sorcerer who created this curse is not a sorcerer. She’s a sorceress, but she only uses dark magic. At least, she has for as long as I’ve known her.”

“Okay… Why would she be back now?” Bradley asked. “Didn’t Merlin destroy her in 1224?”

“No.” Ana shook her head as she pointed to a page in the book. Both men leaned closer to look at where she was pointing. “He stopped the curse, destroyed all copies of it, and prohibited its use in the magic world. The sorceress was imprisoned in an underground cell protected by runes and spells. This prison is also underneath the deepest part of the ocean — buried under twenty feet of sand and rock.” She pointed to a picture in the book. “Here is a painting of the sorceress. Grandfather used a spell to shrink it to fit into this book.”

Bradley’s eyes widened as he looked at the petite brunette in the portrait. “Is she standing beside Merlin in that painting?”

“Yes, and, before you say it, Cal, I know she looks like me.” Ana sighed. She had to tell the brothers who they were dealing with — even if she didn’t want to expose yet another secret. “This is Morganna — Merlin’s sister and my great-aunt. If she’s back, then she’s back for two things: revenge and this book.”

“Why would she start a curse for that?” Bradley gave her a curious look. “Why wouldn’t she come directly after you and Merlin?”

“I’m more concerned with how she got out of an underground prison that was supposed to be protected,” Cal grumbled.

“Morganna is very powerful, Cal. She has had centuries to find a way to escape. It was only a matter of time before she found that way, I guess.” Ana rubbed her forehead with one hand. “As for the curse, she craves chaos. It makes her stronger. The curse will hit here and soon — if she finds me.” 

Ana flipped through a few pages in the book on her lap before stopping. She spoke a few words in Latin and then placed her hand on each man’s chest for a few seconds. Both of them looked at her in a combination of surprise and shock.

“That will protect you from the curse,” Ana told them as she shut the book and stood up. Bradley and Cal did the same — watching her as she waved a hand over the trunk. It closed with a soft thud and locked. “I now need to hide this book before Morganna finds it…”

“You would keep a treasured family heirloom from your dear Aunt Morganna?” A silky-toned voice with an English accent caused the trio to spin around and face the door. “Hello, Ana. It’s been ages since I’ve seen you. You’ve grown up so much!” She sneered at the two men with her. “I can’t say I like the company you are keeping, but your parents were mortal. It makes sense you would have a soft spot for these creatures. Just like my dear brother does. He did marry one, after all.”

Ana gripped the book against her chest. “Don’t you dare speak about my grandfather like that. He has a good heart, where you have nothing but darkness in your soul.” Anger flashed in Ana’s eyes, but she managed to keep her tone calm. “I know why you created the curse again, Morganna. You cannot have this book.”

“Oh? Who is going to stop me from prying it away from your lifeless body?” Morganna gave her an evil smile. “These two mortals? They are hardly a match for me.”

“No, Morganna. I’m going to end this. Permanently.” Ana opened the book about halfway and spoke a few sentences in Latin. She pointed her right index finger toward Morganna as she repeated the sorceress’s name. “There, that should do it. Check with your father, Cal. See if the curse is over.”

Cal nodded and dialed his father. Bradley looked over at Morganna to see her standing there with her mouth open. When Cal confirmed the curse was over, the woman collapsed on the floor.

“What have you done to me, Ana?!” Morganna wailed as she looked at her hands. Her skin was beginning to wrinkle rapidly in front of her eyes. “I feel… I feel…”

Ana interrupted her. “Grandfather prepared me for this day — should it ever happen. He told me of the only spell that would stop you from ending the world.” Morganna met Ana’s gaze as her hair started graying. “I made you mortal, Morganna. Now, you will know how it feels to be completely human — even if just for a few moments.”

Ana, Bradley, and Cal watched as Morganna opened her mouth to scream at them. No sound escaped as the rapid aging process continued. It only took a few more minutes before Morganna was nothing but dust on the floor.

“That was… interesting,” Bradley stated as he shook his head. He watched as Ana returned the book to the trunk. “Are you okay, Ana?”

“Surprisingly, I am fine,” Ana replied as she rejoined him and Cal. “Morganna was given a just punishment. I will call Grandfather later and inform him.” She grabbed a broom and dustpan that was leaning against a wall. “For now, I’ll just clean her up and get back to work.”

“Let me help you,” Bradley said as he reached for the broom and dustpan. He gently took them from her grasp and started sweeping. “It’s the least I can do for you helping us.”

Bradley glanced over at Cal, who now stood by the door. His brother never wanted to help out after a job. Typically, Bradley would just follow him and head back home. Meeting Ana today made him want to stick around for a few more hours.

“You go on home, Cal, and give Dad our report.” Bradley glanced at Ana before looking back at his brother. “I’m going to stay here with Ana for a little bit and help her out.”

“Uh-huh.” Cal raised an eyebrow and grinned. He opened the door and started down the stairs.

“We’re just in the next town,” Bradley told Ana. “I can get a ride later.”

“I can take you home.” Ana smiled. “Only my bike is here, but sorceresses have other ways of traveling.”

Bradley laughed along with her. It would be good to know a sorceress, and Bradley planned to make this relationship personal — even if she was 800 years young…