Author: UtsSQ

Rated: NC-17 *sex, language, violence





“Yo! Ollie! I’m home!”


Abby dropped her bag by the door and tossed the mail onto the hall table. She heard a muffled shout from the direction of the kitchen, and shook her head. Ollie was obviously into something. Especially being home this early in the day.


Abigail and Olivia Trent were twins, thirty years old. Their parents had died soon after the girls had turned eighteen and left to them the big rambling house they’d grown up in. Neither woman had the heart to sell it. They’d moved in, meaning to only stay long enough to do some work and get it presentable to buyers. Temporary had turned into permanent. They had an unspoken agreement that whoever got married first would become the full owner of the house. And since both women were obsessed with work, that didn’t seem to be in the immediate future.


Olivia was a professor of mythology at the local college. Abigail was a police officer, a detective actually. She’d just gotten her promotion three months before and putting in sixteen hours days was not a strange occurrence.


But she was starting her vacation the next morning. Abby planned on doing nothing more than sitting around the house, working on her tan, and avoiding criminal activity. She shrugged her jacket off and went toward the kitchen.


Abby gasped as she walked through the archway. There were pots and pans scattered everywhere. Bowls covered every available surface. Something crunched underfoot. Abby looked down and grimaced. Eggshells were strewn across the floor.


“What the hell are you doing?” She asked, gaze resting on her sister. They were twins but not identical. Ollie was blonde with soulful hazel eyes. Abby was brunette, her eyes an soft sky blue.


Ollie grinned at her, her face a mess of what looked like sugar. She was stirring something in a pot on the stove. “Hey sis. How was work?” She sounded not the least bit put out by her mess. Abby sighed in exasperation.


“Obviously not as exciting as your day.” She said wryly. “I ask again. What the hell?”


Ollie’s grin grew wider. “Oh…one of the kids brought in a book of spells he found. I thought I’d whip something up out of it. Show and tell.”


“Gimme a break.” Abby sighed and took another look around. “You had to destroy the kitchen to do it? I thought we agreed you wouldn’t do this stuff in the house anymore.”


“Where is your sense of adventure?” Ollie asked, still grinning. She poured brown liquid into the boiling pot on the stove.


“Where is your sensibility?” Abby went to her sister’s side and looked down into the pot, her nose wrinkling at the smell.


“I dunno. I’m on a roll though.” Ollie laughed and dumped a cup of green round…things…into the pot.


“Ok, since you are gonna make me drag it out of you, what exactly are you doing?” Abby was interested in spite of herself. Leave it to Ollie to believe this stuff would actually work.


“A time potion.” Ollie said it as if it were an everyday thing. Abby raised an eyebrow. “Don’t give me that look. You don’t believe in it, so what’s the harm?”


“What’s the harm? Have you not looked around the kitchen?” Abby asked rhetorically. Ollie shook her head.


“Imagine this for me. What if there was a way to go back? To go back to the day Mom and Dad died, and warn them, or stop the robbery. Something.” Ollie looked beseechingly at her sister. Abby sighed. Of course. She should have known.


Their parents had been on the way home on night after going to the movies. They’d stopped at a gas station for some reason. They walked into an armed robbery. The gunman had been young, nervous. He’d shot without seeing that it was just a couple out on the town, not the cops he thought were sneaking up on him.


That was why Abby had joined the police force as soon as she’d graduated high school. First working dispatch, then patrolling. And now her detective badge. She knew that her mom and dad would have been proud of her.


Ollie on the other hand had taken a more enigmatic approach to her mourning. She’d gone to college and studied…strange things. Urban legends, myths, witches, vampires. Abby had never realized a person could get a degree in that kind of thing, let alone end up teaching it at a college. Ollie was exceedingly popular with her classes, not only because she was young and pretty, but because she loved her work. She drew people in.


“Sis, you know this stuff is a bunch of hogwash.” Abby said, shaking the memories and looking at the worn book that was open on the counter. It was handwritten. The writing was scrolling, curling, impossible to read at the angle she was seeing it.


“Maybe. Maybe not.” Ollie smiled. “I had to play hell to get some of these ingredients. I had to go to the shop downtown.”


“Olivia.” Abby looked at her sister, shocked. The shop she was referring to was nothing more than a couple of old ladies, conning other old ladies out of money. Not only did they claim to be psychics, they sold all manner of strange things at their dingy shop.


“I know. I made it there and back in one piece, I didn’t get my fortune read, so I consider it mission accomplished.” Ollie grinned again. “Two more ingredients. You wanna go with me?”


“Since I highly doubt you’re actually going anywhere, that’s a dumb question.” Abby said wryly.


“You’ll see, big sis.” Ollie cracked an egg and added it to the mix. Abby just shook her head. She was six minutes older than Ollie. And Ollie only called her big sis when she wanted to get her way.


“This is ridiculous.”


“Look, non-believer, if you don’t wanna join, then get out. I can’t have you in here messing up my vibes.” Ollie said absently. She was studying that damn book.


“Messing…up…your…vibes.” Abby repeated slowly.


“Yes. Sometimes this stuff only works if you believe it. And you don’t, obviously.”


“I don’t understand why you do!” Abby said, not trying to hide her annoyance.


“Yes you do. You just don’t want to admit it.” Ollie picked up the final cup and looked at Abby. “Last chance. In or out?”


“You’re gonna kill us both. Probably just mixed up a nice dynamite soup there.” Abby muttered, watched as Ollie tilted the cup. Three round black objects fell into the pot. “Ok. Nothing happened. Told ya.” Abby said after waiting a moment.


“We have to say the spell.” Ollie rolled her eyes as if this thought should have occurred to her sister in the first place.


“This is retarded.” Abby muttered, standing shoulder to shoulder with Ollie. Ollie picked up the book and held it so her sister could see.


“It’ll work.” Ollie muttered. She pointed at the passage. “Actually all we have to do is say ‘water and fire, fire and water’. That should do it.”


“What, three times?” Abby asked, shaking her head at the serious tone in her sister’s voice.


“No. We do it until it happens.”


“Great. We’ll be standing here all night.” Abby muttered. Ollie took her hand and nodded.


“Water and fire. Fire and water. Water and fire. Fire and water. Water and fire. Fire and water…” Their voices took on a monotonous tone. Abby felt ridiculous. Ollie was clutching at her hand, her eyes staring into the pot.


Abby gave it her full attention, unaware she was still saying the cadence over and over. Ollie had turned the burners off. The pot was still boiling. Not just boiling, but boiling OVER the side. Green smoke began pouring from the metal pot, its smell making Abby feel like gagging. The pot began hopping on the burner, it’s contents splashing the stovetop and counter around it. A few drops fell on Abby’s arm. She jerked, expecting a burn. Instead the green-tinted liquid felt icy cold on her skin. She shivered and looked at her sister.


Ollie pulled her eyes from the dancing pot and looked at Abby. “I think maybe I goofed it somewhere.”


“No shit…” Abby did not get to finish what she’d wanted to say. The pot exploded with a green burst of light. Abby felt herself knocked backward, blinded by the intense blast. Ollie’s hand was yanked from hers as she fell with a thud to the floor. Her head smacked against the wood plank floor. Abby saw nothing but darkness after that.




Her head was pounding.


That was the first thing that registered.


The next thing was that the light was way too bright in the kitchen. She had not noticed that Ollie had turned on the overhead light. Too busy being shocked by the mess.


“Good goin’ Ollie.” Abby muttered and tried to blink her eyes open. She got a sharp pain in her head for the effort. How hard had she hit the floor? She forced a hand up to feel the damage but stopped before she could actually touch her hair. Since when was the kitchen carpeted?


That was when sounds started to register. Birds chirping. The music of water running lazily over rocks. A frog croaking somewhere. Abby tried again to open her eyes and the light stung them. Blinking rapidly, she pushed herself up with her elbows, keeping her head as still as possible.


It was bright. Midday. That was not possible. Abby had gotten home a bit after five. The sun should have been sinking low on the horizon. “Fuck. How long were we out, Ollie?” She asked, her voice hoarse. She was thirsty. The sound of water was about driving her nuts.


Abby blinked a few more times, her eyes adjusting to her surroundings. She definitely was not in the house. Was not even in the yard. She had no idea where the hell she was. She was laying on a sloped piece of ground that ended at a wide stream. Trees lined it on either side, going on in all directions. There was no sign of the house, of any house, of anything that would tell her where she was.


Abby sat all the way up and finally rubbed the back of her head. She had quit a lump forming there. Her hand came away clean, so she wasn’t bleeding. That was a plus. She eyed the water distrustfully. Her mouth was so dry. She swallowed and got nothing but a click in her throat.


Movement to her left made Abby turn her head too fast. She moaned at the pain that shot down the back of her neck into her shoulders. A boy stood there, no more than ten feet away. He was staring at her, eyes wide. He was maybe six, seven years old with shaggy dark hair and…Abby squinted. He was wearing strange clothes. A brown tunic-like top. Dark, rough woven pants. And boots. He looked like a stable boy in any one of the hundreds of medieval movies she’d seen throughout her life.


“Hey, kid.” She managed to croak out. She tried to rise to her feet, but her legs refused to support her. The boy did not speak, but he did take a big step back, as if afraid she were going to attack him.  “It’s all right. I’m not gonna hurt you.” He did not seem to believe her. He kept his distance. “It the water all right to drink?” She managed to grind out. The boy slowly nodded his head. Abby sighed with relief, believing him. She crawled to the stream and scooped a handful of cold water into her mouth. Nothing had ever tasted so good.


She turned back to the boy. He had followed her but kept the same distance that he’d had when she was laying down. Abby just looked at him, waiting to see what he’d do.


“Are you an angel?” He asked, his voice soft. Abby had to grin at that. She’d been called a lot of things in her time, but angel was never one of them.


“Kid, I don’t know what I am.” Abby realized he was looking at her clothes the same way she’d looked at him. She glanced down at herself. Well-worn jeans and a t-shirt. Sneakers. Her usual work attire. Being a detective meant dressing down whenever she wanted. She hadn’t had a chance to change before Ollie had done…whatever the hell she’d done. Her police issue gun was still pressed against her back in the quick-release holster she wore to work.


The kid didn’t say a word. Instead he took off, turning on his heel and running off, back through the trees. “Great. Nice talkin’ to ya.” Abby said sarcastically. She tried standing again. Her legs managed to hold her up. Cradling her head in her hands, she looked around, taking in the open ground, the huge trees, the water. Where the hell was she?



Abby considered her options. She could stay where she was. Which was not a bad idea considering she had no clue where in hell she happened to be. Or she could try to find her sister. Ollie might have been hurt. She once again brushed the bump on her head. If Ollie wasn’t hurt, she might even remedy that. Her sister had done some hair-brained things in the past, but this definitely took the cake.

Before she could decide what to do, Abby heard voices coming from the woods to her left. Two, maybe three men. And the boy. His voice was high and clear in the still air by the stream. She spotted movement through the trees and moments later the men stepped into the clearing.

The first man, the leader, was tall and built like a tanker truck. His dark eyes took her in for a moment as he came to a sudden halt. The smaller man with him almost walked into his back. The boy trailed behind them, babbling excitedly. His voice faded to a whisper and was gone as the four of them stood looking at each other.

“Jacob wasn’t joking.” The smaller man said. He was blonde with blue eyes. He carried a bow over his shoulder and a quiver of arrows on his back. He was dressed similarly to the boy. The tall man eyed her with intense dark eyes, as if measuring her.

“Another of Glen’s spies.” He finally said. He took a step forward. Abby realized that she was pretty much cornered there by the water. The big man was wearing unrelieved black. Abby did a double take. He had a sword strapped to his thigh.

“Who are you people?” She managed to ask, trying to keep her voice steady.

“The better question is, who are you?” The big man asked, still looking at her. “Are you here under orders of Prince Glen?”

“Uh…who the hell is Prince Glen?” Abby sidestepped, keeping the men in front of her. She had to get away from the water’s edge and closer to the line of trees. If she had to run, that would be the safest way to go. At least there would be hiding places.

The two men exchanged a glance. The boy, Jacob, was shaking his head emphatically. “I told you…she’s an angel!” He said, pushing on the big man’s leg to get his attention.

The tall man looked down, amusement on his face. “Jacob, there are no angels here. Just another one of your Uncle’s spies.” There was obvious affection in his voice as he soothed the boy into calming down.

“Look, I don’t know who you people are, but I’m not a spy. Or an angel for that matter.” Abby brought the attention back to her. The big guy was looking at her again with a thoughtful expression.

“Then what exactly are you?” He asked, no more amusement evident. Abby looked at the smaller man, who was studying her as if she were a new form of bug he’d found.

“I don’t know. I don’t even know how I got here.” Abby took a step back. Her hand drifted behind her, gripping the butt of her gun. She did not want to have to use it, but she didn’t like the look she was getting from the big man who stood in front of her.

“I highly doubt that, spy.” His voice was low, as if he were speaking to a wild animal. “We should take her back, put her in the dungeon, let the king decide what to do with her.” He was speaking to the smaller man but still looking at Abby. The small man took a step toward her and Abby drew her gun, pointing it at his chest.

“I wouldn’t do that…” She said softly. The men stared at the object in her hand, frowns of confusion on their faces. Abby did not know how it was possible, but it seemed as if they had no clue what it was. Ok. She raised the gun and squeezed off a warning shot. The report was deafening as if echoed through the woods.

The two men both jumped. The boy clapped his hands over his ears. Abby leveled the gun once more, this time aiming for the big leader guy. “Back off. Right now.”

The two men exchanged a glance. They took a simultaneous step backward. Abby had a moment to think that it had been almost too easy. Then fresh pain exploded in her head and she felt herself falling once again into blackness.


She woke to the same pain, the same stinging in her eyes, as the first time. Damn. She’d had some weird dream. Abby raised a hand and rubbed her forehead absently. What the hell had happened? She’d gotten home from work, she’d gone into the kitchen…The rest was a blank. She couldn’t remember and her head hurt too much to give it much thought.

With a groan of pain, she elbowed herself up. Blinking her eyes to clear them she looked around. She was in a stone-walled room, eight feet by twelve, give or take. A barred door was in the far corner. There were no windows, no furnishings of any kind. Pale light filtered from outside the room, a yellow, flickering light that Abby knew meant candles of some kind. The floor was also made of stone. A heap of straw was under her as a makeshift bed.

“Great…” She muttered, rubbing at her head again. This time there were two bumps. Then she remembered. Ollie and her spell book. The explosion. The kid by the water. And the big dark guy who had been studying her like a book. Using the wall for support she struggled to her feet and went to the door, her hands wrapping around the bars as she tried to see into the hallway.

There was no one out there. The light came from torches at regular intervals on the walls. Everything was made of rough-hewn stone. Abby did not take well to being locked up.

“Hey!” She yelled, thinking maybe she could get someone’s attention. Surely they wouldn’t just leave her alone down there. The place was akin to a prison, which meant there had to be guards.

She heard the sound of footsteps. The big guy from earlier stopped in front of her cell, looking at her, the amusement in his eyes again.

“What’s the deal, asshole? I didn’t do anything to you.” She said, lightly touching her head again. This time her fingers came away sticky with drying blood. Great. Just great.

“That’s to be decided I think.” The man smiled. There was no humor in it. He waved and a man appeared, another blonde, but not the same one she’d seen earlier. “Run and tell the kiing that she’s awake. He wants to speak with her himself.”

“Yes, sir.” The blonde gave a half salute and was gone before Abby could even think of saying anything to him. The big guy was still eyeing her.

“What? Is my hair green or something? You can’t keep me locked up here, it’s kidnapping.” She muttered, wincing as her fingers brushed the lump on her head.

“We CAN keep you locked up here. Of course, that’s the decision of the king. If you are a spy I suggest you admit to it. Your punishment will not be any easier but you will not suffer for telling the truth.” The big man said softly.

“I am not a spy!” Abby gripped the bars again, struggling not to scream at the hardheaded man in front of her. “I don’t know who the fuck you people are, why the hell would I spy on you?”

The man raised an eyebrow at her outburst. “That remains to be seen. The king is on his way. He wanted to speak to you himself. This spy business has got to stop, you see. We thought we’d gotten the message across the last time…”

“Damn it! Why won’t you listen to me?” Abby was frustrated and did not try to hide it. “I am not a spy. I don’t know who the hell you think I could be a spy for. I’m a cop. That’s it.”

“A…cop?” He asked, as if he’d never heard the word before.

“A police officer?” The man looked at her blankly. Abby sighed in exasperation. “Great. I get kidnapped by retarded people.”

“I would also suggest that along with telling the truth, you be careful of your tone. The king won’t take kindly to being spoken to in such a manner.”

“Bully for him.” Abby muttered, losing interest in the infuriating man on the other side of the bars. “What year it is?”


“Yes. The date?” She struggled not to sound condescending. It took a lot of willpower.

“June seven. Fifteen oh seven.” The man replied, looking at her, that amused look once again on his face.

“Damn it.” Great. Abby rubbed her face. Ollie had sent them back all right. June seventh was the anniversary of her parent’s death. She’d overshot the event by about four hundred ninety years.

There were noises from up the hallway. The big man looked in that direction then back at Abby. “The king comes. I would suggest you show respect and bow to him. Don’t look at him directly. Things will go much easier if you do these things.” He was speaking softly so as not to be overheard. Abby just nodded.

The big man turned and bowed as he was joined by the blonde guy and another man. Abby kept her head bowed, not wanting to look up.

“Is this the spy?” A very deep voice seemed to make the walls vibrate with echoes. Abby felt a shiver go down her back.

“She still claims ignorance, sire. Even on threat of death.” The big man she’d been talking to said, his voice low.

“Rise, David. You do not have to bow to me in such settings.” The deep voice said. David stood and turned his attention back to the cell.

“I have never seen a woman dressed as such, sire.” David said, gesturing at Abby. She caught the movement from the corner of her eye.

“My brother may be trying something new.” The deep voice rumbled. “Although why he would send a woman…”

Abby was getting tired of being spoken of as if she were not standing two feet in front of them. She narrowed her eyes angrily as the two men talked. She’d worked too long and hard to be turned into some object of speculation.

“Tell me. What manner of weapon is this?” The deep voice asked. Abby realized he was finally speaking to her. He was holding the gun out. She resisted the urge to snatch at it between the bars.

Abby took his question as her cue to finally look up at him. And up. He was tall, taller even than David. Long dark red hair fell in a braid down his back. He had very piercing green eyes. She met his gaze for a long moment, then shifted her eyes to look at the gun in his hand.

“It’s a gun.” She finally said, whatever smart remark that had been forming lost.

“A…gun.” He repeated slowly, turning it over in his hand.

“Yes.” Abby looked up at him again. He was not looking at the gun. He was looking at her. There was a strange expression on his face.

“Are you a spy for my brother?” The question caught her off guard. She had expected another query about the gun.

“I don’t even know who you people are.” She said, holding his gaze. “I’m no spy.”

He stared at her for another long moment, as if trying to see inside her. Then he nodded. “David. Let her out.”

“I’m sorry, sire?” David had not expected that.

“Let her out. She’s not here to spy for my brother.” The taller man said. He turned his attention back to Abby. “I am Mark, king of this land. Who are you?”

“I’m Abigail. Abby.” She corrected herself automatically. No one called her Abigail. She hated the name.

David was turning a key in the lock. He swung the door open and Abby stepped into the hall. She stood between the big men, looking distrustfully from one to another.

Mark sighed and held out her gun. Abby was surprised but took it more than willingly. She holstered it, hearing it click as it settled against her back. “You must show me how it works.” Mark said softly. Abby nodded.

“All right.”

“Why are you here?” He caught her eyes with his again. Abby swallowed.

“I don’t know. I don’t know how I got here.” She hesitated. “My sister was with me. I don’t know where she is. I have to find her.”

Mark nodded slowly, not in agreement, just nodding that he was listening to her. “Take her to my chambers. I’d speak more to her.” He spoke to David. Before she could be led away, Mark reached out and touched her shoulder. “I think we have much to discuss.”

“I agree.” Abby said with a nod. She turned and followed a reluctant David down the hallway.

She waited until they’d climbed a set of steps before speaking again. From the set of David’s shoulders he was not happy about the way things were turning out. Good for him. “Where are we?”

“King Mark’s castle.” David replied, keeping it short, almost biting the words out. He also had a hint of sarcasm there. Abby smirked.

“No, I mean where…as in location? England?”

“England?” David repeated, looking over his shoulder at her. “What is…England?”

“Ok. Germany? Damn, what was around five hundreds years ago?” Abby tried to think. Her head was reasserting its pain, making it difficult. If she didn’t have a concussion she’d be shocked.

“I don’t know that name either.” David admitted. They crossed into another room, then climbed another set of stairs.

“So what is this place?” Slightly breathless she still questioned him. David sighed.

“You are in Remi, ruled over by King Mark the Elderheart.” David said, speaking as if to a child who knew better than to ask.

“Remi.” Abby said softly, letting it roll around in her aching head. She’d never heard of such a place. David said nothing more as he stopped in at a huge door. It looked to be inlaid with carved gold.

“This is the castle proper. You’ll do well to mind your manners while you are in the king’s presence. He may have shown mercy and believed you but he is an intelligent man, a wise man. He would suffer a mistake from you.”

“How comforting of you to offer me advise.” Abby said, voice dripping with sweetness. David looked at her and shoved the door open.

Abby stepped over the threshold and stopped, her breath caught in her throat. The door opened into a courtyard. There was a stream in the center, flowing lazily. A narrow wooden bridge allowed people to cross to the other side. There were trees, flowers, grass. It was like being outside, yet still within the safety of the castle grounds. The walls, the benches, the hardware holding the bridge together all seemed to be made entirely of gold. It glowed in the rays of the sun, looking like butter.

“You have got to be kidding me.” Abby said softly, letting on hand sweep across the back of a bench as they passed. Hard. Cool to the touch. She was no jeweler but knew that damn thing had to way a few hundred pounds. Never mind karats.

“What?” David had stopped and looked at her impatiently.

“All this gold and you just leave it outside, in the elements?”

“What is gold but another rock we find in plentitude?” David asked, shaking his head. “The stones are worthless. Too soft for weaponry. We use it for more practical matters.”

“Where I come from somebody would kill to own just one nail from the bridge.” Abby said as they walked across the bridge in question.

“Are they all unbalanced in the head?” David asked, laughing at the thought of someone killing for worthless gold.

“A good sized lot of them.” She murmured, looking around once more before following David into another doorway. This was definitely meant for royalty. More gold. And silver now, although not so much. “So silver is the dominant element around here.” Abby said, not asking. She’d figured that out on her own. She touched her earlobes. She’d put silver studs into her ears before heading to work that morning. Which all in all felt like a lifetime ago. They were still securely attached to her ears. She also wore a sterling silver ring, a band that was set with emeralds. It was small enough to be unobtrusive to her work. She usually forgot to take it off.

“Were you royalty?” David asked, looking as if he hated himself for asking. He’d watched her check her jewelry and his eyes widened at the sight of the silver. “Is that what a police is?”

“Not quite.” Abby smiled. “A police officer…I guess it would be something like a guard. Or a soldier. It really depends on the situation.”

David nodded but said nothing. He led her past more gold inlayed doors, more rooms, through a large hallway the sported gold-framed paintings. Paintings of the royal family, Abby assumed. The kings were all large men, handsome. The women, the queens beautiful in a detached way.

At the end of the hall was another door. David stopped and looked at her again. “This is the kind’s quarters. You are to stay in the sitting room unless he gives you permission to visit any other area. Touch nothing. Try to control that mouth of yours and you may yet get out of here with your life.”

“I have never liked being threatened.” Abby said, voice low. She was getting tired of this guy thinking she would be pushed around. She felt homesick and her head now felt like a full brass band were playing a solo inside of it.

“Behave yourself and I won’t have to threaten you.” David said with a sardonic smile. He opened the door and let her enter, then slammed it shut behind her. Abby heard the distinct sound of a key being turned in a lock. Another prison. Great.

At least this one was well appointed. Everything in the room was heavy wood, dark, relieved by paintings in red and gold, purple, blue. The sofa…if that was what it was called…was cushioned and covered with a deep purple throw. There was a fireplace, logs standing ready for a match strike. It covered almost an entire wall. There were three doors leading toward the back. Abby thought about checking them out, then decided it could wait. Her head was not going to feel better just because she was nosy.

She went to the sofa and took a seat, sinking into the cushions with a sigh of relief. The only light in the room was coming from the windows. There were plants in the room, vases full of flora Abby had never seen before. She relaxed into the cushions and closed her eyes, giving her aching head a break from the light, from her confused questions. She just wanted to figure out how the hell she was going to get home. She had to find Ollie. That was her only option.



A shadow fell over her as she dozed.

Abby opened her eyes, expecting to see the king. Instead a man was stooping over her, studying her with interest. He was tall, thin, pale. His dark hair hung around his shoulders. His eyes seemed to be glowing with red light.

“Who…” Abby could not even form a full question.

The man waved a hand. “Who does not matter. Tell me, are you a witch?”


“A witch! A witch!” The man cackled madly and stared down at her, his eyes boring into her as if trying to read her mind. Abby put her hands up in a warding off gesture, unable to back away from him.

“No! Damn it…no!”

The man leaned closer. Abby could smell his fetid breath as he exhaled. He took a deep breath in, a sick smile forming on his lips.

Abby tried to jerk away and was suddenly tumbling off the couch, a scream of revulsion caught in her throat.

She sat there on the floor, panting, looking around wildly. She was still in the king’s chambers. Everything was as it should be, at least from what she’d seen when first entering. There was no thin man. She started to get up and gasped in surprise when a hand wrapped around her arm, helping her to her feet.

“I did not want to disturb your sleep.” A deep voice said. Abby whirled, shaking off his hand and looked up at Mark, unable to completely mask her fear.

“You scared me!” She said, backing off a step.

“I apologize.” He smiled and nodded at the sofa. “Won’t you have a seat?”

“I think I’ve had enough of that.” Abby said dismissively. Mark cocked his head and a slight frown crossed his face.

“You were moaning a bit. Thrashing. Was it a bad dream?” He asked, curious.

“I don’t know what it was.” Abby admitted. The dream was leaving her rapidly. She remembered someone standing over her. That was it. And for some reason…red eyes. She shivered and hugged her arms around her body.

Mark watched expectantly as she struggled to remember. “It will come back to you.” He assured her. Abby shrugged.

“I suppose.” She eyed him warily. He lifted an eyebrow and slowly sank onto the sofa, stretching his long legs out in front of him.

The silence stretched out. Abby shifted from foot to foot, nervous for some reason. She heaved a sigh and walked around the room, looking at things again. She had a feeling he was watching her closely. Shaking it off, she stopped in front of a large painting that hung at the front of the room.

It must have been a family portrait. There was an older man with silver hair, tall, slim. A woman with fiery red hair and twinkling blue eyes. Another man with long dark hair, a bit of a smirk on his face. And the last person was obviously Mark.

“Is this your family?” She asked, for lack of anything better to say.

“Yes.” His voice was right behind her. Abby jumped and looked over her shoulder. He’d gotten up from the sofa and followed her, looking at the painting with a rather sad smile on his face. “My father, my sister, my brother and myself.” He nodded.

“Oh.” Abby looked at the picture. “She’s very beautiful.”

“Yes, she was. She passed on two years ago. Just a year after my father.” His voice was laced with the sadness that she had seen in his expression.

“I’m very sorry.” Abby said softly.

Mark waved it off. His sister’s death was not something he liked to discuss with anyone. “I believe you have already met her son.”

Abby frowned a bit thinking. The kid at the stream? It had to be. Although the hair and eyes were different, the kid had resembled his mother in some indefinable way. “Jacob?” She asked, trying to remember his name.

Mark nodded. “That’s him.”

“Nice kid.” She said, smiling a little. She felt his hand touch her hair and jumped again. “Hey now!”

“You’re bleeding.” He said simply. He held out his hand. The tips of his fingers were streaked with red.

“I have been knocked on the head several times today.” Abby admitted, gingerly touching the sore spots on her scalp.

“For that I apologize. Again.” There was a bit of humor in his voice. “David sometimes gets a bit overzealous.”

“I hadn’t noticed.” Abby said sarcastically. Some of the blood was drying, making her hair feel matted and sticky. Mark caught the grimace and motioned her to follow him.

“I suppose we should get that cleaned up.” He said softly, opening the door to the right. There was a large room, huge. Another fireplace, this one more normal sized that the one in the main room. In the center of the room was a large stone tub. It looked big enough to hold six people. Mark led her to the corner where a basin was attached to the stone wall. There was some kind of hand pump attached to it. Mark fiddled with the handle and water poured into the basin. He took a clean washcloth from the shelf next to him and wet it, then motioned for her to turn her back.

Abby hesitated, then did as he indicated. She felt his fingers parting her hair and hissed in a breath when the cloth touched the open wound.

“It’s not too bad.” Mark said thoughtfully. Abby thought differently as the cool cloth stung against the cut. After a few moments, he dropped the cloth back in the basin. “Done.”

Abby eyed him over her shoulder. “Does a king often see to minor wounds around here?”

Mark half-smiled. “Not usually.”

“Oh.” Abby gingerly touched her hair. It was a bit damp. That was it.

“Now…tell me where it is you come from.” He said, motioning toward the door. Abby nodded and led they way back into the main room. She took a seat on the couch, keeping herself up straight. Mark settled in at the other end, his long body lounging comfortably against the furniture.

“You’re probably not going to believe me.” She finally spoke, trying to reign in her jumbled thoughts.

“Try me.”

“Ok. Well…my sister got this book from one of her students. She was doing a little experiment. One minute I’m standing in my kitchen, the next I’m here.”

Mark nodded. “And where was your kitchen?”

“Is it really fifteen oh seven here?” Abby asked.


“Well…it’s about five hundred years into the future.”

Mark raised an eyebrow at that but said nothing.

“This is some kind of dream right? I slammed my head and now I’m hallucinating, right?” Abby said, raising a hand to brush at the hair hanging against her face.

Mark reached over and touched her hand. “This is no dream.”

Abby looked down at his long, warm fingers, knowing he was right. How could a dream feel so real? And the pain in her head, that wasn’t a dream either.

“I know it. I don’t like it, but I know it.” Abby sighed. “I have to find Ollie. We can’t stay here.”

“Who is this Ollie?”

“Olivia. My sister.” Abby nodded. “She’s the one who did this…sent us here, I mean.”

“And you were separated?”

“I guess. She wasn’t where I was.” Abby frowned. “I hope she’s even HERE. There’s no tellin’ what she did to herself.”

Mark was shaking his head. “Spellwork is complicated, but if you were sent here, then she must have been too. She would have to be a very powerful witch to send you to two different places.”

“She’s not a witch. She’s a teacher.” Abby said, rising to her feet to pace.

“Does she teach witchcraft?” Mark asked, the beginnings of a smile on his lips.

Abby stopped and looked at him. “She teaches mythology. You know, gods and werewolves, that kinda stuff.”

“Sounds interesting. Did she come here to get firsthand experience?”

“First hand experience in what?”


“Are you trying to tell me there are werewolves around here?” Abby raised an eyebrow in disbelief.

“Of course. Not as many as there used to be, but there are a few roaming the woods from time to time. They tend to wipe each other out fighting for territory.” Mark saw the look on her face and got quiet. “You do not believe me.”

“There are no such things as werewolves.”

It was Mark’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “Of course there are. Do you mean to tell me you come from a place where they are extinct?”

“I come from a place where they are the stuff of stories and make-believe.” Abby said with a nod. “No werewolves. No vampires.”

Mark made a face. “Vampires are here as well, though only a few. We hunt them when we hear of them.”

“Now I know you’re kidding.”

“I would not kid about such a thing.” Mark’s gaze drifted to the family portrait that hung on the wall. “My sister…was bitten by one. It was an accident, she got too close and didn’t know. My brother had to kill her when she started to turn.”

“Oh. Oh God. I’m sorry.” Abby rubbed the back of her neck absently and bit her lip. “I didn’t know.”

“How could you have known?” Mark asked, dragging his eyes from the portrait. He was looking at her again, green eyes intense. “It is in the past. The vampire that bit her died by my hand. That was the end of it. I am raising her son, who is the true heir to the throne of our land. He can’t claim it until his sixteenth birthday.”

“So your sister was older?” Abby once again sat on the sofa.

“Yes. By two years. She was queen of this land. Her husband died soon after Jacob was born. In a battle with…” Mark stopped. “But that is ancient history. You were supposed to tell me about yourself.”

Abby smiled. “What would you like to know?”

“You are not a witch.” It was not a question.

“No. I’m a police officer. Or at least I was before I came here.”

“What is a police…officer?” Mark asked, slowly pronouncing the words, trying to put it together for himself.

“A guard of sorts. I am one of the good guys.” Abby smiled again. She’d had to do her share of going around to the elementary schools at home and talking to the kids. Mark had the same expression on his face she’d seen a million times. “If someone does something that’s bad…against the law…it’s my job to find them and send them to be punished.” That was the simplest explanation she had.

Mark nodded. “A knight then.”

“A what?”

“Here, a knight is…the same thing. Punishing the wicked.” Mark grinned.

“Well, I don’t punish. I catch them when they try to run away.”

Mark nodded again and was silent. Then he sighed. “We have a problem that you might be able to help with. Although I will say, if you had been a witch it would have been more helpful.”

Abby was intrigued in spite of herself. “What kind of problem?”

“A bad one.” Mark met her eyes. She felt her stomach twist at the look in his clear green gaze. A sort of defiant worry.

“Tell me.” She said, knowing she shouldn’t even ask. If she were smart, she’d tell him to deal with his own issues and head for the door. Then she’d do what she did best…she’d find Olivia and make her sister take them the hell away from this place. Resigned, unable to just leave Mark when he needed help, Abby forced those thoughts from her mind and gave Mark her undivided attention.



Ollie stood at the door to her cell, head down, blinking her eyes slowly to adjust them to the dimness.

She had no idea where she was or even how she’d gotten there. She remembered being in the kitchen, and the explosion. She’d been knocked out. When she woke up, she was outside. The book that the kid from the college had given her was a few feet away, partially hidden under a bush.

She hadn’t even gotten to her feet. She’d passed out again, obviously. Her head thundered with pain. And she’d woken up…here. In a small cell, lying on a cold rough floor.

There was noise from the hallway. Ollie had time to glance around nervously, wondering what to do before a man stepped in front of her cell door. He studied her for a moment, then pulled a ring of keys from a deep pocket.

Ollie backed away as he opened the door. He was tall with roughly cut dark hair. His eyes were cold. He looked at her as she tried to distance herself. It was futile. The cell was not big enough to give her any room to maneuver.

The man roughly grabbed her arm and yanked her into the hallway. The meager light stung her eyes as he led her through the tunnel-like hall. She sputtered and tried to drag her feet but he was much stronger. He kept pulling at her, ignoring her protests.

“Who are you? Where am I?” She repeated the questions as she tried to jerk free of him. “Damn it…let me go!” She pulled again but it was useless. The man held her in a vise like grip.

He dragged her up several flights of stairs, keeping up a fast pace to wind her. Ollie gasped for breath when they finally halted at a large wooden door. The man looked at her, a sneer on his face.

“A word of advice…lady…” He said the word as if it were a curse. “Keep that mouth of yours shut unless the master asks you a question. Do not ask questions of him. You would do well to not ask any of me either. You won’t like the answers you receive.”

“But…” She did not have a chance to finish. The man reached out and slapped her, not hard enough to really hurt, but enough to sting her into being quiet.

“Shut your mouth and do as you’re told.” The man barked. He shoved the doors open and pulled her inside. The doors slammed behind them.

The room was huge. That was what registered first. There were tall wooden posts at regular intervals at each side. The floor and walls were made almost entirely of stone. Wooden slats supported them. In the center of the room was a large chair, almost a throne. On it sat a man.

Ollie was pushed forward until she was a few feet away. The man that had grabbed her shoved at her shoulders, forcing her onto her knees in front of the man in the chair.

“My, my, my.”

Ollie shuddered at the sound of the man’s voice. The guard…or whatever he was…stood silent, keeping an eye on her in case she tried to run. The man on the throne rose to his feet and came closer, studying her.

“Such a lovely creature.” He continued, still looking at her. Ollie looked up. He was dressed entirely in black. His skin was pale where it was exposed. He had dark hair that hung limp around his face. It looked as if he hadn’t washed it in an age. And his eyes…Ollie could not help but stare. His eyes had a strange red cast to them, as if he were suffering from the worst allergies ever known to man.

“As you said she would be.” The guard finally spoke. The thin man nodded.

“Child, what is your name?” He asked, turning his attention back to Ollie.

She said nothing. The guard behind her gave her back a nudge with his booted foot. “Olivia.” She managed to mutter. The thin man nodded at the guard. He reached down and jerked Ollie to her feet so she was standing toe to toe with the leader.

“I am Dimitri. I rule this place.” The thin man waved a hand, indicating the room and presumable the whole of the building. “This is Michael, captain of the guard and your keeper for the duration of your stay here. Do you understand that, Olivia?”

She didn’t need the boot this time to urge her. “Yes.” Still her voice was barely audible. Dimitri did not seem to care.

“Good. That’s good.” He smiled. The sight of it made Ollie feel sick to her stomach. “Are you a witch?”

Ollie gaped at him. “What?”

Without warning, Dimitri’s had shot out and grabbed her long hair. He twisted it painfully in his fist, forcing her to tilt her head to look up at him. “I did not invite your questions. Are you a witch?” His voice had taken on a scary, shrieking pitch. Ollie gasped as he yanked her hair.

“No. NO!” She managed to speak louder as pain shot down her already aching head.

“Do you dare lie to me?”


“Then explain to me how it is that my guards saw you materialize from nowhere. Explain how you just appeared lying on ground that seconds before was empty of all save grass?”

“I don’t know…” She’d barely gotten the words out when Dimitri was yanking her hair, harder this time.

“Do not LIE to ME!” He emphasized words, shouting in her face. Ollie tried to cringe away, but he would not let her go.

“I’m not! I swear!”

“Tell the truth child and save your soul!” He cackled wildly. Dimitri shot a sharp look in Michael’s direction. “Get the chains.”

“Yes sir.” Michael double timed from the room. Ollie felt her knees grow weak at the sight of him coming back, heavy looking chains draped over his arms. They ended in leather cuffs. Dimitri nodded at him. Michael took the chains and attached them to two of the wooden poles.

Dimitri dragged Ollie to the posts and held her hair as Michael strapped the chains to her arms. He adjusted the length of them, shortening them until her arms were spread on either side. Ollie almost cried in relief when Dimitri let go of her hair, but widened her eyes as Michael went to the throne and came back with a leather rod.

“The punishment for lying is a beating.” Dimitri said, his tone conversational.

“I’m not lying!” Ollie sputtered. “Please! I swear!”

Dimitri and Michael shared a look. Michael stepped forward and eyed the dress that Ollie was wearing. He reached out and yanked it, ripping it from her body in one hard pull.

Ollie felt tears dripping from her eyes as she stood there, in nothing but her underwear. The men did not seem to notice or care that she was bare-chested. She heard Dimitri smacking the leather rod against his hand.

Michael stood in front of her. He was looking over her shoulder at his master. Ollie heard Dimitri moving. There was a soft thud. She glanced back and saw that he’d gone back to the throne, not to sit, but to pick up a tumbler that was sitting on the arm.

She looked back at Michael. He still had that cold look in his eyes. But there was something, some strange emotion on his face. He made sure Dimitri was occupied before looking at her.

“Do not cry out. It will only make it worse.” He said in a hushed voice. Ollie stared at him in horror at what was about to happen. She heard Dimitri’s footsteps draw close. She made a terrified sound as something cold splashed against her back. Water. He was wetting her back before whipping her, which could only make the rod sting more.

“Now…I believe we’ll start with ten. And see if that doesn’t loosen your tongue a bit.” Dimitri still spoke in that odd friendly tone. Ollie braced herself as the rod whistled through the air.


Mark was quiet for a moment, gathering his thoughts. “My sister died and Jacob is too young to run the kingdom.” He finally spoke.

Abby nodded. “You told me that.”

“My brother and I…” He paused and took a deep breath. “We do not see eye to eye on the proper running of the kingdom.”

“But you’re the king, so wouldn’t you supercede anything he might say?” Abby paced the floor. Not because she was agitated, but because doing so sometimes helped her to think. Her head was hurting again. Not a dull thud either, but rather sharp pains. It felt as if someone were pulling her hair.

“That is the problem.” Mark smiled wryly. “Glen and I are twins and there is some dispute as to who is the elder brother.”

“Twins?” Talk about coincidences. Abby rubbed at the base of her skull, trying to ease the pressure that she was feeling there.

“Yes. My mother died in childbirth. Our father was not here at the time. The midwife who delivered us could not remember which of us was firstborn.”

“So…” Abby urged him on, wanting him to just spit out whatever it was.

“After my sister’s death, there were arguments. At first neither of us wanted the responsibility. Then both of us did. We both had our followers. The kingdom was torn in two. His people followed him to Raventhorn, which is the castle my father had built to the north. This place…Shadowflight. The southernmost castle. My sister’s castle, the center of the kingdom, stands empty while we try to figure out what to do.”

“So why not just keep the kingdom split?” Abby asked, stopping to stand in front of him. Mark looked at her, that strange smile still on his lips.

“Because a very powerful sorcerer named Dimitri has decided he wants the castle. And the kingdom of Remi, for himself. The kingdom is torn. We are weakened due to the fighting of ruling brothers. We cannot seem to come to a compromise that suits us.”

“And how am I supposed to help you?” Abby shivered as a cold chill worked its way down her spine.

“I do not know yet. I do know…that I had a dream. A dream about someone who was sent to help. A witch perhaps, with magic enough to fight Dimitri.”

“But I’m not a witch. I don’t even believe in that shit!” Abby rubbed her wrists in agitation. They were tingling.

“That is where I am seeing a problem.” Mark said with a bit of humor.

“So we have something in common, because…” Abby stopped. Her body stiffened. “Because…” She managed to choke out the word before crying out and falling to her knees.

“Abby?” Mark’s humor turned to concern as he rose to come to her side. He knelt next to her, reaching out a hand hesitantly to touch her shoulder. Abby jerked away, crying out again as her body rocked forward. She leaned over, her head almost touching the floor and jerked spasmodically again.

Abby felt tears of pain welling in her eyes as another sharp, hot, stinging pain flared on her back. She gasped a breath in and another hit her, just as hard. She lost count after four. She reached out and grabbed the dark patterned rug that covered the floor as another pain slammed into her. She screamed at that one. It had been right on her lower back, and felt as if it were right on her spine.

The pain stopped as soon as it had begun. She lay there gasping, her breath hitching. Mark eyed her worriedly, his hand hovering over her as if he did not know whether to try to touch her again or not. He was staring at her back, his eyes wide with some unreadable expression.

Abby winced and slowly sat up. Her back was on fire. Big tears dripped from her eyes as she gingerly reached behind her. Her fingers touched her back and she hissed in pain.

“You’re bleeding.” Mark stated, sounding shocked.

Abby took a shaky breath and looked at her fingertips. She was bleeding. A little bit. Mark rose to his feet and helped her up. Abby’s legs were shaking, not able to support her weight. She leaned on him and let him lead her through the door in the corner. Not the bathroom this time, but a bedroom. A huge bed stood in the center of the floor, all dark wood and blankets. Mark gently laid her down on her stomach and gingerly raised the shirt from her skin.

His sound of shock told her everything she needed to know about what her skin looked like. Mark carefully tugged her shirt up, easing it off of her. He looked in confusion at the bra she wore before reaching out to try to unhook it. He got it after a moment of fumbling.

Having the material off her back made Abby cry in relief. “What is it? What the hell happened?”

Mark was silent for a moment. He did not answer her when he finally spoke. “Do not move.” He rose and left the room quickly. Abby cried against his pillow as her back continued to sting. It was only a few minutes, but it seemed a much longer wait. Mark returned, carrying a small glass jar.

“This should help.” He said, sitting on the bed next to her. He dipped his fingers into the jar and gently touched her back. The ointment was cold. Abby held herself tense, but Mark was gentle, his touch light as he stroked her back with the salve. The fiery pain was fading. Abby closed her eyes and tried to put a lid on her tears. Mark finished up and set the jar aside. He was eying her back, his expression still one of shock.

“What is it?” Abby asked, scared to know. Her main worry was some kind of allergic reaction. What if she were allergic to the damn air in this place? Or something worse?

“If I didn’t know better…” Mark said, his voice sounding oddly detached. “I would say you got whipped.”

“Whipped?” Abby craned her neck but could see nothing of her back. The pain had faded to a dull throb.

“With some kind of soft rod. You have lines…red marks…here, here.” He gently traced her skin, not touching the wounds. Ten in all. They criss-crossed her back, some overlapping. The worst one was on her lower back, straight across. It had hit so hard it had broken the skin.

“How…is it possible? Abby hitched in a breath. “We were just standing there…”

“I do not know.” Mark muttered. He looked at her face, her hair, the marks on her back. “Now do you see why we need your help?”

“Because for some reason I have whip marks?” Abby asked with a shudder. She held the blanket against her chest and rolled to her side, wincing at the flash of pain it caused her back.

“Because this is Dimitri’s work, sure as I am sitting here.”

“Dimitri. Ok, this spell shit. Did he hex me or something?”

“I do not know.” Mark said, his tone sad.

“I don’t…” Abby stopped. “Twins.”

“What?” Her sudden change of topic threw him off for a moment.

“Ollie and I are twins.” Abby said. She looked up at Mark. “That’s what I was trying to say when it happened. Twins, like you and your brother.”

Mark raised an eyebrow at that. “Dimitri has your sister.”

“You can’t know that.”

Mark shook his head. He gestured to her back. “I can know that. He has her. He may kill her. Which may kill you.” He met her eyes. “You do not believe in magic. I do. I have felt it, seen it on many occasions. When we were younger, when we were as close as brothers could be, Glen and I often shared thoughts without speaking. If he cut his arm, my arm would bleed. I fell off a horse once and he suffered a broken leg for it.”

“Nothing like that has ever happened before.” Abby tried to sit up. Her back protested the move. She lay there clutching the blanket to her chest.

“Now do you see why we need help?” Mark asked as if she had not spoken. “His power is strong. If you and your sister were not close, you could not feel her pain. If he gets wind of that, he’ll come for you. He’ll think you have some kind of power. He’ll want it for himself.”

Abby stared at him, tears once again threatening. This time they were tears for Ollie. “If he has her…if he did this to her…”

“He did. I’m sure of it.” Mark nodded.

“I’ll fucking kill him.” She finished. Her eyes had gotten hard. The tears that threatened dried up. That was the way she had always been toward Ollie. Protective. Always thinking of her as ‘little sis’. That man…Dimitri…had laid hands on her. Abby would take pleasure in turning the tables.

“So you are going to help?” Mark asked. He looked as if he didn’t dare ask, for fear she’d say no.

“Just try to fuckin’ stop me.” She looked up at him. “This Dimitri is a wizard?”


“A powerful wizard?”

“Yes.” Mark said again, looking at her, wondering where this was going.

“So presumably he’s got a spell that can send us home.”

“He may.” Mark shook his head. “I have had no occasion to look into his spellbooks.”

“Well we’re going to have one. And very fuckin’ soon.” Abby stated coldly. Mark understood her anger. He only hoped it would be enough to see her through the rescue of her sister and the saving of his kingdom from the evil that had invaded it.



Ollie was returned to the cell she’d woken up in.

Her back was on fire. They hadn’t bothered giving her clothes to her. Michael had picked her up and carried her down the stairs, his mouth set in a grim line. He deposited her on the floor and had slammed the door on his way out, making her jump.

She was confused, in pain, scared. Confused because she figured the beating was supposed to be a way to make her talk. Dimitri had asked no questions. He’d swung the leather rod, then he’d unceremoniously snapped the cuffs from her wrists, dropping her to the floor. Then he’d gone back to sit in his throne, a bored look on his face.

She lay curled in a ball on the floor, crying to herself. Ollie had tried to touch her back and could not stand even the gentle stroke of her fingertips. She lay there alternatively sobbing and shivering, her back hot, every other part of her cold.

There was a noise in the hallway. The door swung open. A man’s voice…Michael, followed by a woman’s soft murmur. Ollie crawled into the corner and tried to make as small a target of herself as she could. The door closed. A light flared in the darkness. Someone had lit a torch and hung it on the far wall.

“There, there sweetie.” The feminine voice approached. Ollie looked up at the woman who stood before her.

Girl would have been a better description. She was small, with dark hair that hung down her back in a loose braid. She wore a brown dress with a white apron covering it. Her eyes were warm hazel. Ollie stared at her, inching back away from the outstretched hand.

“Come on now, can’t have you leaning up against these filthy walls and getting an infection.” The woman kept her voice low. Ollie hesitated then used the wall to gain her feet.

“Who…” She could not ask the question. Her mouth was dry. The woman turned and rummaged through a large wooden box she’d apparently brought in with her. She held out a gold-tone flask.

“Drink. Its just water.”

Ollie did not stop to wonder if the woman was lying. She grabbed the flask and turned it up. The cool water hit her parched throat and she moaned at the feel of it.

“Now. Let’s see that back.” The woman came forward. Ollie eyed her warily as she was turned so her back was in the light. “Oh…” The soft sound as the woman caught sight of the damage made Ollie tear up again.

Her legs shook. She was in danger of falling over. The woman looked at her, concerned then went to the door.

“Hey! Bring a cot! And blankets!” She yelled out, her voice surprisingly strong for a person so delicate looking. A guard, not Michael but a different one, hurried in with the requested items. “I’ll need water, as well. Try not to spill it on your way in.” The woman ordered. The guard gave her a look as he went to fetch her water. Ollie watched this through a haze of pain.

The woman spread a blanket on the cot, which she unfolded with no apparent strain. “Come now, lie down. Let’s get you fixed up.”

Ollie cleared her throat. “Who…are you?” She managed to get out. She clutched the flask but it was empty.

“Name’s Octavia.” The woman smiled. “And you are?”

“Olivia.” Ollie frowned a bit.

“Easy to remember since it’s so much like mine. You can call me Tav if you want. Or Tavia. Most people do.”

“Ollie.” She shook her head as Tavia grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the cot. “What are you going to do to me?”

“I’m going to clean and dress your wounds.” Tavia looked at her as if Ollie were dense. “That is…if you’ll lie down like a good girl.”

Ollie did as Tavia asked, stretching out on her stomach. The guard came back with a bucket. He eyed Tavia warily and set it on the floor near the cot. Tavia gave him a full minute then spun on her heel to look at him.

“You can look your fill at another naked woman, Ryan. This one is off limits.” Her voice was stern. The guard, Ryan, turned and exited without a word. Ollie blinked a few times to clear her watering eyes. “Men. Pigs, all of them.” Tavia muttered as she dipped a clean white cloth into the bucket. “This may sting a bit. Try to be still now.” She went to work on Ollie’s back, the water cooling the marks. The cloth still felt as abrasive as a steel wool on her sensitive skin. She bit her lip and gripped the cot in her hands as Tavia worked.

After cleaning her off, she spread a sweet smelling salve across her back. Tavia hummed under her breath as she worked, seeming content in the job. When she finished, she packed everything back into the box. “Stay here for a minute.” She said softly, patting Ollie on the shoulder. Ollie could only nod. Her back felt so much better, she felt like crying in relief.

Tavia stepped out of the cell and was back in less than a minute. She carried a cloth bag. “Can you stand?”

Ollie pushed up and was surprised to find that she could, although shakily. Tavia put the bag on the cot and began to pull out items. “Here. Put this on.” She held out a dress made of some filmy, gauzy material. “It’s not much, but better than being in your bare skin.” She held out something else. A wrap made of the same material. Or perhaps cape was a better word. Ollie pulled the dress over her head and then carefully draped the cape over her shoulders. The material was light enough that it was not heavy on her back.

She looked down at herself. The cape and dress were both black, although the cape had some kind of red shimmery fibers woven into it. Tavia looked at her approvingly, then dug into her bag again. “Are you hungry?”

It was on the tip of Ollie’s tongue to say no, but her stomach rumbled at the thought of food. She hadn’t eaten since lunch at the university. And who knew how long she’d been out of it? Tavia pulled a bundle from the bag. She spread it on the cot and motioned for Ollie to sit down.

Ollie did, looking at the food as if she’d never eaten before. There was bread, fruit, a few carrots. Tavia caught her looking and smiled.

“It’s not much but it’ll hold you until…” She stopped herself.

Ollie picked up the bread and tore into it. It was soft, still warm, as if just taken from an oven. “Until I what?”

Tavia cast a glance toward the door. She lowered her voice and sank down onto the cot across from Ollie. “Nothing here is what it seems.”

Ollie had just taken a mouthful of apple. She chewed thoughtfully and eyed Tavia. “Nothing ever is what it seems.”

Tavia smiled. Her eyes lit up. For a moment she crossed the line from pretty to beautiful. “The others left me here alone with you because they believe I am a witch.”

“Are you?”

“No. My mother was. My sister is. Even my brother. But I am so normal it’s disgusting.” Tavia grinned impishly.

“Why are these people so obsessed with witches?” Ollie asked, not expecting an answer. Tavie looked at her, eyebrow up.

“Because a war is coming. And magic is a dying art form. If Dimitri had magic, he won’t need weaponry. Although of course he’ll have plenty of that too. He hopes to get strong enough that his army of magicians will be able to just walk up to any castle and kill all within.”

“That’s not possible.” Ollie swallowed the food she’d been chewing.

“Of course it’s possible. If you can find the right kind of magicians.” Tavia looked at her, once again her expression on of superiority. As if she thought Ollie was too slow to grasp what she was saying.

“Why are you telling me this?” Ollie finally asked, not wanting to bear the silence any longer.

Tavia cocked an eyebrow. “Because you are a witch.”

“I am not a witch!” Ollie raised her voice. Tavia shot a look at the door, then stared back at her with a grim expression.

“If you weren’t a witch, why would Dimitri just beat you and not kill you?”

“I don’t know. I don’t even understand what’s going on.” Ollie said, pushing the rest of the food away. Her appetite was apparently gone for now.

“You don’t have to understand. Just listen.” Tavia shot another look at the door. Her voice dropped even lower. “I was sent here by Glen, ruler of Raventhorne. Dimitri has been holding some of our people prisoner. We’re getting them out tonight.”

Ollie felt hope rise, the stifled it. This could possibly be a trick. In fact, probably was a trick. Raventhorne? She’d never heard of it, and knowing about this stuff was her stock and trade.

“I can tell you don’t believe me.” Tavia said with a smile. “You do not have to believe. Just know that if you stay here, and you don’t give Dimitri what he wants, he’ll kill you. And soon. He plans on marching on Remi within the month. Dead weight will be just that…dead weight. If you are useless, he’ll destroy you so that King Glen…or King Mark…won’t get their hands on you.”

“King…” Ollie could not complete the thought. There was a noise in the hallway. Tavia glanced at the door one last time before speaking in a hushed whisper.

“King Glen comes at midnight.” She jerked another dress from her bag. This one was plain brown, barely long enough to go to Ollie’s knees. “If you want to get out, if you don’t want to become a slave to Dimitri and his followers, be ready. If you want to take your chances here, change into this.” She waved the brown dress. “We’re only taking the ones in the king’s colors.” With that she tossed the dress onto the cot and scooped the leftover food into the bag.

By the time Michael appeared at the door, Ollie was resting on her stomach, the brown dress covering her from the waist down. The black and red ensemble was tucked under the thin mattress that covered the cot.

“Time enough, Tavia?” Michael asked, keeping his voice low. Tavie offered him a smile.

“We’ll see.” She slipped through the door when Michael opened it. Michael reached into the cell and took the torch, dropping the cell into darkness again. Tavia headed down the hallway, the bag slung over her shoulder. Michael waited until she was out of earshot before speaking again.

“Midnight.” His voice was a whisper. Ollie’s eyes widened. Was Michael in on this too? He seemed to be Dimitri’s head guard. She remembered his clothing though, all black. But…when he’d carried her into this room…she forced herself to think back beyond the pain she’d been feeling. His undershirt. The one hidden by the black tunic he’d been wearing. It had been blood red.

He said nothing else as he shut the cell door. Ollie lay there in the dark, wondering if it really were some trick, or if Tavia and Michael really were spies for some unseen king. With a sigh, she carefully wiggled into a more comfortable position. It was late afternoon. She had not slept well. She needed to rest, and sort out her jumbled thoughts.


Abby had fallen asleep. A deeper, dreamless sleep this time. She did not notice Mark come into the bedroom. He studied her sleeping face, then rounded the bed to look at her back. The marks were fading rapidly. By the time she got up, they’d in all likelihood be gone.

He moved around the bed once more and sat down carefully next to her. Sleeping peacefully, the worried frown she’d been wearing for hours had faded. Her skin was porcelain smooth, her features young. But there was strength there, he could almost feel it, as if it were an electric current running through the room.

The blanket had slipped from her chest. Mark carefully readjusted it, averting his eyes so as not to see anything he shouldn’t be seeing. It was hard. Since he’d first seen her in that cell, seen her outrage and pride, he’d been quite taken with her beauty. And her strength. How many women did he know could take a straight blow from Scott, the guard who had hit her while she was distracted, and still keep going as if she weren’t bothered?

The answer of course was…none. His sister had possessed the kind of strength that Abby had in spades. Although hers was a more quiet, inner strength. She in turn had gotten it from her father. Abby struck him as a person who had earned that strength. He wondered what had happened to harden her so.

Mark cast one more lingering look on her, then silently rose to his feet. He left the room, heading for the conference room where a few of his guards were waiting for him to speak. David was sitting in his usual spot, at Mark’s right hand. It was symbolic. Mark knew he would be at a great loss trying to run this kingdom without David’s input. Steven sat on the left, toying idly with an empty mug. Scott sat next to David. He looked mostly asleep. He had been up all the night before, running the changing of guards at the castle towers.

“Scott. You are dismissed. Get some rest.” Mark clapped the younger man on the shoulder. Scott rose to his feet.

“Thank you, sire. I’d rather not fall asleep in your presence. Or in David’s for that matter.” Scott said wryly. He bowed at the waist and left the room on the other men’s chuckles.

“What do you think?” David asked, getting right to the point.

“I think she’s the one.” Mark shrugged. “She’s linked to her sister somehow.”

“And her sister is here?” David looked at Mark.

“She is somewhere close by. With Dimitri if I had to harbor a guess.”

“I agree.” Steven spoke up. “These women managed to travel in the blink of an eye. If Dimitri didn’t get one of them, I’d be shocked.”

Mark sighed and picked up his own mug. He took a deep drink of the water one of the servants had placed at his seat. “This one does not believe in magic.”

Steven snorted. “Impossible.”

“But true.” Mark eyed the other man. Few dared to contradict him. Steven was his most trusted advisor though, so he was allowed.

“Her disbelief could be our undoing.” David said, looking at Mark with a strange expression in his eyes. Mark refused to call him out on it. He had a feeling he knew what his friend wanted to say.

“Unless we can make her a believer.” Mark smirked. “Shouldn’t be hard, considering what we have to work with.”

“Sire...” Steven spoke up. He only addressed Mark as ‘sire’ when he was going to say something he knew Mark would not like.

Mark motioned him to go on. Better to have it out in the open. “Speak freely Steven. We are all grown men here.”

Steven sighed. “Your brother is the magician in the family. If anyone could change her mind, it would be him.”

No one spoke for a long moment. Mark felt his jaw clench and forced himself to relax. Steven was not wrong-Glen had always been a magical prodigy. Only a select few knew of it. It had been safer for him that way.

“That may be true. But my brother is not an option.”

“What do you plan to do to convince her?” David asked, still eyeing his king critically.

“I have not quite worked that out in my mind yet.” Mark muttered. “I am a bit out of practice at magical things.”

“You mean to show her your power?” Steve asked, sounding incredulous.

“Can you think of another way?” Mark leaned forward. “Little as I like it, this woman may be our only hope of destroying Dimitri before he takes Remi.” He cast his eyes at David, then at Steven. Neither man could hold his stare. “She rests. Tomorrow morning will be soon enough.” With that he rose to his feet. David and Steven quickly stood and bowed as Mark left the room.

The two men exchanged a glance. Steven was smirking.

“You may pay me at your leisure.”

David sighed and shook his head. He reached into a pouch he carried on his leather belt and produced three silver coins. “How did you know he would fall for her so quickly?”

Steven laughed and pocketed the coins. “It’s simple. She’s a lovely woman. The king has been lonely for far too long.”

“Any woman would have done.” David said, following Steven to the door. Steven was shaking his head.

“Not just any woman for King Mark, David. You know that as well as anyone else in this kingdom does.” Steven sighed. “Let’s hope she is who we think she is. I do not want to see the king heartbroken and defeated.”

David nodded. There was nothing he could do about the king and his obvious interest in their strange guest. Mark was king, but he was also a man, entitled to make his own mistakes and live his own life. The kingdom, on the other hand, was David’s to protect. And if this woman was there to help them, if she was everything that Mark thought she was, David would be the first to bow at her feet and beg forgiveness for his negative thoughts.



Abby blinked her eyes open and stretched her arms over her head. For a moment, she forgot what had been going on. Then her eyes fell on the canopy that covered Mark’s bed and it all came rushing back to her.

She sat up and jerked the blanket so it was covering her chest again. The door was open and she could hear voices from the other room. Female voices. Two young women appeared in the doorway. Abby eyed them warily.

“Good! She’s awake!” One of them, a chubby blonde, said with a grin. The other, her hair deep black, nodded, a smile on her lips.

“Good evening, my lady. We’ve been sent to prepare a bath for you.” She dark one spoke with a slightly lilting, accented voice.

“Evening?” Abby asked, rubbing her eyes. She looked at the window against the far wall. It was dark outside. How long had she slept?

“You’ve had a lovely rest. King Mark requests your presence at dinner.” The blonde said, a giggle caught in her throat. “I am Evie. This…” She motioned to the dark haired woman. “Is Jasmine. We will be your servants for your stay here.”

“Servants?” Abby stood up and kept a tight hold on the blanket, pulling it off the bed. “I don’t need servants.”

The two maids looked at each other, grinning. “The king has ordered it, my lady.” Jasmine spoke for both of them. “It is customary in this castle for any guest of the king to be assigned staff to help. We are more than happy to do the job.”

Abby sighed and tucked the blanket around her body. She moved toward the women. “That’s a nice gesture, but you can tell your king that I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself for the duration of my very short stay here.”

Evie smiled again, her eyes twinkling. “The king said that you would say that very thing! He says to tell you that if you refuse our service, then he’ll have to fire the both of us. And me with a two year old daughter at home!”

“And my mother, unable to support herself without the help of her daughters.” Jasmine said. She was smiling though. Abby shook her head.

“Guilt trip. All right. So that’s how he’s going to play this, huh?” Abby moved past the women into the main room. A fire had been started. The room was cozy, warm. She wanted to just curl up on the couch and get lost in the flames for a while.

“My lady, the bath…” Evie pointed to the room with the giant tub. Abby cast a glance at her.

“If you are going to be pestering me day and night, you can drop the ‘lady’ crap. My name is Abby.”

The two servants giggled. Evie seemed to be older than she appeared, although her laugh was girlish. Both women looked extremely happy to be here, to be picked to serve the king’s guest. Abby shook her head and went into the bathing room.

“I’ll have the blanket, m…Abby.” Jasmine corrected herself. “We’ll take your clothing to be washed in the morning. We’ve brought you a dress to wear for dinner.”

“A dress?” Abby couldn’t remember the last time she’d worn a dress. College graduation? She’d worn a skirt. Eight years ago. Keeping the blanket to herself for the time being, she went to the dress that was hanging against the wall. It was a deep purple color, with black on the bodice and hem. Very lovely. Not something Abby herself would ever think of wearing.

“The king’s colors.” Evie commented. She brushed a hand down the velvety material and sighed happily. “You will look lovely in it, Abby. Now, your bath.” She held out a hand. Abby sighed and gingerly handed the blanket over. She hesitated at removing her jeans and shoes.

“I’d do this a lot better if you two weren’t watching me.” Abby said, crossing her arms to cover her breasts.

“We are here to help, Abby.” Jasmine spoke up. She was testing the water in the tub with her wrist.

“I have been giving myself a bath since I was five.” Abby said dryly. She kicked her shoes off. Belatedly she thought of the marks on her back. “I don’t think I can take a real bath anyway, not with these wounds.”

“What wounds?” Evie cocked an eyebrow. Abby turned to show her back. Evie made a ticking noise with her tongue. “Now Abby, there is absolutely nothing wrong with your back. What wounds are you speaking of?”

“Nothing wrong?” Abby craned her neck but couldn’t see anything. There was a floor length mirror in the corner. She went to it and stood there, twisting her head to look at her back in the reflection.

Her back was smooth, unblemished.

“What the hell?”

“Your bath will get cold, Abby.” Jasmine said.

“Ok, ok. I’m getting in the tub. See me getting in the tub?” Abby shoved her jeans and panties off before she could really think about it and stepped into the water.

The water was hot but not scalding. Abby lowered herself into water that reached her chin and sighed in pleasure as the heat soaked into her aching muscles.

“I’ll run your things down to the wash.” Jasmine said, gathering Abby’s clothing. Evie took a seat on the edge of the tub, behind Abby’s head.

“I can bathe myself.” Abby said, not argumentatively.

“Here, you do not have to.” Evie grabbed a pitcher that had been sitting on the floor and filled it with water. She carefully wet Abby’s hair, not spilling any onto her face. Ignoring Abby’s token protests, she soaped her hair, taking care not to aggravate the bruised scalp. “It looks as if you have taken a few blows to the head, Abby. But they don’t look terribly bad. A few days and you won’t even know they were there.”

“I hope so.” Abby almost dozed off as Evie rubbed the soap into her hair. Her fingers massaged her scalp, her neck. Too soon she was rinsing the soap from the locks, smoothing them down with her hand.

“The rest I will leave to you, Abby.” Evie grinned at her. “I’ll go and set the king’s bed to rights. Relax. You have a bit of time to soak.” With that she took up the blanket and headed out of the bath.

Abby sighed and picked up a cloth that had been left for her. She soaped it up and washed her body, breathing in the subtle scent of the soap. The people of their time might have used something harsh for soap, but not the king, of course. Abby smiled at the absurdity of it and rinsed herself off. She rose out of the water just as Evie reappeared with a huge soft towel. She wrapped it around Abby and led her to a dressing table next to the mirror.

“We’ll get your hair done in no time.” Evie said, picking up the brush that sat on the table. Abby did not protest as the woman began stroking gently through her hair. Abby’d had neither the time nor the inclination to get her hair cut in a while. It hung almost to her waist. Usually she just threw it up in a braid or a bun.

“Dried off?” Jasmine asked, stepping back into the room. She carried a pair of black slippers.

“As dry as she’ll get.” Evie said with a laugh. “Come. Try on the dress, make sure it fits.”

Abby stood there as the women helped her slide the dress over her body. If fell against her like a second skin, the velvety material clinging to her curves. The bodice left the tops of her breasts bare, but she could live with that. She’d shown off more at the beach the last time she’d gone. The dress widened at the hem and fell to the floor.

“It’s a bit long.” Abby stated, turning to eye herself in the mirror. Jasmine smiled and held out the shoes.

“Try these, then we can pin it up to the right length.”

Abby slipped the shoes on. They had a slight heel. So at least she wouldn’t have to worry about breaking an ankle. Evie fussed over the dress for a moment, tugging the material so it lay against Abby’s body correctly. Jasmine deftly pinned the hem a bit, only an inch, hiding the fold of fabric under the waistline gathers.

“You look amazing.” Evie breathed, stepping back to look at Abby. Abby blushed. She was all right looking, she knew that, but was not used to getting compliments. “Come, sit. Let’s get your hair finished.” Abby obeyed, saying nothing as Evie once again went to work on her hair.

She left it hanging loose, brushed into soft waves against her back. Jasmine approached her with a bottle of sweet smelling perfume. Abby did not protest it. The scent made her feel warm. She dabbed it against the hollow of her neck, her wrists. With that she was finished.

“If King Mark doesn’t fall flat on his face at the sight of you, I’ll eat my shoe.” Jasmine said with a grin.

“I did not know I was getting gussied up for your king. Is this some kind of joke?” Abby asked, turning to eye herself critically in the mirror. She almost didn’t recognize herself.

“There is no joke. When one dines with the king, one should dress for the occasion.” Evie said, her eyes dreamy.

“Perhaps you would like to take my place.” Abby said with a laugh. Every time Evie mentioned Mark, she got that same look. Abby smelled a crush. It was easy to see why. Mark was very good-looking, very rugged. Manly. And he smelled good. Abby did not know why that was important, but it had struck her at some point in the day.

“If I was ten years younger, and built like you, I might have taken you up on your offer.” Evie said with a laugh.

“There is nothing wrong with your build, Evie.” Jasmine chastised. “Your husband enjoys it.”

“That he does, Jasmine. That he does.” Her eyes went from dreamy to practically glowing. Abby had to laugh. The two servants smiled at the sound of it. “It’s time. The king is waiting. Although a lady should always strive to make a belated entrance.”

“Well, let’s go. Point me in the right direction. I’m starving.” Abby said, carefully following Jasmine and Evie out of the king’s chambers. They descended a flight of stairs and crossed a massive foyer.

“This is as far as we go, Abby.” Jasmine said, stopping at a set of double doors. “Enjoy your dinner. One of us…or both…will be waiting for you to help you undress.”

Abby wanted to protest, but the two women were off, giggling to each other, before she could form words. “Thanks.” She muttered. She smoothed a hand down her stomach, feeling the dress, and smiled as she opened the door.

The dining room was full of candles. That was the first thing that registered. The second thing was that Mark stood with his back to the room, staring out a window.

Mark caught Abby’s reflection in the glass and his breath caught. He turned slowly and smiled at her. “You look wonderful.”

“Thank you.” Abby blushed. Again. She had to get a handle on that before it became a habit. “I don’t usually do dresses.”

“It suits you.” Mark walked to her side, and Abby looked up at him. He looked very handsome, his dark red hair tied back, dressed all in black. The color made his eyes seem even more green. Mark took her arm and led her to the table. “I hope you are hungry.”

“Starving, actually.” Abby said with a nervous laugh. Mark held her chair as she sat down. She looked at the food that was spread across the table, not knowing where to start.

Mark poured her a glass of dark wine. Abby took a hesitant sip, and smiled at the sweet taste. “Do you treat all of your ‘guests’ like this?” She asked, emphasizing the word.

Mark smiled and set the bottle aside. “If by that you mean female guests, no. I don’t usually go to this much effort.”

Abby felt herself smile. “So why do I warrant special treatment?”

Mark met her eyes. “Because you are special. Now. Would you like a roll?” Just like that he herded the conversation to the food. Abby and Mark ate in companionable silence for a few minutes. She was surprised at how good everything tasted. Of course, she was hungry, so a worn out piece of leather might have been delectable at that moment.

“Tell me about where you are from, Abby.” Mark said, pulling her attention away from her food. Abby looked at him for a moment, then smiled, wiping her lips with a napkin.

“What would you like to know?”

Mark’s brow furrowed a bit. “Well…obviously you dress differently. You don’t talk like any woman I have ever known.”

Abby laughed at that. “I do cuss like a sailor when the mood hits me.”

“Are there kings? Castles?” Mark asked, setting his fork down. He had his complete attention turned to her and it made her shift nervously in her seat.

“No. Well…kinda I guess. But not where I’m from. We have a president.”


“Yes. An elected figurehead. They vote one in every four years.”

“By vote!” He sounded surprised. Abby grinned.

“Yes. Although after every election no one will admit to voting the man in. It’s the way people are. No one wants to take the blame. Everyone wants the credit.” She shook her head. “At any rate, besides that, we have cars and televisions and phones.” Mark looked confused, which made her laugh again. “Am I going too fast for you?”

“What is a car?” Mark asked. In truth, he didn’t know if he cared. He liked the sound of her voice, especially now that she was not ranting about killing Dimitri. Although that had been attractive in its own way.

“It’s…a mode of transportation.” Abby searched for the words to describe it. “An engine, tires, you steer it…” Mark seemed lost. Abby smiled and touched his hand. “Don’t worry. I don’t know much about them either except they get me from point A to point B when I need to go.”

Mark shook his head. “Here, we walk. Or ride. Do you ride?” He asked, almost as an afterthought.

“Horses?” Abby’s raised an eyebrow.

“Yes. We have many.”

“I haven’t ridden in years. Since I was a kid. At camp.” Abby frowned thoughtfully. “It was never my thing. Now Ollie…” She stopped and shook her head. “Never mind.”

“No. Tell me.” Mark turned the tables on her and took her hand. Abby looked at their hands for a moment, then met his eyes.

“Ollie was always the animal person. Dogs, cats, horses. You name it, she could get it to eat out of her hand.”

“A hungry dog will eat out of any hand if food is offered.” Mark said softly, stroking her wrist with his fingertips.

“I’ve seen her go into a yard with the craziest, most dangerous dogs and have them following her around, begging for her attention in a matter of minutes.” Talking about Ollie was making Abby feel like crying. “I’m sorry I brought her up. I’m going to find her, save her, but thinking about her makes me think about what might be happening to her…and I’m sorry if I’m ruining your evening.”

“You are not ruining anything.” Mark released her hand and set his napkin aside. “Are you done?”

Abby looked at her plate. She’d tried a bit of everything, and had eaten most of what was on her plate. She couldn’t eat more if she tried. She smiled at him. “Definitely.”

“Then perhaps you’d like to take a walk with me?” It was a question. Abby nodded and let Mark help her to her feet. He held her hand and led her to the door. “We’ll go to the courtyard. I’m sure you saw it today when you were with David. It’s very lovely at night, though.” He looked at her almost shyly. Abby nodded and walked with him down the stairs.

It was like a totally different place in the dark. The gold benches gleamed in the moonlight, the radiance mellow. The plants and flowers gave off a sweet scent. Abby breathed deeply and took a seat on the bench closest to her.


She’d been looking around at the courtyard, taking it in, when his voice pulled her attention back. “Yes?”

“You don’t believe in magic.” He was stating it as if it were a fact. Abby could do nothing but nod.

“There’s always a trick to it. You know, smoke and mirrors.” She said softly.

“Let me show you something.” Mark held out his hand. Abby hesitated before taking it. Mark had meant to wait until morning to do this, to wait until the harsh light of day made it impossible for her to doubt what he was doing. But he could not wait. He wanted to impress her, damn it. And he wanted her to believe. To believe in magic, to believe in him.

He led her toward the wooden bridge. At the center they stopped and Mark turned to face to water than ran under them. “You’ll probably think I’m crazy after this. Or maybe you’re crazy. But we’re not crazy.”

“Ok.” Abby looked at him expectantly. Mark sighed and let go of her hand. He held his right hand out, over the water. Under his breath, he said a single word that to Abby sounded like ‘whisper’. Or maybe ‘whistler’. Her arms broke out in gooseflesh. “Mark…I don’t…” Then the words got caught in her throat as she saw what was happening in the water below her.

Whirlpools had appeared. One, two…she counted six before the water began to churn. It splashed the banks and the bridge, but she neither noticed nor cared. Something was happening in the middle of the water, in the deepest part.

Mark still held his hand out. His face was a mask of concentration. Slowly the water flowed to the middle of the stream, piling on itself. A column formed, a wall. The water ran in all directions but stayed there, vertical. Abby gasped as a head formed, a dragon’s head. It had teeth of blue water. It snarled silently and snapped its teeth before falling in on itself. Mark gasped and dropped his hand. The water splashed down into the stream bed, not making a mess, just falling as if in a dream.

“What…I don’t…King M…”

“Call me Mark. We don’t need to throw in this king business. Not at this point.” Mark said breathlessly. Whatever he had done, it had taken a lot out of him. Abby helped him to the nearest bench and watched concerned as he sank down onto it. He smiled at the look on her face. “Don’t worry. I’m all right. It’s been a while since I’ve used it, that’s all. It’s tiring if you don’t practice with it.”

“That…was that real?” Abby sank down next to him. “Of course it was real. I saw it with my own eyes.” She answered her own question. Then she looked at him. “Just because you can do that, doesn’t mean I can.”

“No, it doesn’t.” Mark sighed. “Most magicians study all their lives. Some are just born knowing things. Are you either of those?” He sounded amused. Abby shook her head.

“No. Ollie…” Now it was her turn to sigh. “Ollie was the one who studied that stuff. Played with books, spells. I always said it wouldn’t work, it’s a bunch of hooey.”

“She must be very powerful to bring a non-practicing, non-believer with her.” Mark said, grimacing a bit and rubbing at his temple. He had a headache, an after effect he’d often gotten when using magic. Glen had never suffered headaches-he seemed to be at one with his power.

“Are you all right? You look pale.” Abby leaned over him in concern. Mark nodded slowly.

“I’m fine. I just need to sit here for a moment.” He looked into her eyes. In the darkness they appeared black. He reached up and stroked her cheek with his hand without thinking about what he was doing.

Abby leaned into his palm for a moment before pulling back. She cleared her throat and self-consciously straightened her dress. She refused to look at him for several minutes. Mark wondered what was on her mind.

What Abby was thinking was that Mark had been close to kissing her. She found that she did not mind the thought. It was then that she’d remembered that this was not a social call, that if he existed in her time he was long dead. Hundreds of years dead. What kind of future would there be in getting involved with him? None, because she was planning on getting back home as soon as she found her sister.

Abby decided to change the direction of his energy. “What power does your brother have?”

Mark shook off his thoughts and looked at her, a frown forming. “What does that matter?”

“Curiosity. You said he was a practicing mage of sorts. If you can manipulate water…”

“Fire.” Mark stated flatly. “Glen has always had an affinity for fire.”

“If you had practiced…if you were stronger, wouldn’t you be able to stop him from taking his own half of the kingdom?” Abby asked, thoughtfully.

“I would not do that. I would never hurt him. He is my only family. Besides Jacob.” Mark amended with a smile. “I only hope he continues to show the same courtesy.”

“Why wouldn’t he?” Abby asked, reaching out and taking Mark’s hand without thinking about it. He looked down for a moment at their entwined fingers before speaking.

“Because fire is passion. And anger. And sometimes he can’t control any of it.” Mark sighed. “Most people with fire affinity have bad tempers. It’s a known fact. Glen is no exception.”

“Well obviously he’s controlling it, otherwise this place would be toast.” Abby observed. Mark just looked at her.

“Who’s to say it won’t still be? We do have Dimitri as a common enemy. It has turned our attention away from each other. When this business is over, who’s to say we won’t try to kill each other?” Mark shook his head helplessly.

“I’m to say. It’s time to bury the hatchet and make this a joint kingdom again. Don’t you see that? It’s the only way we’re going to stop this Dimitri character. He’s only here because you are separate. I’ll bet together you two would be unbeatable.”

“That will never happen.” Mark’s jaw clenched. He was biting back the anger, anger at himself, at his brother, for all that had happened over the years. It was too late to fix any of it.

Abby knew enough to stop talking about Glen. “Ok.” Was all she said. Her mind was still turning though, still thinking.

They were quiet for a few long minutes, the sound of the water the only noise. Mark sighed and rose to his feet. He helped Abby up. “It’s getting late.”

“Oh?” Abby looked around. It was full dark and the moon had gone down. How long had they been outside? She had no way of knowing. She was tired. Even though she’d had a nap earlier, she was tired. A good night’s sleep was all she needed. She followed Mark back into the castle proper, up the stairs, to his chamber. Abby hesitated at the door. “I think I’ve put you out enough. Isn’t there a room I could use while I’m here?”

Mark shook his head. Her suggestion made him feel a bit panicked. “It’s no inconvenience. More often than not I sleep in the main room. Near the fire. It’s warmer.” He smiled sadly.

“There is a fireplace in the bedroom.” Abby pointed out.

Mark nodded. “I know.” But that was all he would say. He led her to his bedroom door and lifted her hand, kissing the back of it. “I enjoyed our time tonight.”

“Me too.” She smiled at him, wanting to just grab him and plant a kiss on him. Now where had that thought come from?

“Evie should have left a dressing gown out for you to sleep in. If not, I have shirts hanging in the dressing area. Help yourself.”

“All right.” Abby hesitated. “Good night, Mark.”

He smiled down at her. Damn it but he still looked sad. It was something n his eyes. “Sweet dreams, Abby.” He kissed her hand again and let her go. He headed for the third door, the room Abby hadn’t been into yet.

With a sigh she closed his bedroom door and leaned against it. There was a white gauzy looking gown on the bed. Abby slowly peeled the dress from her body, sighing again in relief. She had looked good, she knew, but still could not get used to wearing something so fancy. She set it carefully on the dresser for one of the servants to pick up in the morning. Then she pulled the gown over her head. It fell to the floor and was practically see-through. That did not matter. There was no one in the room to get offended at the thought of a nipple flash.

Abby smirked and crawled into the big bed, burrowing under the comforters that covered it. There was an oil lamp burning but she decided to leave it going. She hated waking up in a strange place in the dark, and knew it would probably happen a few times that night. She snuggled against Mark’s pillows and closed her eyes, shutting her mind off of all that had happened, and dropped into a deep sleep.



“This is a suicide mission.”

Glen sighed and looked up. “You think I don’t know what I’m doing?”

“Of course you know, sire. But your men are perfectly capable of…”

“No.” Glen’s tone was final. His men could not storm Dimitri’s castle without a distraction from him. Besides that, he was not the type to sit idly by and let others do his dirty work. “Are they ready?” Glen asked, pulling on his gloves. The night had come on cold, as if often did. If his brother had strange dreams, it would snow, be it winter or summer. Mark did not use his magic regularly, and was not aware he was causing weather in his sleep.

“They await your orders, sire.” Paul still sounded reluctant. Glen clapped him on the shoulder.

“Do not worry. In and out, like we talked about.” With that he led the way to the horses.

They’d made camp a mile from Dimitri’s castle. Dimitri of course had no clue they were there. He had been redirected to the west with rumors of a raid on his small village of followers.

Which meant, if all went as planned, that the castle was empty save a handful of guards.

Glen stopped his horse and looked over his men. His twenty best knights, for want of a better word. That was all they needed…and probably more than they needed for this job. But it was a small way of soothing Paul’s worried mind. They knew that Glen would provide a distraction-what they did not know was that Glen intended on torching the entire castle.

“I want you all out five minutes after we break the cells.” Glen said, loud enough for the men to hear. There were nods. Glen looked individually at each man. “Let’s go.” He turned his horse and led the way through the dark forest.

Half an hour later they caught sight of the castle through a break in the trees. They also saw a lone figure silhouetted against the woods. Glen smiled and held up a hand, bidding his followers to halt. He swung off the horse and made his way on foot to the man standing in shadows.

“Michael.” Glen took the man’s hand and shook it. He and Michael had been friends since childhood, and was the only one Glen trusted to infiltrate Dimitri’s castle. It had not taken him long to earn the trust of the evil wizard. “Once again, you’ve done me proud.”

“That is my job, sire.” Michael smiled but Glen detected a troubled tone to his voice.

“What bothers you? Has our plan been discovered?” It was his immediate worry. Twenty men was too many, but if they had been found out, twenty men would not nearly be enough.

“Oh. No, sire. Of course not.” Michael shook his head. “Tavia took it upon herself to add a witch to your burden.”

Glen sighed. “She wants to save the world.”

“This time…” Michael paused, gathering his thoughts. “I saw her myself. She appeared out of thin air. I thought it was some kind of trick. No one here is powerful enough to use that kind of transport magic.”

Glen’s curiosity was peaked. “She wishes to leave this place?” He asked, gesturing at the castle.

“From all indications, yes.” Michael’s voice held a sadness that hurt Glen’s heart to hear. “Dimitri has been at her once already.”

“Bastard.” Glen hissed out and clenched his hands into fists.

“Only a beating. Although it was…very bad.” Michael finished helplessly, not know the right words. “He plans more for her tomorrow. And I think you know what ‘more’ it is he’s set his mind on. She is a beauty. He’ll want to have her, even if she is nothing but a fake. Tavia tended to her back, told her you planned a rescue.”

“Well, she’s coming whether she wants to or not.” Glen stated, anger biting at every word. He would not have another one on his conscience. Not again. The last girl who had defied Dimitri was beaten, raped, tortured, her body left near Glen’s castle to be found by the guards. She had been just fourteen years old, a normal, no power of any kind in her family.

“Cell two.” Michael said with a smirk. He had known what Glen’s reaction would be. Most prisoners were left in cells to go slowly mad. If Dimitri had already taken an interest in this one, if he was already at the stage of physical punishment, then she was in grave danger.

“Whether she wants to or not.” Glen repeated. Michael nodded and looked up at the sky.

“It’s time. It won’t be a better time than this.”

“I know.” Glen gripped his friend’s shoulder. “Thank you, Michael.”

“I have done nothing to deserve your gratitude, sire.” Michael said softly. In truth, he had started to hate himself a bit, that he’d just stand by and watch some poor girl get beaten, to watch Dimitri starve other prisoners to death. He was relieved that the time had come for his king to take action. He was sure he could not take much more. With one last look at Glen, he turned and joined the men who were standing still, waiting.

Glen looked around. “All right. Let’s do this.” The men nodded. Some pulled swords. Most just stood there, ready to go at his command.

Glen took a deep breath and turned to face the castle. He moved to the edge of the trees. The holding cells were to the east. Therefore he would start the festivities to the west. He looked in that direction and closed his eyes, muttering softly under his breath. For a moment, there was nothing. Then the men behind him gasped as a rumble shook the ground.

“Let’s go!” Glen called, eyes opening. The men followed him as he led them toward the back gates of the castle. The guards who had been posted were not paying attention. They stood uncertainly, looking toward the back of that castle, toward where there was a lot of shouting and screaming. Michael reached the man on the left at the same time Paul caught the man on the right. They made short work of killing them, feeling no remorse. People loyal to Dimitri were evil, by the very nature of the man they hailed as their king.

Glen signaled his men and they rushed into the castle proper, making as much noise as they possibly could. It would fool any other guards into thinking there were more of his men that what they had in reality. He let Michael take the lead and followed him with a few of his men down several steep flights of steps.

The cells were in darkness. At night they only bothered with one flickering torch. With a curse, Glen held up his hand and every torch in the hallway sputtered into flames. “Open them all. Set them free!” He called to his men.

The guard on duty had apparently been napping. He gaped at the men charging the hall toward him, unable to think of what to do. Michael reached him first and slammed him into the wall. He jerked the keys to the cells from the man’s belt and slammed him back again, this time rocking his head into the wall, knocking him unconscious.

Glen took the keys from Michael and set about opening the cells. There were twelve in all, only the first one empty. Two were reputed witches, plucked from whatever village Dimitri had invaded that week. Four were his own men, caught out during the last battle Glen’s men had fought with Dimitri. Glen recognized one man as being a knight of Mark’s, although how he had gotten tangled up with Dimitri was a mystery to him. The other cells were occupied by regular prisoners, people who Dimitri thought had wronged him in some way.

Glen reached the last cell, aware of the men around him shouting orders to each other, of the noise upstairs. He got the lock to turn and flung the door open. The first thing he saw was Tavia. She was putting more salve on the girl’s back. The next thing he registered was the girl. She lay on her stomach on a cot, tears streaming down her face, her blonde hair fanned around her.

Tavia looked up at her king with a grim expression on her face. “Dimitri paid a visit.”

Glen felt his stomach twist. Tavia shook her head at him.

“He wanted to see her back. Then he whacked her a few more times for good measure.” Tavia spat out. Her hands resumed their gentle stroking of Ollie’s skin. “I give the girl credit, she never made a sound. He got frustrated and stormed out when Michael brought news of the raid.”

Glen said nothing. He took the two steps that separated him from the cot. He knelt down and brushed the golden hair back from the woman’s face. She absently lifted a hand and brushed the tears from her skin. Glen gave her an encouraging smile. “Shall we get out of here?”

The woman nodded slowly. Glen rose to his feet and turned his back so she could get dressed. Tavia helped her, making soothing sounds in her throat the whole time.

“Sire!” Tavia’s voice brought him away from the sounds in the hallway. Glen turned and saw the Tavia holding the woman up. “The pain, sire. She’s not a weak one but the salve isn’t working yet.”

Glen nodded and stepped forward, taking Ollie from Tavia’s arms, lifting her effortlessly. He cradled her against his broad chest and looked to the other woman. “Go. Head east, the camp is a mile. Gather the men there and wait.”

Tavia nodded and was off before Glen could do more than bark the order. He walked carefully out of the cell, glancing down at the woman in his arms. Her eyes were blinking as if she were coming out of a daze.

“Who…are you?” She muttered out. Glen smiled down at her and began climbing the stairs.

“Your rescuer. Hush now, I’ve got you. No one is going to hurt you again.” Glen soothed her, following his men to the exit. At the edge of the woods once more, he turned to face the castle, the girl still cradled in his arms.

“Shall I take her, sire?” Michael spoke from his side. Glen looked to his friend with a weary smile.

“She is a small burden for me to carry, my friend.” He glanced down at the woman in question. Her head rested comfortably against his shoulder and her eyes were closed. She appeared to be asleep.

“We must go sire. There is no telling how far Dimitri’s men are.” Michael reminded him.

“Just one more minute, Michael.” Glen turned his attention back to the castle. His eyes narrowed. He could feel the power flowing through him, roaring to be let out. The girl muttered against his neck, and his resolve doubled, tripled. The castle did not just burst into flames. The outer walls exploded inward with a deafening thud.

The men behind him all gasped or cried out at the destruction. They ducked and took cover as random bits of debris came sailing down from the sky. “Sire…” Michael’s voice was awed.

“Sending a message, Michael. And I want that message to be perfectly clear.” Glen shifted the woman in his arms, resettling her. “Let’s go home. Let him wonder who caused this mess. Then we’ll deal with him on our terms, not his.”

Michael nodded, stealing glimpses over his shoulder as the pile of rubble that used to be a castle burned in the night. No one could have survived an explosion like that. A grim smile lit his features. Dimitri deserved no less.


A sharp pain in her back had Abby jerking awake and gasping.

The next one was just as sharp. It fell across her lower back, right where the worst of the pain had come from earlier in the day. She cried out and stiffened up, anticipating the next blow. It came from across her shoulder blades. She hissed and thrashed on the bed, her eyes watering with pain.

The door opened. At some point someone had turned off the oil lamp she’d left burning. She could see a large silhouette filling the doorway.

Abby felt the bed shift as Mark sat down, then felt his hands on her shoulders. He pulled her against him, rocking her a bit as the pain flared again, this time across her stomach. She clutched at his hands, whimpering.

She waited with her breath caught in her throat for another blow, but it seemed to be over just as suddenly as it began. Abby sobbed and buried her face in her hands, her shoulders jerking, as she tried to reign in the fear that had come over her upon waking.

“Shh…” Mark’s deep voice was even lower than before, sounding sleep roughened. She regretted waking him up but was glad he’d come in. She did not want to suffer this pain alone. “It’s all right, Abby. It’s all right.” He repeated it over and over, pulling her into his lap and cradling her close to his big body.

Abby shuddered and gripped his bare shoulders. The pain had been even worse than before. She held onto Mark for a few minutes, crying for her sister, who was actually living with the pain while she just caught the aftereffects.

Mark stroked a hand through her hair, murmuring to her. When she calmed down a bit, he pulled back to push her hair from her face. There was little light coming through the doorway from the crackling fire, but it was enough for her to see the worry in his face.


“Very.” Abby blinked a few times to clear her vision. Her expression hardened. “He did it again. That bastard did it again. And Ollie…” She hitched in a breath, unable to go on.

“Is she…” Mark hesitated, not sure if he should say what was on his mind. “Is she alive, Abby? Still alive?” He finally asked.

Abby hesitated, then nodded. She didn’t know how she knew, but she did. Ollie was still alive, in massive pain, but alive. It made her want to cry all over again. Her anger at her sister for bringing them here was gone. It was replaced with rage at the man who was hurting Ollie.

Mark shifted under her, carefully moving her beside him on the bed. “Do you need the salve?”

Abby nodded again. She knew that the pain would fade and the marks disappear, but for now the sensations were urgent, sharp. Mark got up and padded out of the room. He returned moments later carrying the same glass jar as before. Abby noticed he was wearing nothing but a pair of loose pants. His feet were bare, his chest bare, his hair was down, falling over his shoulders.

Embarrassed that she’d awakened him, even more embarrassed that he noticed her studying him, Abby ducked her head. “I’m sorry I woke you.”

“You couldn’t help it.” Mark said, lighting the oil lamp once more. He turned it low, so it barely lit the bed. Abby snuck another look at him. He was well built. She chided herself for the understatement. He was like some chiseled god sent to her to ease her pain. Perhaps that was taking the gratitude a bit far, but at the point she did not care. Mark either did not notice, or saved her modesty and pretended not to notice. “I don’t want you to have to deal with this by yourself, Abby.” He motioned to her. He had not actually looked at her since lighting the lamp. “You’ll have to get that off and lay on your stomach.”

Abby looked down and blushed as she realized why. The nightgown. It was see-through. She’d forgotten. Of course, there were more pressing things on her mind than what she was wearing. She grimaced and shrugged the material down her shoulders, letting it pool at her waist. Then she stretched out on her stomach.

Mark waited until she was settled then dipped his fingers into the jar. “Only a few this time.” He murmured, stroking her skin gently. Abby closed her eyes, feeling dull heat throb at the points he touched. It was fading already. Maybe she was getting used to this…psychic…whatever it was that she and Ollie seemed to be sharing.

Mark finished her back and looked at her back. The lines from earlier were gone, replaced by much more vivid redness. At that moment, he wished Dimitri were there, that Dimitri’s neck was firmly in his hands, that he was listening to the last harsh gasps as the man died.

“Mark?” Abby whispered. He’d been sitting there, staring at her, for several minutes. He shook himself and looked into her eyes, a guilty smile on his lips.

“Sorry. Wool gathering.” He started to set the jar aside. Abby touched his arm before he could place it on the table.

“Uh…I might need that…I have another one on my stomach.” Lying on it had been hell, but her back was the more pressing pain. That was until the salve started to sink into her skin and numbed her.

“On your stomach?” Mark frowned, his look thunderous.

“Yeah. Straight across.” Abby pulled the blanket and carefully turned to her side, clutching it to her chest. The red welt was bright against her skin. Mark sighed and began spreading the salve over it.

“Hitting anywhere but on the back must mean your sister was not tied up for the beating.” Mark observed, trying to detach himself from what he was doing. It was hard, considering the amount of skin that Abby was exposing.

“She just stood there and took it?” Abby asked, her eyes growing heavy. The pain was fading, and Mark’s hand was hot against her skin. It was almost enough to make her forget the lashing.

“In my opinion, yes.” Mark sighed and set the jar aside finally. “She might have turned to keep from getting a blow to the back.”

“Poor Ollie.” Abby said sadly. She gave Mark a look. He turned so she could readjust her gown, setting it to rights. It really did not matter. She might as well have worn nothing, the gauzy fabric left nothing to the imagination. He made it a point to look elsewhere as she settled herself back against the pillows. “I have to save her. She’s my sister. She’s all I have left.”

Mark watched as she tried to fight off sleep. The pain, the connection to her sister, had taken a lot out of her. It was draining, keeping that kind of telepathy going. And she wasn’t even aware she was doing it. “We will save her, Abby. I’d stake my life on it. I get the feeling that there is nothing you can’t do once you put your mind to it.”

“I do like to get my way.” Abby yawned, making him smile.

“Rest now. We can talk in the morning.” He moved to the edge of the bed and stopped when her hand touched his arm.

“Don’t leave me.” Her eyes were open, looking at him beseechingly. Mark swallowed and raised an eyebrow.

“You want me to stay here…with you?” He asked, wanting to make sure that was really what she wanted.

“Please.” Abby shifted, making room on the bed. Mark stretched out beside her and smiled as her hand found his. “I don’t want to be alone.”

Mark knew how she felt. He’d been alone for a very long time. It was nice just lie there next to Abby and listen to her breath, to feel her hand in his. He could tell the moment she dropped into sleep. He reached out and turned the oil lamp down, killing the flame. The room descended into darkness. The only light once again came from the fireplace in the main room.

Mark carefully rolled onto his side and studied Abby’s sleeping face in the dim room. She did not know how much of a temptation she was to him, that was the hell of it. He’d only known her for a brief time and already dreaded the thought of losing her, of her going back to her real life. With a sigh he snuggled closer to her, pulling her against his body. For now it was enough to hold her in the dark, to pretend things were different. He fell into a troubled sleep with that thought following him into the depths.



Abby woke up the next morning, stretched her arms over her head, and noticed that she was now alone in the bed.

Bright morning light streamed through the windows. It was early yet, probably around seven. She sat up and her eyes caught a glimpse of material draped over a chair in the corner. Abby rose to her feet and padded quietly across the room. She grabbed the material and held it up. Another dress, this time dark blue patterned with black thread. She did not know why but the sight of it made her temper flair.

Abby didn’t notice Jasmine entering the bedroom behind her. She jumped and whirled at the sound of her voice. “Good morning, la…Abby.” Jasmine gave a half-bow, correcting herself before Abby could.

“What is this?” She held the dress out in one hand, her eyes staring at the other woman.

“I laid a dress out for you, Abby. If you’re ready, I have a bath waiting, then you can have breakfast. The…” Jasmine trailed off as she saw Abby’s thunderous expression. “Is there something wrong?” She asked worriedly.

Abby tossed the dress to the floor. “Yeah. This whole thing is wrong. I am not going to wear a dress and parade around for the amusement of your king. I am NOT going to let you people tell me what to do or wear. And I can CERTAINLY get myself in the tub when I am damn good and ready.” The night before had been a novelty, a bit of dress up, something she hadn’t done since childhood. But now she could not stand it. She looked around the room, her eyes hard. “Where are my things?”

“Uh…” Jasmine was almost afraid to speak.

“MY CLOTHES!” Abby raised her voice. “I want MY things brought to ME…right NOW.”

Jasmine needed no more explanation. She scurried from the room as if she’d been scalded. Abby felt momentarily shamed by her treatment of the other woman, then strengthened her resolve. She was not going to sit her and play lady of the manor for Mark while her sister was in God knew what kind of trouble. She was going to find her, right now, today.

She stomped into the bathing room through the empty sitting area and slammed the door behind her. Abby noticed a key. She twisted it, effectively locking the door. The tub was full, steaming. Jasmine had laid out a towel and a washcloth. Abby all but ripped the gown from her body and climbed into the soothing water.

She could not remember when she’d been this angry. She’d had a bad night, of course, the fleeting pain of Ollie’s beating jerking her awake. That alone was enough to send her temper soaring. She wanted something…or someone…to take her emotions out on and Jasmine had been the unlucky first person she’d seen.

Abby ducked her head under the water and began to wash her hair. As she lathered, she huffed. “A dress…right.” She muttered sarcastically. The nerve of those people, thinking they could dictate what she wore, how she structured her day. And the damn dress…and the women servants who were giggly and dressing her up in those…doll clothes…Abby smelled a rat. A match-making rat. Abby hated that, hated it even more than being expected to wear a dress.

When she was done scrubbing, she settled against the wall of the tub and closed her eyes, trying to will some of her anger away. It was pointless, she knew it, she knew that how Mark did things and how she did things were totally different. It didn’t make her feel better about being forced to act like one of these people. She was not one of Mark’s followers. She belonged there just about as much as an ice cube belonged in hell.

Someone knocked on the door. Abby did not say anything, just sat there, eyes open, staring up at the ceiling. There was another knock.

“Abby?” Mark’s voice came through the door. Abby refused to even look in that direction. “Are you all right?” He persisted. She heard the knob rattle.

“Go. Away.” She made sure to say the words as clear as possible so he would not misunderstand in any way.

Abby could almost sense him there, looking at the door, hand on the knob. He was probably deciding if it would be in his best interest to kick it open. She heard a barely audible sound, and it took her a moment to realize he had sighed. Then she heard footsteps fading from the door.

Faint voices barely penetrated the wood of the door. Abby frowned and looked in that direction. She could not make out what was being said, although she knew it was Mark from the way his voice rumbled deeply. He was answered by a higher-pitched woman, probably Jasmine. With a sigh Abby climbed out of the tub and began to dry off.

By the time she was done, her hair brushed and the towel wrapped around her body, the voices were gone. She inched the door open and peeked out. No one waited in the sitting area. Abby jerked the door open and made her way to the bedroom.

The bed had been made. Her things had been left on the chair. The dress had disappeared. Good. Abby snatched up her things and began pulling her clothes on, hurrying before someone walked in on her.

She finished tying her shoes and sat on the edge of the bed for a moment, looking at the window. Being in her own clothes definitely helped ease her anger. She smoothed the shirt over her stomach and walked into the sitting area.

Mark had reappeared. He sat on the sofa, staring into the now empty fireplace. She must have made a noise, because he turned his gaze to her as soon as she walked into the room.

He rose to his feet and turned to look at her. “Abby, have we done something to anger you?” He asked softly. Abby stared back at him, her expression unreadable.

“You do realize that I don’t belong here, right? That I want to find my sister and get the hell out of here, and go home.” Abby said, her tone monotonous. A flicker of some strange emotion passed Mark’s face.

“I know this.” He nodded slowly.

“Then I want you to stop trying to dress me up and make me into one of you people. I want the special treatment to stop…right…now.” She emphasized the words with a knock on the back of the couch with her fist. “I am not royalty. I do not belong here. If I have to stay here another night, I’d just as soon have my own room. And I don’t need your servants trying to run my life, you got it?” She stopped and took a breath.

“I understand.” Mark said softly. Abby had to stifle a groan at the look of pain in his eyes. Ok, so Mark thought he liked her. It was pointless. She didn’t belong there, could not stay there. Surely he knew that.

“Tell me where this Dimitri person is.”

Her sudden change in topic had him frowning a bit. “He…why?”

“Because I am going to go there now, today, and beat his ass with a fireplace poker.” Abby snarled.

Mark shook his head. “I can’t let you do that Abby. I can’t let you go alone.”

“Like hell you can’t. It’s not your decision. It’s mine.” Abby stalked over to a small table in the corner. She’d left her gun sitting there yesterday. She picked it up and tucked it against the small of her back in the waistband of her jeans. She turned and gasped, jerking backward. Mark had come up behind her while she was occupied with the gun. “What do…” She barely got two words out before Mark was gripping her shoulders in his hands. He ducked his head before she had time to protest and pressed his mouth against hers.

Abby was surprised into stepping backward, right into the table she’d gotten her gun from. Something on it rattled as if close to falling. Mark did not seem to notice or care. He cupped her face and angled his mouth across her, sliding his tongue between her parted lips. He moaned against her mouth as she responded, flicking her tongue against his.

Abby finally managed to break away, her breathing ragged. Mark looked down at her with cloudy eyes. It was almost enough to make her weak-kneed. She took a shaky breath and put a hand on his chest, pushing him back gently.

“That was…nice.” She was at a loss of words. It was actually kinda mind blowing, but she was not about to tell him that. “But it doesn’t change anything. I’m leaving. Now.” Damn, but she wanted to stay there with him. Mark nodded slowly and backed away.

“If you go, I’ll not be the one who sends you.” He said, his voice soft. That pain she’d noticed earlier was coming back into his eyes. Abby shook her head.

“Fine.” She turned on her heel and went to the door. Without a backward glance she flung it open and stepped into the hallway. Mark watched her go, all of his instincts telling him to go after to, to bring her back. But it was bad enough she was angry with him-he did not want her to hate him as well. And she would hate him if he didn’t let her seek her sister.

With a sigh he followed her out of the room. He could hear her talking ahead. With a resigned sigh, he went in that direction. Abby was talking to Jacob, who had come looking for his uncle.

“Uncle Mark!” Jacob’s eyes lit up at the sight of him. Mark smiled and ruffled his hair.

“Jacob. You’re tearing around awfully early today.”

“Christopher is back!” The young boy exclaimed.

Mark frowned. He looked at Abby’s confused expression. “Christopher is one of my knights. He disappeared two months ago.” At that he turned his attention back to his nephew. “Jacob, what have was discussed about telling tales?”

“I’m not lying!” Jacob didn’t seem to be put out by Mark’s disbelief. There was a commotion from the stairs to the right. Mark took his nephew’s hand and led him toward the sound. Abby followed along reluctantly, curious in spite of herself.

Excited voices led them down two flights of stairs and into the main foyer. There were a dozen people standing around, talking excitedly. Another man sat on the steps, lounged on them actually, looking around him with an expression of quiet amusement.

All eyes turned to Mark as he descended the stairs. The knights bowed one by one. Mark waved a hand, ignoring them for the time being. Christopher rose shakily to his feet, one hand clutching the stair rail. He bowed his head in Mark’s direction.

“Sire.” Christopher looked up. Although he had been through hell the last several months, there was still a twinkle of humor in his eyes. “We have a problem.”

“Christopher.” Mark grinned and grabbed the man’s shoulder as if convincing himself he were really there. “We thought you were lost.”

“I was for a while.” Christopher smiled. “Dimitri’s castle is destroyed.”

“What?” The word was repeated around the room. All eyes were locked on Christopher as he stared up at his king.

“Your brother and his men raided the place. Released the prisoners and torched the castle proper. There’s nothing left.”

Abby finally found her voice. “Was there a woman there? Blonde, my height?”

“I do not know, lady.” Christopher’s eyes fell on her. If he was surprised by her clothing, or just by her being on the stairs with Mark he did not show it. “I was kept in a cell the past six weeks. I had no contact with any save a guard or two.”

“Damn it.” Abby moved around Mark and walked off the steps. “Where?”

“Where what, lady?” Christopher eyed her curiously.

“Where is this destroyed castle?” She asked patiently. Mark would not tell her. That didn’t mean she couldn’t ask anyone else.

“A day’s ride to the west.” Christopher said, frowning a bit, thinking. “Across the second river.” Then a smile spread across his face. “It is probably still smoking.”

“Thanks.” With that Abby turned and weaved through the other men gathered in the foyer. No one spoke until the door had slammed behind her. Mark was shocked. She really meant to go there alone, Dimitri and his been be damned.

“Was there no sign of other prisoners?” He asked Christopher, who had watched the stranger’s progress with humorous eyes.

“There were a few of us, sire. Most followed Glen and his men back toward his land.” Christopher’s amusement faded as if he remembered something. “There was a blonde woman. She was carried out. Dimitri had beaten her rather severely.”

“Damn it.” Mark spat out. He took a step, then hesitated. “David!”

“Yes, sire!” David stepped forward. He’d been watching from the shadows at the back of the group.

“Go, follow Abby, help her in any way you can.” Mark looked at his friend. “Glen may have taken her sister. If that is the case, we may have to go to Raventhorne.”


“Do not argue with me David. I believe your visit would be more welcome than mine.”

“You mean to go there? To follow her?” David raised an eyebrow.

“As soon as Christopher is done telling me all that happened to him. I’ll catch up to you at the river, most likely. Wait at the fallen castle as long as she’ll allow it. Stay out of Dimitri’s way. Most likely his men will still be nearby, fuming.” Mark dismissed David, who reluctantly went out the doors.

“I’ll need ten of you to saddle up and ride with me.” Mark said, raising his voice. “We leave in three hours. Get ready.”

The men departed on excited chatter. Mark sighed and turned back to Christopher. “I want to know everything you can tell me. And I want to know now.”


Abby started walking westward, scanning the line of trees, the sky above them. The day was warm and clear. At least she wouldn’t have to worry about weather.

A hand touched her shoulder. Abby fully expected to see Mark there, trying to stop her. Instead it was his head guard, David. He sighed and fell into step beside her.

“The king insists that I escort you.” He said, keeping his voice neutral. He had not decided if he liked Abby yet, that was obvious. He had trouble trusting outsiders. It was just his nature.

“Great. First servants, now a babysitter.” Abby muttered. David touched her arm.

“We will find horses in the stable. A day’s ride is much better than two days’ walk.”

“All right.” Abby turned and followed his lead. David picked the horses and had them saddled while she waited. It took about fifteen minutes. David led the horses outside and handed a set of reins to Abby.

“Hard west for an hour, then we’ll find a river. The crossing should be easy this time of year.” He said, climbing nimbly onto his horse. Abby followed his lead, calling on things she could barely remember from childhood. David watched amused as she settled herself in the saddle.

“I want to get there as soon as possible.” Abby said, guiding the horse with the reins.

“We will. Just the two of us should take no more than six, seven hours.” David waited until they had left the castle grounds to urge his horse to a fast trot. Abby followed his lead. She hoped he knew what he was doing. She had to shake her head at that. Of course he did. He’d probably ridden this direction at least a million times.

The hour ride to the river took only forty minutes. David stopped for five minutes and let the horses drink, then rode on. Abby rode next to him instead of behind, the pace slow enough that they could speak and be heard.

“Why does your king insist on you coming with me?” Abby asked rhetorically after David had ridden in silence for fifteen minutes. He shot her a look.

“You do not know?”

“If I knew why, I wouldn’t ask.” Abby said, raising an eyebrow.

David shook his head. “It is not my place to speak of the king’s matter, especially matters of a personal nature.”

“Great.” Abby sighed.

“It is not a bad thing.” David said, softening a bit at her troubled expression.

“So you DO know why.” She said, smirking.

David shrugged. “I may. I could be wrong. You should ask him yourself.” With that he kicked his horse into a faster trot. Abby shook her head and urged her own horse on. It was better to worry about Mark later, after she saw this destruction for herself, after she found her sister.


Ollie opened her eyes and immediately knew something was different.

It was too bright. Sunlight streamed through the window and fell on the bed she was lying on. She slowly pushed herself to a sitting position and rubbed her eyes. She thought she’d dreamed the night before, or rather hallucinated it. A rescue. She could barely remember being scooped up into strong arms, being carried outside. She’d woken up just once, had been jarred by movement as the horse they were on climbed a rocky embankment.

A door opened. Tavia walked into the room. “Good afternoon, Ollie.” She smiled brightly. She carried a tray covered with food. Ollie felt her stomach rumbling.

“Afternoon?” She asked.

“Yes. How is your back?” Tavia set the tray aside and came to the bed. Ollie made a face.

“Sore. But…not really as bad as it was yesterday.”

Tavia nodded. “Let me have a look.” Ollie shifted and lifted the gown someone had put on her. She looked down at it, confused.

“When did I change clothes?”

Tavia grinned. “I changed you. You helped a bit. Do you not remember?”

“No.” Ollie grimaced as she moved her arms higher. “Is it…as bad as I think it is?”

“No, no. You’re healing nicely.” Tavia laughed. “I have more salve for you. Not that worthless stuff from Dimitri’s castle. The king himself helped to make this.” She pulled a small glass jar from a deep pocket on the front of her dress.

Ollie sat still while Tavia smoothed the new salve across her back. It was cool and smelled faintly of peppermint. Tavia lowered the gown Ollie was wearing. “There. We’ll put more on tonight before bed, but that should be plenty.” Tavia held out the jar. “You can do your stomach, I’ll set your breakfast out for you.”

“Thank you.” Ollie took the jar and gingerly raised the gown. The mark across her stomach had been bad last night, seeping blood. Now it was a faint red line. She frowned and rubbed a small amount of salve onto it. “How…” She didn’t know how to finish the question.

Tavia glanced at the wound. “I don’t know how you’re healing so fast. The salve was merely to stop the pain and prevent scars.” She smiled. “They’ll be faded out by tomorrow, gone by the next day.”

“Good.” Ollie readjusted her gown as Tavia brought her the tray. There were several plates, a glass of what looked like orange juice, and a bowl of fruit. She thanked Tavia again and began to eat, while the other woman took a seat on the edge of the bed.

“After breakfast, you’ll have a bath and a change of clothes. Then the king would like to speak to you.”

Ollie nodded, taking a drink of the juice. “I don’t know what I could tell him, I don’t even know how I got here!”

“Don’t worry, Ollie. We’ll figure that out.” Tavia gave a grin and rose to her feet. “I’ll see to your bath while you eat. Take your time, relax. There is nothing here to harm you.”

With that Tavia exited the room. Ollie sampled a bit of everything on the tray, drank her juice, ate the fruit, then sighed and sat back against the pillows. She looked around the room. Everything was white. The bed was made of some kind of light wood. It was an airy, summery room. Nothing at all like the cell she’d been stuck in. Of course a broom closet would have probably been better than that place.

Tavia returned a few minutes later, nodded in satisfaction at the almost empty tray. She set it aside and motioned Ollie to her feet. “Let’s get your bath. I’m sure you’re craving one by now.”

Ollie nodded and carefully stood. Last night her legs had been unable to hold her. After the long rest and the salve, she was steady. She padded along behind Tavia as the woman led her out the door and down the hall. Two doors down was a room that held nothing but a deep tub. Steam rose from the water. Ollie saw that Tavia had put out towels and soap.

“Thank you, Tavia.” She suddenly felt like crying. “Thank you for everything.”

Tavia grinned. “Now, now. No cryin’ on my behalf. I’m just doing as I’m told by the king. Thank him, he’s the one who got you out of there.” She helped Ollie shrug out of the gown and gave her a hand into the tub. “I’ll let you have some time, take a good soak. I’ll be back in a bit with some clothes for you to wear.”

Ollie nodded and sank into the hot water, flinching a bit when it hit the marks on her back. The pain faded. She let the heat sink into her for a few minutes, then began washing her hair, her face, scrubbing until her skin glowed. She hadn’t realized how filthy she had been until she saw the water turn gray.

She rinsed off and rose from the water, toweling her hair dry. She wrapped it around her body and looked around. There was nothing to do but wait for Tavia to come back with clothes. With a sigh she sat on the edge of the tub and used her fingers to work the tangles from her hair.

A few minutes later the door opened and Tavia walked in, carrying a dress over her arms. “I think this will do.” She smiled and handed it over. “We’ll have to find you some shoes, the stone is very cold even with the fires burning.” She stated, helping Ollie tug the dress on. It fell almost to the floor was snug around her chest and hips. “Almost a good fit. We can have someone let it out a bit…”

“No, it’s fine.” Ollie smoothed the material over her stomach. The dress was a dark forest green, plain, but made of some soft material. She felt a little strange not having anything under it, but she would just have to deal.

“Come, back to the room.” Tavia held the door. “We’ll get your hair brushed and your shoes, then the king waits to meet you.”

Ollie followed silently. Tavia was right, the stones of the floor were cold. She sighed in relief when they entered the bedroom, where thick carpet had been laid out. Tavia had her sit at a dressing table and began fussing over her hair, brushing it straight. She pulled the sides back and pinned them, getting the hair out of Ollie’s face. Satisfied, she left the room muttering about the shoes.

Ollie looked in the mirror. Her face was bruised. She hadn’t noticed. Of course, she hadn’t seen a mirror until now. The dark mark ran the length of her jaw. She didn’t remember how she had gotten it. With a sigh she adjusted the neckline of the dress.

Tavia returned quickly. She had a pair of black slippers in her hands. “See if these feet, Ollie.” She helped her slide them on. Tavia nodded in approval. “That will work. Now, just follow me, we’ll see the king, then I’ll take you for a tour of the castle.”

Ollie could only nod and follow the other woman. In the hallway, she cleared her throat. “Your king…is he…”

When Ollie didn’t finish, Tavia stopped walking and looked at her. “Is he what?”

Ollie made a face. “Is he like…”

Tavia smiled. “Dimitri? No. Nothing at all like him. He’s not power mad, he doesn’t like to see people in pain. He saved you, remember?”

“I don’t know.” Ollie sighed and nervously brushed at the dress. “I remember getting hit again. I remember you putting more of that stuff on me. After that everything is blurry.”

Tavia put a hand on Ollie’s arm. “You have nothing to worry about. You’ll see.” With that she took Ollie’s hand and led her down the stairs.

They went through a long hallway, the walls hung with murals. Outdoor scenes. Ollie barely had a chance to register them, Tavia was going so fast. They came at last to a door, and Tavia knocked with her free hand.

The door was opened by Michael, who smiled at Tavia, then looked to Ollie. His eyes saddened. “I hope that you had a peaceful rest.”

“I did. Thank you.” Ollie smiled at him. Michael came into the hallway and motioned for Tavia to go through the door. The woman did, giving Ollie’s hand a reassuring squeeze before she let her go. The door shut, leaving Ollie and Michael alone in the hall.

“I just wanted a moment.” Michael said, taking the hand that Tavia had been holding. “To tell you that I am sorry for all you endured. I would have liked to stop it, but I had a mission there.”

Ollie smiled again and touched his arm with her free hand. “I understand. I also understand…that it could have been worse.”

“I would never have let him go that far.” Michael stated. He released her hand. “I know men who would have been destroyed by a beating. You stood up well, Olivia. The king would like to hear your story, if you are willing to tell it.”

Ollie nodded. “All right. And call me Ollie. I think Olivia’s a bit formal for someone who has seen me naked.” Michael flushed a bit. Ollie laughed. “I don’t hold that against you either.”

“Thank you.” He looked relieved. Ollie stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek, surprising him.

“No, I should be thanking you.” She shushed him when he began to protest. “For whatever it is that you did to get me…and anyone else there…out of that evil place.”

Michael nodded and turned abruptly to open the door. He held it while Ollie walked through. She looked around. The room was huge. The ceiling was at least twenty feet overhead. The walls were painted in more scenes of the outdoors, although this time the artwork was part of the wall, not hanging on them. There were tables and chairs scattered around. Ollie decided it must have been part of some massive dining room.

The table at the head of the room was the only one occupied. Tavia stood next to it, speaking softly to the man who was seated. And even sitting down, he was almost at Tavia’s eye level. He was huge. Ollie let herself be led in that direction, unable to take her eyes off of him.

The man felt her gaze and turned his head, meeting her eyes. His were light hazel, kind. His dark hair fell to broad shoulders. He had a smile forming on his lips. Ollie came to a stop a few feet away while Michael introduced her.

“King Glen, this is Olivia…” He looked at her. “From a far world apparently.” He finished, bowing a bit at he spoke.

“Olivia.” His voice was a deep rumble. Ollie half-smiled and met his eyes again. “Please have a seat.” He gestured to the chair next to him. Ollie slowly sat down, unable to take her eyes off the big man to her right. “Michael, I would like you to enjoy the rest of your day. Please, take some time off.” Glen spoke to the other man.

“Sire, if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather go on patrol with the men.” Michael stated.

Glen nodded. “I assumed you would say that. You work too hard. Tavia…go with Michael to his rooms. Make sure he relaxes.” Tavia smiled. Michael huffed a sigh. The two left with Tavia goading him and leading the way.

Glen turned his attention to Ollie. “Michael has worked undercover at Dimitri’s castle for a long time. He should rest and try to get used to being home again.”

Ollie nodded, suddenly not able to look at him. She toyed with a napkin that was lying on the table. Glen studied her in the light from the windows. Her hair had been freshly washed and brushed. It seemed to glimmer in the light. She was a fine looking woman, even after all she’d gone through.


“Ollie.” She said, looking up at him. “Nobody calls me Olivia. Well, my sister does…when she gets mad at me.” And right now Abby was probably livid. She felt her smile falter, thinking about her sister.

“Ollie, then. Where do you come from?”

“Texas.” She smiled at the frown on his face. “Although I don’t think there will ever be a Texas in this time.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well…I guess the best way to put it is that I managed to send myself back through time. And ended up here.” She said, sighing. “I’ve never heard of any of you people, or Remi. So I am starting to think that not only did I travel in time, I also sent myself to a…well…a parallel world. For lack of something better to call it.”

Glen was nodding. “It would take a witch of some power to bend space and time, the way you have.”

“But I am no witch. I’m a teacher.” Ollie sighed. “Was a teacher. Where I am from, I taught mythology.”

Glen smiled. “If you were not a witch, you would not be here. As I said, it takes some power to do what you claim to have done.”

“But…nothing has ever worked before!” Ollie flung the napkin away. “One of my classes has been playing with these so called spell books for months, trying things out. Nothing ever happened!”

“So why did it work this time?” Glen asked, reaching for her hand. Ollie grew still as his fingers stroked her palm.

“I don’t know. I made Abby…that’s my sister…say the spell with me, but she hates this stuff, she doesn’t believe a bit of it…” She noticed the look on Glen’s face. “What?”

“Sisters. Both witches?” He asked, obviously not expecting an answer. “You would have to be. To travel through time like you claim, it would take so much power, more than one person could emit.”

“I have no powers.” Ollie said, pulling her hand away. Not that she didn’t enjoy his touch, in fact, it sent tingles up her arm. It was just so hard to THINK when he was touching her. It was scary, actually. “It was Abby!”

“Your sister?”

“Yes!” Ollie rose to her feet, unable to sit still. “Nothing happened until she showed up. Nothing happened the first time I did the spell. She got home my second try. And then BOOM!” She clapped her hands together. “Here I am.” She hitched in a breath. “I don’t even know if she’s here, if she got sent to the same place. I have to find her!”

Glen had risen to his feet and gotten behind her without Ollie noticing. He touched her shoulders, making her jump. “It is going to be all right.” He said softly, turning her to face him. “If she is here, we will find her.”

There was a certainty in his voice that Ollie could not deny. She looked up at him and relaxed a bit. “Do you think…that Dimitri has her?”

Glen shrugged. “There was no one else at his castle that I did not know.” He felt her slump at the news. He gave her shoulders a reassuring squeeze. “That does not mean anything. He has many camps, she could be in one of them. If you were found near the second river, as Michael says you were, she could just have easily wandered into my brother’s territory. That is, if she were sent to approximately the same place.”

“Your brother?” Ollie sniffled and her eyes widened.

“Yes. He rules the south lands.” Glen said, not looking at all happy when he spoke.

“If he’s got her, we have to go get her!” Ollie tried to pull from his hands. Glen was not letting her.

“If Mark has her, she’ll be well taken care of, Ollie. Mark would not hurt her, anymore than I would hurt you.” His voice was low, as if he were soothing a wounded animal. Whatever he was doing, it was working. She relaxed again.

“What about Dimitri? What if he comes back for me…or what if he finds out about Abby?” She asked, staring up at him, her eyes dark with worry. “If he hurts her, it’ll be my fault. I was the one with the…” She trailed off. Glen touched her chin and made her look at him again.

“With the what, Ollie?” He asked softly.

“I had a book of spells. It came with us. With me. It was by the river. I saw it right before I blacked out!” She said, her voice carrying a tone of hope that Glen was relieved to hear.

“Then we must have this book.”

“It was mostly hidden. I hope no one found it.” Ollie said with a frown.

“We’ll find it.” Glen stated. He stroked her chin with his thumb. She was very lovely, the green dress making her hair seem golden. But this was not the time to be thinking of that. “Tomorrow. We’ll leave early. It is late today, Dimitri’s men may yet still patrol the area of the river.” Glen said, trying to calm her a bit more. She seemed ready to bolt. “The book will be there, your sister will be with Mark. It will all work out.”

“You sound sure.” Ollie muttered, liking the fact that he was confident while doubting what he said at the same time. He couldn’t know any of it, was just guessing to make her feel better.

“I am sure.” He released her. “I am sure Tavia offered you a tour of Raventhorne.”

“The castle?” Ollie said, smiling a bit.

“Indeed. Since she is occupied, I would like the honor of showing you the castle. If you don’t mind.” He said it almost shyly. Ollie’s smile brightened.

“I would be the honored one.” She hooked his offered arm with her hand. She knew he was done talking about Abby and the book…for now. She might as well enjoy his company and make the day go faster. There was really nothing else for her to do.



David slowed his horse to a walk and looked over his shoulder at Abby. She’d gotten quiet as they’d ridden, had stopped asking questions. It was worrisome. He’d gotten used to her speaking, asking him about things.

“Is something wrong?” He asked when her horse moved along side his. Abby looked at him absently.

“No.” She sounded distracted. “Just…I don’t know. I feel like I’ve been here before.”

“We found you not far from here.” David supplied.

“It’s not that. Ok, so maybe it could be that.” She admitted, a slight frown still marring her features. “We’re being followed.”

David looked behind them. “How do you know?”

“I don’t have a clue. It’s just a feeling.” Abby wrinkled her nose and urged her horse on. The second river was coming up, she could hear it gurgling in the distance. She still ahd that strange tingling sensation on the back of her neck that said they were being followed though.

David found a place to cross the river. This time they climbed off the horses and drank some water for themselves. David had not had time to pack provisions, and Abby did not seem to care. She was not interested in food at that moment.

“Do you hear that?” Abby asked, pulling David from his thoughts. He looked at her, then around the clearing they had found. He heard water, he heard the horses, but that was all he heard.

“I don’t hear anything out of the ordinary.” He said. Then he walked to stand next to her. “Although I am not going to disbelieve you. If you say you hear something, if you say we are being followed, I’m inclined to agree. Let’s get to the destroyed castle quickly.”

Abby nodded and climbed back into the saddle. Her legs were sore, her butt ached, but she didn’t care. The urge, the need to find Ollie was strong.

David set a fast pace again. Her horse had gotten accustomed to following the leader, so really she did not even have to guide it much. Which gave her plenty of time to look around, to glance behind, to worry over being found by unfriendly people.

David pulled his horse to a stop and waited for her to catch up. “Do you see it?” He asked, his voice hushed.

Abby looked ahead, a gasp of surprise caught in her throat. She’d been so busy looking behind her that she had not paid attention to the front. A dark column of black smoke rose against he blue sky in the distance.

“Is that the castle?”

“Yes. It still burns. It must be a powerful fire.” David muttered. Abby’s paranoia seemed to be rubbing off on him. He hesitated before looking at her. “I feel it too. As if we are being watched.”

Abby nodded. “Let’s go on. If they’re going to do something to us, they’re going to do something to us. Sitting here won’t stop it.”

He could find no argument with her logic and kicked his horse into a walk. Abby followed, keeping her eyes on the forest around them.

The trees thinned the closer they got to the castle. David halted once again before they went into wide open land and looked around. “There is nothing left.” He said softly, in awe at the destruction that lay before them. Of the castle there was only a moldering pile of heated rock. Some of the trees closest to it had a scorched look. Abby made a face at the smell of burning wood that permeated the air.

“No one could have survived that.” She said, her voice just as soft as David’s had been.

“We won’t even be able to search the rubble. It’ll be too hot for a while yet.” He gave her an apologetic smile.

Abby nodded. “All right.” She shifted on the horse. “Tell me where Mark’s brother is. I’d like to go ask him if he saw her.”

David blinked at her. “Prince Glen?”

“Yes. Glen.”

“His castle is a day’s ride. We did not bring the equipment necessary for that kind of trek.” David said, trying to stall her a bit. Abby shook her head.

“Two people on horseback, what kind of equipment would we need? Ok, if you don’t want to go, just tell me where and I’ll do it alone. I’d make better time that way.”

David looked at her as if she had lost her mind. Then his features softened. “The horses need a longer rest. Let us find a place to set up a camp. After they rest we can talk about the best route, and I’ll go with you.”

Abby wanted to protest. Why was it like pulling teeth to get them to let her do something on her own? “How much rest?”

“An hour.” David side, rubbing his horse’s neck. “They need to graze. There is a stream nearby. We’ll be well hidden from the castle grounds.”

Abby nodded in frustration. “Fine. Lead on, David.”

David did just that. He stayed in the trees and circled the burnt remains of the castle. They came to a small stream in fifteen minutes. Abby dismounted and rubbed her lower back.

“I don’t understand why this Dimitri person would have a castle so close to your king and his brother.” She said, stretching wearily.

“It was not his castle. This belonged to a baron. It was a small place really, compared to Shadowflight and Raventhorne.” David said, unsaddling the horses. “Dimitri has been sneaking around, moving from place to place. We have had no luck in catching him. He’ll find another castle to make his own for a brief time then move.”

“Building up to take the big one.” Abby muttered thoughtfully. The feeling of being followed, of being watched, was gone. She was relieved.

“That is what we think, yes. When he gains enough followers, when his power is at a peak, he’ll attempt the kingdom’s center.” David looked at her meaningfully.

“And with the kingdom split he thinks it will be fairly easy.” She finished for him. David nodded. Abby sighed heavily. “There has to be some way to make those two see eye to eye.”

“The king and his brother have ever been at odds. Which is strange because they are both well admired rulers. They want the same things.”

“Has anybody pointed that out to them?” Abby asked, sinking down in the grass, her back resting against a tree.

“On several occasions.” David said with a smirk. “The headstrong will only see their way.”

“Stubborn you mean.” Abby corrected with a laugh. David nodded.

“That is the honest way to put it.”

“Was it a woman?” She asked, curious in spite of herself.

“I don’t follow. A woman?” David looked at her, that confused expression once again on his face.

“Was it a woman that came between them? That caused a rift? In every story I’ve ever heard, it was always a woman who tore the brothers apart.” Abby said with a smile.

David shook his head. “There have been none that I know of. That’s not to say that the king and prince have not had their share of…female company.” He looked embarrassed as he said it. Abby grinned. “There has not been a woman who has captured them.”

“Captured?” Abby asked, laughing again.

“As in married.”

“You look at marriage as some kind of jail sentence?” Abby laughed again.

“If by jail you mean…imprisonment? Then yes. Something like that.” David was making a face that had her cracking up.

“You know what’s strange?” She asked, getting control of her giggles. David shook his head. “I guess we have something in common. I just so happen to think that marriage is like a death penalty. I’ll probably change my mind at some point but up til now…no thanks. I’ll pass.” She giggled again. David smiled.

“Women are usually much more marriage-minded than the men are here.” He said, eying her with curiosity.

“Oh, it’s like that where I’m from. I know girls who have been planning their weddings since birth. Not me.” She grinned. Then she yawned. “I think I could use a nap. If I fall asleep will you wake me?”

“Of course.” David said, smiling at her. Abby nodded and groped for one of the saddles to use as a pillow. Now that they’d been sitting for a while, she really had grown tired. The ride had caught up to her. With a sigh she dozed in the warm evening air.

Voices woke her a short time later. David was talking to someone. Abby shifted and frown as a deep voice answered whatever David had asked. Mark. There was no one else in this world or hers that had a voice like that.

Abby slowly sat up and stretched. Her back had gotten stiff from lying in the same position for a while. David stood near the stream, Mark across from him. They were speaking in urgent tones. David saw her looking and nodded. Abby nodded back. She ignored Mark for the time being. What the hell was he doing here anyway? Didn’t he have a kingdom to run?

Abby stood and stretched again, smiling grimly at the way her back popped. Once she was limbered up, she brushed her clothes and walked toward the stream. Mark finally noticed that she was awake. He gave her a bashful smile.

“It seems that your sister may have been taken to my brother’s castle.” He said, skipping a greeting of any kind.

“We were discussing going and finding that out for ourselves. How did you know? I suppose David told you.”

David had walked away to speak to the other men who had rode in with Mark. Abby crossed her arms and looked up at him.

“It was not David. It was Christopher. He recalled seeing Glen carrying a woman. It could have been her. Or maybe not. We can’t be sure.”

“So you came all the way out here to tell me that?” Abby asked, arching an eyebrow.

“No. I came all the way out here because…” He hesitated. “There are forces at work here, Abby. Strong ones. I can’t let you go alone into this.”

“I don’t even know what you’re talking about.” Abby said.

“Please just trust me. My brother and I have not spoken for some time. I would go with you to his land. Dimitri’s men hide in the woods that surround us.” Mark motioned with a hand. “I’d not have you and David going in alone.”

“So you put yourself in danger for what? Me?” Abby shook her head. “Mark, I’m not up on this whole king thing, but it seems to me that your people back at your kingdom need you a hell of a lot more than I do.”

Mark made a face. “Two hundred nights are there to protect them, and to protect Jacob. I have brought only ten with me. The kingdom will run itself until I get back.” He was not going to be sent away easily. Abby sighed.

“Suit yourself.” After the way she’d acted that morning, she really didn’t want to get into an argument with him. She just didn’t have the energy.

“And I will admit that I do have something of a selfish reason for coming.” Mark said softly.

Abby eyed him warily. “Selfish?”

“Yes.” But he did not elaborate. Mark just looked at her with his piercing green eyes.

Abby decided it was better not to push him about it. She had a feeling she knew what he was getting at, and it scared her. Not because she was afraid of him, but because she was afraid of what it might mean. With a sigh she turned and went to the water to get a drink.

Mark gave her a moment, then walked up to her. “I brought some clothes and food for you.” He held up a hand when she opened her mouth to protest. “Pants and shirts. Boots. No dresses, I promise.”

“Thank you.” Abby said with a slight smile. At least something had gotten through. “I’d love a bath right about now.” She said, dusting at her clothes again. Riding for hours had been dirty work.

Mark motioned to his left. “The stream ends in a pool. You should go before nightfall. When you get back, the men should have a camp set up.” He gave her a look that told her he was very serious. “The pool and no further. It’s shouting distance in case…” Mark shrugged. Abby got the message.

“I only want to wash.” She said softly. She gave him one last look, then gathered the things she would need. Without another word, she headed off, following the flowing stream.

Down a slight hill there was a still pool of water, just as Mark had said. It was only about ten feet across at the widest point. The water from the stream splashed in from a slight hill, making a mini-waterfall. Abby shrugged out of her clothes and tested the water with her foot. It was not ice cold, but it was not necessarily warm either. Holding her breath, she quickly walked in and ducked under the cool water.

She rose to the surface, gasping. The pool was deeper than it look, the middle hitting at about shoulder height. The water made her feel more awake than she’d been since the morning. With a sigh of contentment, she floated in the water, relaxing.

After a few minutes, she made quick work of cleaning herself. Abby was used to the water. It felt almost warm against her bare skin. She’d been there almost an hour when she decided it was time to head back. She climbed out of the pool and wrapped a towel around her body, sitting on a rock to air dry a bit before putting her clothes on.

The sun was setting, the air getting a bit cool. Abby shivered and did not move to get dressed. It was nice, sitting there, enjoying the gentle sound of water, the play of light on the surface of the pool. With a sigh she began pushing herself to her feet. There was a noise behind her. She froze and listened intently.

“Abby?” Mark’s voice. It was low. Abby shook her head.


“Are you…” He did not finish. Abby smiled.

“I’m decent, if that’s what you want to know.” She said, tightening the towel around her body. Good thing it was long. She settled back on the rock and waited. Mark came though the trees at the edge of the pool and quickly looked away from her.

“The men are out hunting. If you’re hungry.” He said, sounding almost shy.

“I’m starving actually.” Abby rubbed her stomach. Normally the thought of hunting sickened her, but right now she could probably eat a whole deer. If that’s what they were going after.

She looked over her shoulder. Mark had his own towel and fresh clothes. She looked from him to the water. “Sorry. I didn’t know you wanted to use it too.”

“It is not a problem.” Mark smiled and went to the water’s edge. “It is very peaceful out here. I can see how you would lose track of time.”

Abby nodded and made no move to leave. Mark watched her from the corner of his eye, as if afraid to look at her. Abby looked down at herself. The towel was not flashing anything major. Just some leg and her shoulders. Mark was acting like she was sitting there in the nude.

“If you wanna get in, don’t let me stop you.” She finally said, breaking the silence that had fallen between them. Mark looked at her, his expression comically shocked. Abby laughed. “I promise not to look.” She raised a hand as if swearing an oath, then averted her eyes.

After a hesitation, there were noises as Mark undressed. Apparently he decided not to wait her out. The water splashed as he entered the pool. Abby gave him a count of ten before looking at him.

He’d had the same idea she’d used, ducking under quickly to take the sting out of the water. He was at the middle of the pool, but to him it was only chest deep. He was looking at her warily as if afraid she was going to do something to him without him being aware.

“Why are you so nervous around me?” She asked, dipping her feet into the water below her. It was not as chilly as it seemed before.

“Do I seem nervous?” Mark asked, reaching up to rub his hair. Abby had a good look at his arms, his chest, the upper part of his muscular stomach. Something inside her definitely liked what she was seeing. It suddenly felt hot by the pool. She felt a flush rising on her face and could do nothing to stop it.

Mark seemed not to notice. He had turned and was scooping water into his hands, splashing it onto his chest and shoulders. He looked as if he were in deep thought. Abby grinned impishly and let the towel drop to the ground. Then she slid silently into the water.

Mark must have sensed her moving, because he turned quickly and jumped a bit when he noticed she was behind him. Abby grinned and floated easily, the water hiding her body. “Yeah, you seem nervous.” She said, splashing water at him. Mark shook his head.

“If I am it is only because we are in enemy territory and I feel I have to keep you safe.” He said, eying the trees. Abby laughed.

“Right.” She moved closer to him. Mark turned his gaze to her and stood stiff when she stopped right in front of him. She stood up, the water leaving the tops of her breasts bare. Mark’s gaze was riveted there, and she smiled slowly. “You aren’t watching the trees now.” She said in a hoarse voice. Damn but she could literally feel the heat from his stare.

“I’m finding it very hard to keep my concentration.” Mark admitted, a smile playing on his lips. He was fighting with himself not to reach out and touch all that tantalizing bare skin that was within reach. Abby was driving him crazy, he knew it, she knew it.

Abby drew a bit closer, and Mark sucked in a sharp breath as she brushed against him. “I want to apologize.” She said softly.

“For…what?” He had trouble getting the words out. Abby smiled again.

“For this morning. I was mean and I shouldn’t have been. I’m sorry.”

“You need not apologize for your anger, Abby. If I were in your situation, I would probably be a worse houseguest.” Mark met her eyes and his smile mirrored hers.

“What I am not sorry about…” Abby reached out a hand and drizzled water over his shoulder. Mark shuddered at the coolness but otherwise stood still. “Is what you did.”

“What I did?” He asked, his voice barely a whisper. Abby closed the small distance between them and pressed herself firmly against him. Mark could feel heat rising between them, could feel his own reaction to her naked body, and the struggle to hold himself in check became even harder.

“Um hmm. You kissed me.” Her voice became seductive. Mark sucked in a shaky breath, another one, and slowly raised his hands to her back, holding her lightly.

“I did not know what I was thinking.” He said softly.

“That is not what a girl wants to hear in this kind of situation.” Abby said, smiling as she spoke.

“I do know that I wanted to do more than just kiss you.” Mark admitted, his face reddening a bit at the admission. It was growing dark and he was thankful that most of his embarrassment would be covered by the fading light.

“Do you still?” Abby ran her hands over his chest, to his shoulders. Her body slid against him easily, lubricated by the cool water. “Do you want to do more than just kiss me?” She asked, her voice catching at the words. She did not know when it had happened, but she wanted him. She would only be there a short time, there could be nothing between them but this…this night, this moment, but she wanted it damn it. Abby normally did not go with impulses, it went against her nature, but this time it was just too strong to ignore.

“I would love to.” Mark murmured. He slid a hand down her back, then back up in a soft caress. “I’m not sure that it is the right time…or place…”

“There may not be another time or place.” Abby reminded him. She locked her hands behind his neck and pulled his head down. Her lips caught his just as he opened his mouth to speak. She took advantage and darted her tongue into his mouth, urging him to kiss her back.

Mark did not fight it. He held her closer and gave her what she wanted, his tongue entering her mouth, sliding over her tongue, tasting her. It was almost too much, she was almost too much. He knew it was hopeless, feeling the way he felt, but he was powerless against it. Something inside him had been awakened upon seeing her and he had to have her, even if just for a month, a week, a single night. He’d never felt like this before, never, and there had been no sign of it ever happening.

His hands tangled into her long hair, and he tilted her head back for better access to deepen the kiss. Abby murmured unintelligibly against his mouth at the action, urging him to do what he wanted to do with her. Her hands were roaming his skin, her nails gently raking his chest, driving him insane with the need he was feeling.

He finally had to break for air. Abby clutched at his shoulders, her eyes gleaming in the fading light. She leaned back in the water, giving him access to her body. Mark sighed in contentment and traced her lips with his finger, her jaw, her neck. He pressed his palm flat against her shoulder and slid it over her chest, her collarbone. He hesitated, looking into her eyes, getting a nod of approval from her before stroking his hand across her breasts. Abby moaned and arched against the heat of his hand. Mark took a shaky breath and cupped her breast in his palm.

His fingers stroked her nipple, bringing it to a hard point. Abby moaned again as he moved to the other breast and repeated the slow torture. Mark lowered his head and kissed her neck, sucking lightly at her skin. Abby burrowed her hands into his long hair and encouraged him with another moan of acceptance.

Mark slid his mouth lower, across the tops of her breasts, down, running his lips gently over first one nipple, then the other. Abby’s fingers tightened in his hair as he opened his mouth and took one hardened peak between his hot lips. His tongue flicked her sensitive skin over and over and he rhythmically suckled on her, nipping her with his teeth until she was writhing against him at the sensations.

With a wordless growl, Mark suddenly stood up and grabbed her around the waist, lifting Abby off her feet. She gasped in shock at the cool air that hit her overheated skin. He was guiding them toward the shore. He helped her out of the water, then lay next to her on the patch of grass next to the water. Abby shivered as a breeze puffed across her skin. The shiver turned into a shudder of pleasure as Mark’s big, hot body pressed against her from above.

She hugged him close, relishing the warmth of him, the hard muscle, the smooth skin. Mark was kissing her again, his mouth restless against her, moving from her lips to her neck, down to her breasts again. His hand slid between her legs and found her hot center-with a moan he began to slowly stroke her clit in time with his exploration of her body. It was all Abby could do to hold onto him and moan in pleasure.

She reached down to touch him, but he pushed her hands away. Mark knew if she laid hands on him…that would be it. That was all it would take, he wanted her so badly. He did not want to rush this, he did not want it to end quickly. Abby apparently understood. She raised her hands above her head and watched him through passion clouded eyes as he continued his slow and steady worship of her body.

Abby rocked her hips against his hand, feeling heat lick its way through her body. It felt as if a hot coil were tensed in her body, ready to spring at any moment. “Mark…” She whispered his name, bringing his eyes to hers again. He saw the need there and moved up her body, positioning himself between her legs. Abby clutched at his arms, waiting for him to move, to join them together.

Mark reached down and guided himself to her hot center. That first feel of her against his heated skin was almost enough to send him spiraling over the edge. He waited until he got a bit of control before he moved, inching inside her body, his eyes closed at the overload of sensation he was feeling.

Abby watched him, her eyes looking from his face, to his chest, down his stomach. She’d never felt like this before, had never been turned on by the sight of a man entering her the way she was now. She cried out softly when Mark finally sheathed himself in her body, her legs wrapping around his waist to hold him still inside her. He gave her time to get used to his size, waited until he felt her hips grind against him, before methodically thrusting in and out of her hot flesh.

Abby raked him with her nails and arched her back, her hips coming up off the ground with every in-stroke. She gasped for breath, her moans fueling him on. Mark groaned and sped up his pace, angling his thrusts to get more reaction from her. Abby suddenly tightened her body and cried out as the tension finally released and she climaxed against his hard throbbing flesh. Mark moaned in answer and thrust a few more times, more erratic, not able to hold back after feeling her reach her end. He whimpered her name as he finished, his hips snapping sharply against her body one last time.

With a grunt he moved to her side and pulled her close, cradling her in his arms. Abby sighed contentedly and snuggled against him. “Can’t spend the night down here.” She murmured.

Mark made a noncommittal noise that had her giggling. He squeezed her one last time then sighed. “I suppose you are right. They should be back any time with the food.”

Abby had totally forgotten about the other men. She blushed and pushed herself up. She got in the water one last time and cleaned herself up. Mark followed her lead, this time not fighting the urge to touch her at will. Abby laughed and repaid the favor. Finally she pointed out that playing in the water was not getting them back to camp any faster. Mark agreed. They dried off and got dressed.

Abby followed him back toward the campsite. She felt better than she had in ages. Her mind felt clearer, anyway. A soreness had settled into her, but it was a good kind of sore. Mark kept stealing glances at her as if afraid she would disappear in a puff of smoke. Abby squeezed his hand reassuringly and looked around once they’d reached camp.

The men had set up tents. Mark’s of course was the biggest. She looked around, wondering which one was hers, when he tapped her shoulder. “You can stay with me. If you want to.”

Abby smiled. “Won’t the men think it strange?”

“They’ve been thinking it for the past two days.” Mark stated dryly. Abby laughed.

“Ok. I’d like that.” She gathered her things and ducked into the tent. They had gotten back just in time. They were there no more than five minutes when there were voices from the opposite direction that they had come.

Abby listened from the tent as the men told Mark of their hunting trip. She hummed to herself as she pulled on a long-sleeved tunic Mark had packed in a bag for her. Her stomach growled hungrily and she grinned. Now that the sexual need was taken care of, her stomach was sending a reminder. Still humming, she ducked out of the tent to join the men in cooking dinner.


Something pulled Abby from a deep sleep.

She stirred, mindful of Mark lying next to her, and listened with her eyes straining in the darkness. After their late dinner, the men had settled on a guard rotation. Abby had gone directly to bed. She wanted an early start. Mark had joined her at some point during the night and had cuddled up to her without disturbing her rest.

But now…she frowned as her eyes adjusted to the night. Whatever had awakened her was not repeated. She blinked sleepily. Abby had no more closed her eyes when the noise happened again.

There was really no way to describe it. It sounded like a woman shrieking. That was close, but not quite what it was. Abby slid carefully from her place beside Mark and shivered at the cool air. It was not really cold, she’d just been very warm laying beneath the blankets.

She grabbed another blanket on her way out of the tent, wrapping it around her shoulders as she stepped onto the cool grass in her bare feet. The camp was silent. She could not see the men who were standing guard. They were hidden in the trees, supposedly walking the perimeter of the camp every half hour. Abby tilted her head and looked around, then up at the sky. It was clear. There were too many stars to even begin counting. It was beautiful. She’d lived in a good-sized town all her life, and had never seen a sky quite like this one.

A twig snapped to her right. Abby jumped and watched as David materialized through the trees, sighing in relief. He gave her a worried frown. “Is all well?” He asked in a low whisper as he cast a glance at Mark’s tent.

“I guess.” Abby shrugged. She pulled the blanket tighter against her body. “Did you hear something a minute ago?”

David cocked his head and listened. “I heard Scott moving on the other side of camp.” He finally said, looking at Abby again.

She sighed. “I thought I heard…something. I dunno. I guess I dreamed it.”

“Perhaps.” David did not sound convinced. He looked warily at their surroundings. “Dawn will be in two hours. I’ll wake the next guard, and stay up with them. Try to get some more sleep.” He gave her shoulder a squeeze as he walked toward the tents on the other side of the clearing.

David’s voice was barely audible as he woke up two more guards. They looked at her curiously before melting into the tree line with David. Soon Abby stood alone in the middle of the camp. Something was bothering her, something that she couldn’t quite put her finger on, and it wasn’t the sound she’d heard.

Her eyes widened. It wasn’t what she’d heard, that was right, it was what she was NOT hearing. Earlier in the night there had been crickets, the sounds of small animals moving in the trees, frogs. Now there was nothing. Just still air, as if the night were holding its breath.

She shook her head. “You act like you’ve never camped out before.” She admonished herself softly. With a last look around, she ducked back into Mark’s tent. She replaced the blanket and lay down next to him. Earlier they had laid out a thick padding of blankets as a bed, with several more stacked on top for cover. She’d just gotten settled when she felt Mark’s arm creep around her waist. She smiled and snuggled against him.

“You are up too early.” He said, his voice rough with sleep.

“I’m not up. I’m going back to sleep. You should too.”

“Is something wrong?” His arm tightened a bit, as if he were worried she’d try to run off. Abby stroked his forearm and wiggled into a more comfortable position.

“No. Everything’s fine.” She said, sounding much more sure than she felt. Something was not right, but she didn’t want to alarm Mark if she didn’t have to.

“Good.” He kissed her ear, sending a shiver down her back. “G’night, Abby.”

“Night to you too. Again.” She smiled and closed her eyes. Sleep was a bit longer coming that time. She finally managed to doze off an hour after she had gotten back in bed.

Mark woke her. His lips were brushing against the sensitive skin of her neck, making her squirm in her sleep. Abby blinked her eyes open and squinted a bit at the light that was starting to come into the tent.

“Time is it?” She asked blearily. Mark nipped her ear.

“Just past dawn.” His voice was a husky whisper. Abby shivered as his breath puffed across her skin. His hand stroked her stomach, rising to caress her breast, then sliding down to the top of her thigh.

“Mark…” Abby kept her voice at a whisper. She could hear his men moving around outside the tent, talking quietly.

“Hmm?” He was nibbling at her neck again.

“I would love a repeat performance, but this is definitely not the time or place.” She said with a breathless laugh. She could feel him pressing against her from behind and had to use all the willpower she possessed to keep from rolling over and just giving in to what he was trying to start.

He opened his mouth to reply but did not get a chance to speak. David’s voice came from the entry of the tent. “Sire…we have breakfast. The horses are packed and ready.”

“Thank you David.” Mark said, grinning as he rose up on one elbow. He looked down at Abby, his eyes taking in her sleepy features. “I’ll be out shortly.”

“Shortly, huh?” Abby whispered, not wanting the men to overhear.

“You are right. There is not enough time.” He let his eyes roam her body from head to toe. Abby bit her lip and watched as he took her in. He looked hungry for more than breakfast, but that would have to wait.

Abby moved first, sitting up and stretching her arms over her head. Mark watched her for a moment before finally tearing his eyes away. They’d get absolutely nothing done if he kept letting himself get sidetracked. With a wry smile he tugged a shirt over his head. He could hear Abby getting dressed behind him, and resisted the urge to watch that too. It would only make starting the day harder.

“Must be all this outdoor air, I’m starving.” Abby commented as she pulled on a pair of boots Mark had brought for her. She was wearing dark pants and a white tunic top. Her hair hung down her back in loose waves. She was fine looking, even this early in the morning. Mark smiled at her.

“You burned a lot of energy yesterday.” He stated. Abby laughed and tossed the shirt she’d worn to bed at him. Mark caught it deftly and stuffed it into his bag.

Mark caught her hand before she could exit the tent. “Hold on a second.” He brought her into his arms and kissed her soundly before finally letting go with obvious reluctance. “Now I’m ready.”

Abby smiled at him and ducked out of the tent before he could get any more bright ideas. The morning was coming on warm, and she stretched again, taking a deep breath of clean air. The sounds of the woods were back, birds, animals. She could almost convince herself that she had dreamed waking up early and being uneasy.

David gestured her toward the fire they had started last night and offered her a plate. Abby sat on the grass and ate slowly, listening to the men talk about their route, their women, their lives. She was quiet during breakfast, just taking everything in.

When it came time to saddle up, David took care of her horse and one of the other men, Robert, helped her into the saddle. She rode next to Mark for a while, as David led the way toward Glen’s kingdom.

They’d ridden an hour before Mark moved his horse to David’s side. He and Abby had talked quietly for most of that time, mostly about the scenery that was passing with each mile. David gave him a tired smile.

“Sire. If we keep this pace, we’ll reach Raventhorne by noon tomorrow.”

“Good.” Mark said, matching David’s smile. “Tonight I want you off patrol. You need rest.”

“I’m fine, sire.”

“That may be, but I’ll not have you falling asleep on watch. I’ll spell you.”

“Sire.” David’s mouth dropped open. “I can’t allow you to…”

“You can, and I will. Who is the boss of this company?” Mark asked with a grin. David shook his head and smiled.

“You are, of course.” He eyed his king with a sly grin. Mark seemed in good spirits that morning. It was strange seeing him so upbeat. Not that he was gloomy. David just could not remember a time when Mark seemed so at peace with himself.

Mark glanced behind him, his smile fading a bit. Abby had dropped behind the group of men and was looking around, a troubled expression on her face. David followed his gaze.

“Something troubling her, sire?”

“I do not know, David.” Mark nodded at him and slowed his horse so Abby would catch up to him. She barely acknowledged his presence next to her for several moments.

Abby finally looked at him. “Do you not hear that?”

“Hear what?” Mark listened, taking in the noises of the horses, the men’s voices. Nothing unusual about any of that.

Abby frowned. “That.” She said after a hesitation. Mark had heard nothing.

“Do you need to stop and rest?” Mark asked, wondering if she’d put herself in too deep with the long ride. Abby shook her head earnestly.

“No, I do not need to rest. Shit. I’m not having some womanly episode either, so get that thought outta your head.” Abby made a face. Mark smiled and ducked his head. So he had been thinking in that direction. It happened from time to time.

“What do you hear?”

“It’s not what I hear, it’s what I don’t hear.” She repeated the thought that had occurred to her earlier. “No birds. No sound at all…except…”

“Except…” Mark urged her on. Now that she pointed it out, the forest did seem preternaturally quiet in the bright morning light.

“Every now and then…” Abby’s voice was soft. She did not want the others to overhear. “I think I hear what sounds like a scream. It was far off at first, but I believe it’s getting closer.”

Mark’s eyes widened at her statement. “Abby, are you sure, are you certain?” He looked around, seeing nothing but trees.

“Positive. I wouldn’t make it up.” She jerked her head to the left. “There it is again. How can you not hear that?”

“Abby…get in the middle of the group.” Mark reached over and took her reins, guiding her horse into the cluster of men in front of them.

“What’s going on?” Abby asked, suddenly frightened. Mark shook his head and whistled, catching David’s attention.

“Fall back! Huddle in!” Mark called out. The men obeyed, looking to him for further instruction. David rode next to him.

“Sire, what is it?”

“A siren. Abby has heard it for a while this morning.”

David’s face visibly paled. Abby frowned in confusion. “A siren? What kind of siren? You don’t have fire alarms out here surely.”

Mark was shaking his head emphatically. The men drew in closer. A few were peering into the woods, looking for signs of company.

“A siren is a witch. A witch who seduces men with the sound of her voice.” Mark stated, keeping it simple. Abby thought about it for a moment, then grimaced.

“You can get seduced by THAT?” Another shriek had come from the left. It sounded just yards away.

“Men can’t hear it. Only a woman can pick up the sounds. If she looks at a man and makes her sounds…” Mark trailed off. “He can become her slave.”

David’s horse was acting strange suddenly, pulling him to the right. He calmed it with a firm hand and turned to the men. “Cover your ears! We have to ride fast, try to outpace her.”

The men murmured in agreement. Mark cast Abby a look before cupping his hands over his ears.

“I thought sirens were in the ocean, luring sailors to rocks.” She shouted so Mark could hear her. He shook his head.

“We are close to the river still. They can live on land as well.” He kept his voice low. Abby did not bother with covering her ears. She’d been hearing that damn racket for a while, so it apparently had no effect on her.

“Ride on! I’ll cover the back!” Abby motioned in the direction they had been riding. Mark shot her a look, which she interpreted to mean he would go nowhere without her. With a sigh she reached out and gave his horse a smack on its rear leg. It was already wound up from the noise, which was obviously making it nervous. Mark could do nothing but try to stay on as the horse loped off at a gallop. The other men followed, not wanting their king to be alone.

Abby brought her horse to a halt and turned in the saddle, looking behind her and then into the trees. The noise had stopped. It did not mean the thing had gone away. She felt as if she were being watched. The men halted their horses about a hundred yards along the trail. They turned to watch Abby, ready to head out if there were serious trouble.

She didn’t have to wait long. The siren…or whatever it was…rustled the trees to her right. Abby slid from her horse and shooed it in the direction of the men. It went willingly enough, it’s eyes wild, as it looked around for the source of the trouble it could sense.

What came out of the trees was not what Abby was expecting.

A woman stepped onto the trail. She was tall, lithe, she moved like a dancer. Her long blonde hair hung down her back to her knees. She wore very little clothing. A strap of material across her breasts. A sarong-like skirt. And they really weren’t doing anything to cover her. The fabric was see-through.

She eyed Abby with curious blue eyes. Then her gaze drifted to the men behind her. A smile parted her lips. Her teeth flashed in the sunlight. There seemed to be something wrong with the smile, that was what first registered. Then Abby realized what it was. They teeth were filed to points. Sharp looking points that glittered in the sun.

The siren’s eyes fell on Mark and her grin widened. Abby blinked and the pointed teeth were gone. In their place were incredibly white, straight, even teeth.

“King Mark.” The woman bowed, practically kneeling on the dirt trail.

Abby looked in confusion from the woman to Mark, whose hands fell from his ears. His face was a mask of astonishment.

“Firefly?” Mark said the name low in his deep voice. The woman smiled and rose to her full height.

“In the flesh. As it were.” She gestured to her body. Mark laughed and climbed from his horse, his men following his lead. They led the horses to where the two women were standing. Mark handed his reins to one of the guards before stepping forward and hugging the blonde woman close to his body.

Abby could not speak for several moments as Mark released the woman and David stepped in with a grin on his features to hug her. “Um…hello? I’m sorry to interrupt this love fest but didn’t you just run off like scalded dogs because she was gonna enslave you or something?” Abby jerked a thumb at Firefly, who was smiling serenely.

“Abby…” Mark took her hand and pulled her forward. “This is Rosalynna. Princess Rosalynna. Known as Firefly to all who are friends. She rules Rion, kingdom of mimics to the East. Firefly, this is Abby. Sent to us from a different time to help us end our suffering.”

Firefly looked at Abby with great interest. “Any friend of the king brothers…” She stated simply as she bowed her head in Abby’s direction. “Is a friend of Rion. You stood your ground, Abby. For that I am impressed. Many people…” She gave the men a pointed look. “Would have run.”

“Pardon me for being slow, but mimics? What is going on here?” She was still lost.

“We thought you were a siren, coming for us. Why are you in Remi, Firefly? And so far into the territory?” Mark also wanted answers. Firefly smiled.

“I heard talk of Dimitri’s men invading this area. I also heard talk of the lower castle burning. I had to see for myself.” She waved off the protest that formed on Mark’s lips. “I have no fear of this place. Dimitri and his men are gone. They’ve left nothing but a burned out shell in their wake. A testament to his weakness, I would say.” Firefly once again looked at Abby. “As for your question, a mimic can touch something and ‘mimic’ it. Let me show you.” She reached out and grasped Abby’s hand before Abby realized what she was doing. Firefly began…shimmering. There was no other word for it.

Less than half a minute passed. Abby stood there on the trail, looking back…at herself. The same hair. The same eyes. Even the clothes were the same. There was a streak of dust on one cheek. Abby absentmindedly wiped it off of her own. Firefly smiled at her and changed back into her original body.

“If I knew you better, if I had ties to you, I could keep your image for much longer.” Firefly said. She smiled again. “I at first mistook you for Dimitri’s men, especially when you were camping so close to the burnt castle. It wasn’t until I got closer that I realized I was mistaken.” Her smile widened into a grin. “I thought a siren might be enough to get you moving along. Although I wasn’t counting on a woman in the group. She heard me calling.”

“Why were you moving us?” Mark absently stroked his hand over his cheek.

“Because this is borderland. Not only between you and the next kingdom, but between two brothers. Evil magic gathers here, as it tends to do in rifts such as this.” Firefly looked sadly to Mark and the others, who were nodding in agreement.

“Be that as it may, we find ourselves with a need to cross.” Mark said softly. “Tell me, have you been to my brother’s castle recently?”

Firefly shook her head. “I’m afraid it has been a long time since I had found time to visit.” She looked at Mark with a smirk. “May I ask why you are going?”

“We seek a woman. A sister to Abby.” Mark stated.

“Ah.” Firefly smiled again. “So this woman also comes from another time?”

“Yes.” Mark eyed Firefly with a slight frown. It was obvious she knew something, but wanted to drag it out a bit.

Firefly seemed to sense it. Her smile softened. “Does she have golden hair?” At this, she touched her own long fall of hair. It was paler than Ollie’s, more white than yellow in the sunlight. Abby nodded anyway. The same principle applied. “She is safe in Glen’s castle. The ruler of Raventhorne headed a daring raid rescuing all who were held captive inside Dimitri’s ill-gained home.”

“So Glen has her? Is she all right?” Abby almost fell over herself to ask questions. Mark was more level-headed.

“How is it you know this, if you have not been to Raventhorne recently?” He asked, calming Abby with a hand on her shoulder.

“I may not be there, but Tavia is. And she does like to talk.” Firefly shook her head. “Why he would choose her for such as mission as he undertook, I will never know.” She looked at Abby and smiled again. “Tavia is one of my people, although she is not a mimic. She lives at Raventhorne with her lover. Although not magical, she does have a great talent for healing. Your sister has been well taken care of.”

“I’ll believe that when I see it for myself.” Abby said. With that she’d had enough of talking. She turned and went to her horse, who stood there with his head down, munching at the grass on the trail.

Firefly looked at Mark, who was watching Abby climb onto the horse. “She holds much anger.”

“I know.” Mark sighed and motioned his men to return to their horses.

“She may need it.” Firefly said, voice low so others would not overhear. “Although carrying it here in the rift could be trouble.”

“I know this too.” Mark said, looking once again at Abby.

“You care for her, my king?” She made it sound like a question. Although she was ruler of her own land, Mark still had rank over her. She would not be a queen until she married. That was the rule of Rion.

“Foolish of me, isn’t it?”

“Love is never foolish, sire.” Firefly smiled knowingly. “Sometimes blind, but never a fool.”

“Have I been blinded?” Mark asked.

“Only you know the answer to that.” Firefly touched his arm. “The road to Raventhorne is clear. You may reach it by tomorrow if you rush.” She smiled slyly.

“You do not think we should rush?” Mark asked, unable to help smiling back at her.

“I believe that time is fleeting.” Firefly sobered. “And time wasted is fleeting times two.” Before he could remark to that, she was brushing absently at her arms. “If you do not mind, sire, I would enjoy a visit to Raventhorne. I’d like to accompany you.”

“I would welcome you, Firefly.” Mark nodded. “Where are your things?”

“I brought only myself.” Firefly nodded to the horses. “May I make a suggestion?”

“Speak freely.” Mark had turned to walk to his horse, but halted when she spoke.

“Send your men home. Keep only your two best. Anything other than that may be construed as a challenge to your brother.”

“You may have a point.” Mark said with some humor. Of course, just about everything he did seemed a challenge to Glen lately.

“The trail is clear.” Firefly reminded him. “Your nephew keeps the castle alone. He may need more protection before this journey is finished.”

“Jacob?” Mark stopped with his hands resting on the saddle in the process of boosting himself up. “Do you know of something I should worry about?”

“No sire.” Firefly was quick to assure him. “It is just a feeling that I have. Nothing written in stone.” She smiled. “Where shall I ride?”

“Um…” Mark looked around. The men were talking quietly, readying themselves for another leg of the journey. His eyes fell on Abby, who sat in her saddle as if bored to tears with the thought of another ride. Mark climbed onto his horse and waked beside Abby. “Firefly would like to join our group.”

“Ok.” Abby looked at him with her eyebrow up. Why she needed to know that was beyond her. She just wanted to get off the damn horse and find her sister. And go home. She added the last part as an afterthought. Damn it, she was starting to get used to being here, in this backward place.

“She’ll need a horse.” Mark continued, as if mocking her because she didn’t immediately catch his drift.

“Ok.” Abby repeated. She looked at the other woman, who stood there grinning. “What does that have to do with me?”

Mark smiled and leaned over, pulling her easily from the saddle. He swung her so she was sitting on his horse in front of her, his arms around her to hold the reins. Abby started to sputter a protest but it was cut off as Mark flicked the reins and turned his horse. “Gentlemen. Firefly assures me that the trail is free of danger. David, I wish you to stay with us. The rest of you are dismissed back to Shadowflight. Scott will lead you.”

The men looked at each other for a moment, then Scott shrugged. “As you wish, sire.” With that he kicked his horse to turn it, and began leading the other men back the way they’d recently come from.

“You’ll see the travel go much faster with less to keep up with.” Firefly said from the horse that Abby had recently been vacated from.

Of course, she couldn’t complain. Mark’s arms were around her, cradling her. He was, for all intents and purposes, driving. It was kind of nice having it taken out of her hands like that. Although she reminded herself to be mad about being manhandled later.

David was looking at them with a grin. Abby frowned back, making him laugh in the clear morning air. Firefly rode next to him and they led the way along the trail, toward Raventhorne and hopefully Olivia.


“Make sure to keep to the back trails.”

The two men on horses nodded at their king. Glen stood there with his hands on his hips, watching as they readied themselves. He’d made the decision not to send Ollie out with him men for the simple fact that her back pained her too much for the long ride. And also…he didn’t want to chance her getting caught out by Dimitri again. Michael knew where she’d been found and he led the other man in preparations.

Ollie had told them exactly where the book had been. She’d been very quiet that morning after the directions, looking down at her hands in her lap. Glen would cast her worried glances from time to time, but she did not seem to notice. She’d picked at her food, not really eating breakfast. Even Tavia noticed, but for a wonder said nothing about it, choosing instead to wait until she could get their guest alone.

“We’ll expect you back in two days at the most.” Glen continued.

“We’ll be back tomorrow night, sire.” Michael smiled. “I have no intention of stopping for more than a few minutes to rest the horses.”

Glen nodded. “That would probably be wise. Be careful.” With that he waved the men off. Michael led the horses to the gate and out into the forest that surrounded the castle. With a sigh, Glen went back into the castle proper. The night before he’d sent scouts out to check on Dimitri’s whereabouts. Glen was worried about them. Dimitri and his followers would be on alert. It had taken time to get Michael and Tavia on the inside. And Dimitri would be even slower to trust outsiders after the destruction of the castle.

The sound of feminine laughter echoed through the open doors of the dining room. Glen had to smile in response. It was contagious, and it had been a long time since someone had found something so amusing. Curiosity got the better of him, so he poked his head through the door and looked around.

Tavia and Ollie were sitting at one of the tables. Ollie had borrowed a dress from someone…it was a pale yellow color that made her eyes look soft. Another woman stood next to them, talking animatedly, waving her hands in the air. They all laughed again. Then Tavia noticed Glen looking.

“Sorry to disturb you, sire.” She said, giggling, trying to control herself. Glen realized that the third woman was one of the cooks of the castle, Penelope. She was a bit older than the other two and had three children of her own, but she seemed right at home with the younger women.

“It is all right, Tav. Laughter is music in this place.” Glen said with a smile. “Want to share what is so amusing?”

The three women exchanged glances and cracked up again. “It’s…nothing…sire.” Tavia said gasping for breath. “Women talk. That’s all.”

“Ah.” Glen raised an eyebrow. “In other words, I should mind my own business.” He grinned as he said it. The women all smiled back.

“Yes, sire, that would probably be for the best.” Penelope looked over her shoulder at a sound from the back of the room. Her young daughter entered, a tall glass balanced in her hands.

“Momma, I got the water!” She said excitedly. Penelope grinned and took the glass from her child, putting it on the table in front of her.

“Good work, Hope, sweetheart, but we have a guest, and a royal guest at that.” Penelope nodded toward Glen, who had entered the room fully to study the women. Hope, the little girl, flashed a heart-melting grin in his direction and dropped into a curtsy.

“Good morning, sire.”

Glen walked over to the girl and dropped to one knee in front of her so they were eye level. Hope was only just turned six, with her mother’s dark hair and eyes. She was a very striking child, so delicate looking…but tough, as she had been dealing with two older brothers for her short life. She met his eyes directly, unlike some adults were able to do.

“Hope, I wish you good morning as well. You are looking very pretty today.”

Hope’s grin widened. “Thank you, sire.” She ducked her head in mock modesty.

“Hope says she’ll one day work here in the castle, sire.” Penelope said proudly. Glen smiled up at her.

“I do not see why she would not. Tell me, are you as good a cook as your mother?” Glen returned his attention to Hope. She shook her head.

“No, sire. I don’t want to be a cook.” She grinned again.

“Then what job would you want, little one? So I might want to leave it open for you when you turn a good age.”

Hope smiled and would not answer. Glen chuckled and rose to his feet. “I suppose she needs time to think it over.” The women all smiled at that.

“She won’t tell. I’ve asked her on several occasions.” Penelope made a clucking noise with her tongue. “Well, I suppose lunch is not going to cook itself. Come on, Hope. You can set the king’s table, and give the maid a break, how about it?”

Hope grinned and turned to follow her mother from the room. Tavia rose to her feet. “Well, I suppose I should find something to occupy myself with. Idle hands do the devil’s work. Sire.” She said it as a goodbye as she left the room. Glen was left alone with Ollie, and had the distinct feeling it had been done on purpose. Curious.

He took a seat across from her and smiled into her eyes. Ollie smiled back. The distracted look she’d worn earlier had passed. She seemed comfortable, at ease. “How is your back?”

“Better.” She raised an eyebrow. “Much better actually. It’s freaking me out a little bit.”

“Freaking you out?” Glen repeated, frowning a bit.

“Uh…making me confused?” Ollie tried. Glen nodded for her to go on. “I’m no doctor, but I know that it should take more than a day for welts like that to go away.”

Glen smiled again, this time more sure of himself. “It’s the salve. It’s…a very strong healing tonic. On some it works amazingly fast. On others, just slightly. It just depends.”

“On what?”

“I don’t know.” Glen shrugged comically. “It works well on Michael, but on Tavia it has no effect. I have used it myself, and it worked in a matter or hours. It’s…hard to explain.”

“I see.” Ollie picked up the glass that Hope had brought into the room and took a sip of the water. “Hope is certainly a lovely young girl.”

“She is.” Glen said.

“You were very good with her. Do you have any children of your own?” Ollie asked, looking down into her cup. Glen shook his head and chuckled.

“No. I have no children. Yet.” He amended.

“Oh.” Ollie set the glass aside. Glen studied her in the light that streamed in through the windows.

“Something is on your mind.”

Ollie hesitated. “No. Nothing major. Just worrying about Abby.”

“Sounds important to me.” Glen reached over and took her hand. Ollie jumped at contact, but he did not let go, not just yet. “You have to hold on to your family, Olivia. In the end, they are really all you have.”

Ollie made a face. “You should take your own advice.”

“About my brother?” Glen said with a smirk. “Mark and I are a different story.”

“If you say so.” Ollie pulled her hand away. Then she met his eyes. “So since I wasn’t allowed to go on the trip this morning, what do you suggest I do to occupy my time? Idle hands being the devil’s work and all that.”

Glen chuckled. He could think of several interesting diversions, but none he would mention in front of such a fascinating woman. He decided to go a decidedly more sedate route. “I suggest we wait a half hour and then eat lunch. You did not eat this morning. You should keep your strength up. After that I am going to take my horse out. I’d like you to come with me…if you want to.” He sounded almost shy when he said it. Ollie’s smile was more genuine that time.

“I’d like that.” She rose to her feet. “I’ll need pants. I won’t be climbing on a horse in this.” She gestured at the dress.

“I’m sure we can come up with something.” He smiled. “Although you look perfectly lovely. It will be quite a loss.” Ollie blushed at the compliment then waved it off.

“Flattery will get you nowhere.” She smirked at his confused look. Ollie excused herself to wash up for lunch. She definitely felt better, and only wished her sister were there to talk to. That was her main problem. They’d been together so long, just them against the world, that this separation was like torture. She wondered if Abby felt the same way. With a sigh she climbed the stairs to the washroom. Michael had promised to find Abby, and Ollie knew that he was the type who would die before breaking a vow.


“We should stop for a while, let the horses rest.”

David’s voice drew Abby’s attention from her comfortable position in front of Mark. She wanted to argue, but knew it was wrong. The day had come on hot in the afternoon and the horses were breathing hard, plodding along tiredly after the fast pace they’d set earlier in the day.

“There is a pool nearby.” Mark said, his voice a low rumble, vibrating against Abby’s back. “No more than a mile I’d say.”

“I had forgotten that place.” Firefly said with a laugh. She’d spent most of the ride talking to Abby about where she was from, where Abby was from, magic, the land, anything the came to mind. Firefly was a talker by nature. She loved the sound of her own voice. Abby supposed it wasn’t a bad thing in the other woman, since her voice was very melodic. “Great Water.”

“Green Water.” Mark corrected. He shook his head. “You never got that right.”

“King Perfection.” Firefly said amicably. Abby laughed as the other woman urged her horse forward to fall in beside David.

“I guess she told you.” Abby stated.

“She told me…what?” Mark asked, sounding puzzled.

“It’s an expression.” Abby laughed again, imagining his face as he tried to figure it out. “Forget it. It’s not worth the effort of learning.”

Mark chuckled. “Are there much frivolous things in your time?”

“Much frivolous?” Abby made a noise. It sounded like a choked laugh. “Just about everything in my time is frivolous. Words, money, cars, homes.”

“Yet you miss this place so much.” Mark said softly.

Abby hesitated. “It’s not all bad.” She finally said. “I miss my home, I guess. I grew up there. Mom and Dad had it built right after we were born. I think the longest I’ve been away from home was a week for camp when I was a kid.”

“Well you have only been here a few days.” Mark pointed out.

“But…it feels like so much longer.” Abby heaved a sigh. “I’m not trying to insult you or anything, but I feel as if I have been here for years. It’s strange. Like the days pass so slowly compared to what I’m used to.”

“Perhaps they do without all your frivolity to distract you.” Mark pointed out with a smile.

“Maybe.” Abby sighed and shifted. Mark settled a hand against her stomach, holding her close.

“I could think of some very distracting things to do. To take your mind off being homesick.” Mark ducked his head and spoke in a low tone that only she could hear.

Abby felt her stomach do a nervous, happy little flip at his words, his tone. The man could melt lead with that voice of his. “I think I would like that. If we have time.”

“There is time if we make time.” Mark said, his tone very serious. “We’ll not reach Glen’s until tomorrow by any means. The horses are only slowed by the heat of the afternoon. I think we should make camp now. Get an early start tomorrow. We will be at Raventhorne before you know it.”

Abby smiled and closed her eyes, leaning her head back against Mark’s chest. “Do you really think Ollie is with your brother?”

Mark thought about it. It made sense. From what he’d heard, from what he knew of his brother, he knew it was true. “I would stake my life on it, Abby.”

“So if she is…there…” She smiled slowly. “I suppose your brother will keep a careful eye on her, make sure she’s taken care of.”

“Definitely.” Mark nuzzled her neck, pushing her hair aside with the hand that had been on her stomach.

“Then let’s stop and camp. I could use the break myself. I’m not used to all this riding.”

Mark stopped kissing her neck. Abby took that as surprise. She supposed he’d expected an argument. The truth was…her legs hurt. And even though she’d been riding with Mark, and he’d technically been doing all the work, her back was aching something fierce. It was the jarring of the animal beneath her, she knew it, she also knew that she needed a break.

“It’s not much further. David and I will set up camp…”

“I’ll help.”

“You don’t have to…”

“Yeah, I do.” Abby shook her head. “You can’t keep pampering me. I don’t wanna be spoiled rotten.”

Mark laughed. “I think I would enjoy spoiling you, Abby.”

“Don’t get any ideas.” Abby warned as they moved through a gap in the trees. Her eyes widened at the sight of Mark’s ‘pool’. Lake was more like it. It was huge, the water a clear green color, the shores sporting sun-bleached sand. “Wow.” She said softly as Mark climbed off the horse. He reached up and took her waist in his hands, lifting her easily to the ground.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Firefly said from the right. She and Dave had stopped but had not climbed off their horses.

“It’s gorgeous.” Abby eyed the water. She wanted nothing more than to strip and jump in. “Is it some trick of algae or moss?”

“No.” Mark took her hand and led her to the water. He let her go long enough to kneel down and scoop some of the liquid into his cupped hands. Abby looked down and the water was just as green against Mark’s skin as it was in the lake. “More magic, perhaps. Green Water has long been said to be healing water.”

“Is it safe?”

“To drink?” Mark asked with a grin. “Of course. We’ve been drinking from it since childhood. It does take some getting used to.” He made a face. “Not the taste. It tastes like water. You see the color and you…”

“Expect it to be different.” Abby finished. She was of a mind to tell him about ketchup and how the companies had done strange things to their colors…with tepid reaction. Most people liked it red. No one could get used to green or blue goop coming from the edge of their burgers. Then she realized…she’d waste her breath. Mark would have no clue what she was talking about.

“That’s right.” Mark took a sip of the water from his cupped hands. Then he held the hands out to Abby.

She hesitated before taking a sip herself. The water was just that…water. It did have a slightly sweet taste to it, but she knew that was because it was fresh…not like the water that came from the tap back home. She grinned up at Mark.

David and Firefly had been talking quietly. Mark seemed to notice them there for the first time. David was shooting him a knowing grin. “Sire, Firefly and I would like to ride the lake…to scout around.”

Mark nodded. “There is really no need of that, David.” Then he smiled at the look David passed to Abby. “Although you may if you insist.”

“We do.” Firefly laughed. “C’mon David. Let’s head to the falls.”

Abby and Mark watched them go in silence. The sound of the horses faded. “What was that about?” Abby asked, taking the hand that Mark held out.

“I believe that is David’s way of giving us some time alone.” Mark said, humor in his voice.

“Oh.” Abby looked at Mark and grinned. “Is that what this stop is all about?” She stepped closer to him, and Mark wrapped his arms around her.

“It is now.” With a laugh, Mark ducked his head and captured her lips with his. Abby raised her hands to tangle them into his long hair, tilting her head to give him access to deepen the kiss.

“What about our tent?” Abby asked breathlessly when Mark finally broke the kiss.

Mark laughed. “We don’t need it yet.”

“I need to wash off at least, I smell like a horse.” Abby said, grinning.

“You smell good, Abby. And no sense in taking a bath, since you’re just going to get dirty again.” Mark’s eyes raked her body and Abby felt herself flush in response.

“Hmm…I guess you’re right.” Abby said, trying to keep a straight face. She took Mark’s hand and pulled him off the sand and into the grass.

“Where are we going?” He asked, following with her easy enough.

Abby laughed. “I am not getting sand in strange places. The grass is good enough for me.” She grinned, her eyes flashing wickedly. “How long will they be gone?”

Mark looked at the lake. “The falls are half hour away. So maybe two hours?” He asked it instead of answering her.

Abby nodded and pulled him close to her body. “Sounds like we have plenty of time…this time.” With a smirk she pulled him down and kissed him again. Mark wrapped his arms tightly around her, shaking a bit at the feel of her in his arms, knowing that feeling the way he felt would lead to nothing but heartache. And then all thought was lost as she pulled him to the ground, and he lost his train of thought in the sensations of his body.



“So tell me about your brother.”

Ollie and Glen had ridden for an hour, then gotten off the horses to let them rest. Tavia had found Ollie a pair of dark pants and a blue shirt to wear. They were too big on her. Glen couldn’t stop looking at her though. She’d be beautiful wearing a dirty sack, was what he thought. And probably even better in nothing at all. He shook his head and relaxed against the tree behind him. They’d settled on the grass in the shade on a small hill overlooking the castle.

“I don’t want to talk about him.” Glen said. He sighed heavily.

“Well, you’ve made that obvious, but I’m curious by nature, and I’ll just keep bothering you until you tell me what I want to know.” Ollie informed him, smirking.

“I’m almost of a mood to test that theory.” He said, glancing at her. She missed the finality in his tone or chose to ignore it.

“Tavia said it’s a power trip.”

“A power…trip?” Glen asked, in spite of his reluctance.

“You know, you both want to rule and really only one person can.”

“It is not only that. My brother and I disagree on a great many things.”

“So?” Ollie lifted an eyebrow.

Glen stared at her. “Isn’t that enough?”

“No. My sister and I disagree on just about everything but we’re still best friends. At least, we were until I sent us here. She’ll probably kill me with we see each other.”

That brought a smile to Glen’s face. “I find that highly unlikely, Olivia.”

“Ollie.” She reminded him.

“Ollie, then.” Glen smiled again. “I think your sister will be very happy to see you.”

“Yeah. Right.” Ollie laughed sarcastically. “So anyway…you were telling me about your brother.”

“I was?” Glen asked, brushing a piece of grass from the leg of his pants.

“You was. Did you fight over a woman?” Ollie asked, unaware she had echoed a question that Abby had posed herself.

Glen laughed. “Not in the least. Unless my sister counts, but really she did nothing to wedge us apart. It was her death that made us…strangers.” He said, as if struggling to find the words. “Mark does things differently from me. Too different. We do not mesh as leaders, and everything led to disagreements. It’s just easier this way.”

“So easy that some crazed guy is trying to take over the whole kingdom?” Ollie asked softly. She had heard bits and pieces but did not need the full story to understand what was going on. She had studied this kind of thing since before high school after all.

Glen shook his head. “I suppose we have brought Dimitri upon ourselves, but our intentions were good.”

“Well, you should just blow him up or something.”

Glen laughed again. “I would if I could. I have a great power, Ollie, a strong power, but Dimitri is stronger still. It would take more than what I could muster to destroy him.”

Ollie bit her lip thoughtfully and looked up at the sky. “What if your brother helped?”

“Mark has never been fond of having a power of any kind. It’s weak at best and tends to work well when he’s not aware of using it.” Glen smirked. Ollie frowned in confusion. “It is like today…this is the beginning of summer. While the sun is up, it will be warm. At night, the temperature could fall and it could snow. He does it without knowing he’s doing it. There is no other reason for it.”

“Sounds like he’s got more than enough power.” Ollie observed. Glen shook his head.

“It’s not the same as actively calling it up for use. Practicing. It gets stronger with practice.”

“Oh.” Ollie grimaced. “So what are you planning then?”

Glen looked at her and gathered his thoughts. “Dimitri has holed up in the Lakes province. In a village. He planned on attacking Remi, both Raventhorne and Shadowflight within the next month and probably sooner than that. I hope that destroying the castle you were in addled them a bit and bought some time.”

“But what are you going to do?”

“We’re going after them. We plan on wiping them all out before he can gather his power.”

“Gather his power?” Ollie asked, confused again. Glen took her hand.

“Some people are born with strange…gifts. I have…fire.” He hesitated a few times, as if trying to find the right words. “Mark has water. Some people are mimics, some can control weather, some can make…there is no real word for it…slaves of a kind…”

“Zombies?” Ollie asked, eyebrow up in shock.

“Zombie is a good word. I like that.” Glen smiled. “But…they take a person and change them so the become a mindless drone.”

“That’s a zombie.” Ollie confirmed.

“There are sirens, and wizards, and even people who can transport themselves between places.” He gave her a meaningful look. “Dimitri is something different…if he finds someone with power, he can draw that power into himself temporarily. He’s been collecting people for years now, saving them, so that when he is ready he will draw on all of them to use against us. He’ll be unstoppable if he reaches that point.”

“But…how does he know when he’s got enough? How many are enough?” Ollie asked helplessly. She gripped his hand tightly, scared for this man she had just met. He seemed to be calm in the face of such a thought. She drew on that.

“Finding a person with a true gift is difficult.” Glen said. “Some people have what we call the touch. It’s just a glimmer of a gift. The ability to light small fires. Or to make water run uphill. That is small business. He’s looking for thirteen true powers. Thirteen is his number of need. And there are exactly thirteen powers in the world that he needs to draw on.”

Ollie took a shaky breath. “Dare I ask how close he is?”

“He thought you would complete his scenario.” Glen did not try to sugarcoat it. She was grateful for that at least.

“But…I don’t have any kind of power.” Ollie reminded him. She laughed. “I can’t even read Abby’s mind, and that’s supposed to be some kind of twin thing, or so I’ve heard.”

“He believed that you did. So perhaps you were right. Perhaps it is your sister that he truly wants. In that case, we must do all we can to protect her. He’ll eventually figure it out. He’ll go for her.”

“Abby.” Ollie sighed. “She’d kick his ass for trying I guess.” At Glen’s raised eyebrow, Ollie laughed, this time more naturally. “She wouldn’t go without a fight. And she’d probably do more damage to him than he would to her.”

Glen nodded, ghost of a smile on his lips. “I hope so, Ollie.” He gestured to the horses. “Are you ready to head back?”

“I suppose.” Ollie looked around one last time, taking everything in. “Glen…”

“Hmm?” He rose to his feet and was brushing absently at his clothing.

Ollie stood in front of him and smiled gently. “I want to help.”

Glen’s smile was bigger that time. “We may need your help. And I appreciate the offer.” He reached for her hand. Ollie took it with no hesitation. He led her back to the horses and helped her gain the saddle, his big hands on her waist making her feel warm inside. Glen let his grip linger for a few moments and he met her eyes. Ollie felt her breath catch in her throat at the look he was giving her. So he’d been feeling a pull to her too. She smiled and watched as he smoothly got into the saddle of his horse.


“It’s getting late.” Abby commented from her seat near the sand. She’d taken a dip in the cool water and was idly brushing tangles from her hair. She and Mark had made the most of their afternoon together. They’d finally pulled apart long enough to put a makeshift tent up that Mark had been packing on the horse. He’d gotten a fire going to cook dinner. Abby had bathed in the lake.

“Hungry?” Mark asked, sorting through some kind of pack he had stowed on the horse.

Abby nodded absently. “Shouldn’t David and…uh…Firefly be back by now?” Abby smirked at the name. Firefly.

Mark smiled. “I don’t think they will return until morning.”

“Oh?” Abby rose and moved closer to the fire. Mark was heating something that looked like stew. It smelled heavenly. “And why not?”

“Two reasons.” Mark said with a grin. “Number one…I believe Firefly wanted to give us some time alone.” Abby laughed and Mark held up a hand. “And number two…she’s always had a bit of feeling for David. I’m sure she’s enjoying herself right now.”

Abby laughed again. “And she’s a princess huh?”

“Yes.” Mark served up the food. Abby accepted hers and sat next to him near the warmth of the fire. “David balks at the idea of marrying a princess, he thinks he is not good enough for her.”

Abby shook her head. “From what I’ve seen, she’d be lucky to have him.”

“That is what we have told him on many occasions.” Mark smirked and began eating. Abby followed his lead. When they were done, she gathered their things and washed them, repacking them neatly before he had a chance to help.

After that was done she took her seat next to him again and leaned against his side. Mark wrapped an arm around her. “You know what I want right now?” Abby asked softly. Mark looked down at her with a glint in his eyes. Abby laughed. “A cigarette.”

“A cigarette?” Mark asked, smiling a bit at himself.

“Tobacco. I don’t know. It’s a bad habit and I don’t do it often but every now and then…” Abby shook her head. “Never mind. I’ll get over it.”

Mark cuddled her closer. “I’m sorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry about. It’s just a coffin nail.”

“Coffin nail?” Mark asked.

Abby giggled. “Oh boy. I should have kept my mouth shut on this one.” She shook her head. “I don’t know what it is…”

“Is something wrong?” Mark asked when Abby didn’t immediately finish her thought.

“Oh…it’s nothing I guess. I just realized something.” Abby smiled. “I don’t feel the same way I used to, that’s all. I guess. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a good time, even if I am being something of a bitch every now and then.”

Mark stroked her back. “I’m glad you are enjoying yourself.”

“Yeah. Are you?” She asked, curious, looking up into his eyes. Mark nodded.

“It has been more than I bargained for.” Mark stared down at her, and Abby got the feeling he was on the verge of saying more. It made her nervous. She cleared her throat and looked away.

“So how long before we hit your brother’s place?” She asked, knowing that the mention of his brother only aggravated him, but helpless against using it as a distraction.

“Just a few more hours ride.” Mark sighed out, relaxing a bit.

“Good. I really want to see if Ollie is all right.”

Mark smiled into the gathering darkness. “I’m sure she’s fine.”

“Yeah. I haven’t had any more back pains, that’s for sure.”

“I’m glad. I do not like seeing you in pain.” Mark touched her hair, letting it slip through his fingers.

“Me either.” She yawned. “I know it’s not that late, but I’m about ready to go to bed.”

“All right.” Mark gave her one armed hug. Then he stood and helped her to her feet.

“You don’t have to go to bed just because I’m sleepy.” Abby said with a laugh as he followed her to the tent.

“I am tired as well. We’ll need to get up early.” Mark gave her a heated look. Abby felt her knees get weak at the sight of it. “I did think we might have to wake up extra early…” He said with a grin. Abby laughed and nodded.

“I think that’ll be the best wake up call I’ve ever had.” Once in the tent, she stripped down to nothing and slid beneath the blankets. Abby didn’t bother with sleeping clothes, since Mark obviously had plans of getting her out of them later.

She lay in the protective circle of his arms, and drifted to sleep in minutes. Mark lay there, holding her, listening to her steady breathing and the rhythmic sound of waves rolling against the beach. He did not want to get to Glen’s, damn it. Raventhorne meant that the sisters would be reunited, and in all likelihood Abby would be gone, back home, back to her own time. He could not lose her, not now, not when he had finally found someone he could care about so deeply. The thought chased him into dreams when he finally slept, and he fought against images of Abby dying in his arms. He was always just moments too late to save her.

Wrapped in blankets, the tent protecting them, neither woke as a sharp wind blew outside. Snow began swirling from the clear sky, the large flakes blanketing the ground with a thick white cover. Abby shivered, not from the cold, but from some emotion she sensed in her sleep. Mark wrapped an arm around her, holding her close, even in sleep not willing to let her go.



David and Firefly reappeared early the next morning, and helped Mark and Abby pack things up for the last leg of their journey. No one spoke as David led the way back onto the trail. Abby once again rode with Mark, seated in front of him in the saddle. He was unusually subdued. He seemed to be tired, which worried her. She’d slept like a rock, and he’d had a bit of trouble rousing her that morning.

The sun rose over them, warming them. There was no sign of the strange snowfall of the night before, not even in the shade of the trees. The flakes had disappeared much the same way they’d come-into thin air.

It was late afternoon when David stopped his horse and waited for everyone to catch up. He looked from Mark to Abby, then at Firefly. “Raventhorne lies just beyond the next rise.”

Mark nodded. “Let’s get this over with, David. Glen will not be happy to see us, no doubt.”

David grinned sarcastically. “I’m afraid he’ll just have to deal with it, sire.” Mark raised an eyebrow at the spoken expression. David had obviously picked it up from Abby. She smiled, shaking her head.

“Maybe I should go ahead by myself…”

Mark did not let her finish her thought. “A bitter pill is best swallowed whole, Abby. I’ll not send you alone into Raventhorne.” His tone was final and somehow sad. Abby wished there was something she could do to take that note from his voice.

Firefly, who had been unusually quiet through the day, finally found her voice. “I think we won’t have to worry about that, anyway.” She pointed. In the distance there were two riders, moving along the trail to meet them.

“Here we go.” Mark muttered, so softly that Abby barely heard him. She watched as the two men halted their horses in front of Dave, who blocked the trail.

“David!” The man on the right, a blonde, grinned happily.

“John.” David nodded, a smile on his face. “It has been a long time.”

“Too damn long.” John wiped his brow and glanced at the other members of the party. His eyes widened at the sight of Mark sitting astride his horse, a lovely woman in the saddle with him. “Prince…uh….King Mark.” John stumbled on the words. He was not sure of how to refer to Mark. “Raventhorne awaits your presence, sire.”

“It awaits? Did they know we were coming?” Mark asked, moving his horse closer to the two men. He recognized the other as Phillip, a knight who had lived at Raventhorne his whole life.

“Yes sire. We were told to expect your visit.” John said with a nod. “King Glen sent us to scout the trail for you this morning. We’d given up when Phillip heard the sound of your horses.”

“Will you take us to Raventhorne?” Firefly asked, stroking a hand down her horse’s neck.

“Of course, Princess.” John gave a half-bow, the best he could manage on his horse. Phillip followed suit. They turned and led the way along the trail.

Once they were moving, Abby looked over her shoulder. Mark’s mouth was set in a grim line. “If Glen is expecting us, that should mean that you are going to be welcome there. Right?”

“I do not know. We have no protocol for this kind of thing.” Mark shook his head. His gaze softened as he looked down at her. “Don’t hope that we will manage to solve all issues before we even speak to each other, Abby. Things do not work that way here, as I am sure they don’t work that way in your world.”

Abby said nothing but cast him a pained look. While Mark had not said much, almost everything he’d spoken to her had to do with her real life, in the future. As if he needed to remind her that he place was elsewhere. Or perhaps he was just reminding himself.

They topped the next rise and the valley and castle Raventhorne opened up before them. Abby’s eyes widened in wonder at the sight of it. Mark’s castle was its equal, of course, but Abby had not really paid any attention to the outside of it.

“It’s beautiful.” She said softly.

Phillip had dropped back to ride behind them. He heard her remark and grinned proudly. “Thank you, my lady.” He moved his horse forward so he could speak directly to her. “Raventhorne has long been the summer home of the kings. Although here, summer is perpetual, only relieved at night by cold air from the lake.”

“Perpetual summer?” Abby smiled. “How is that even possible? Is there no winter here at all?”

“In some places, my lady, winter stays year round.” Phillip said with a grin. “And in others it comes and goes in the blink of an eye. An hours ride can change any manner of things in the kingdom of Remi.”

Abby nodded, not really understanding, but hearing enough. They had reached the gates that led into the castle grounds. Mark stopped the horse and climbed down, then reached for her waist to help Abby to the ground.

Abby caught his eyes. Mark looked troubled, distracted. She felt her stomach twist at the thought of him being in some kind of pain. “Mark…are you all right?” She asked, voice low so only he could hear.

Mark hesitated, then nodded, although it was not reassuring in any way. “I am fine, Abby. Tired, but fine. I have worried long about Glen and my next meeting. I suppose we are about to find out how it’s going to go.” He gestured toward the castle proper. A man was descending a steep flight of steps. From this distance it was easy to see that his height mirrored that of Mark. Beside him walked a slight woman with long blonde hair that flowed loose in the afternoon sun. Abby gasped.

“Ollie!” She jerked from Mark’s restraining hands and ran toward her sister. Ollie saw her at the same time and gave a happy shout. The sisters met in the middle, grabbing each other into fierce hugs.

“Oh, Abby…I’m so sorry. Are you all right?” Ollie gasped out, not know what to say first, her words coming in a rush.

Abby spoke at the same time. “Are you Ok? God, Ollie, I’ll kill the guy who hit you, I promise you that.”

The women parted and looked at each other, identical smiled on their lips. They laughed at the same time, tears standing in their eyes. “How did you know about that?” Ollie asked, breathless.

“It’s a long story.” Abby held onto her sister’s hands and grinned. She could not help it. It was as if something inside had been blocked off and now ran rampant.

“I have time.” Ollie said with a laugh. “God, Abby, I’m so sorry. You were right. You’re always right.”

Abby shook her head and glanced over her shoulder. Mark, David, and Firefly were walking in their direction. “It hasn’t been…all bad.” She said softly. Ollie smiled.

“At first it was, but now?” She trailed off and glanced up the steps at the man who stood there, waiting. “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to think.” Ollie finished with a laugh. “Care to introduce me to your friends?” She asked as Mark and the others caught up.

“Sure. Ollie, this is Mark, David, and Firefly.” She pointed at each. “Guys, this is my sister. Olivia.”

“Ollie.” Ollie automatically corrected. She eyed each person carefully, Mark last. He stepped forward and touched her arm.

“It is nice to finally meet you, Ollie.” He said softly. Ollie smiled brightly at him.

“The pleasure is all mine, believe me. Thank you, for taking care of her.” She motioned in Abby’s direction. “I don’t know what I would have done if something happened to Abby.”

Mark smiled. Abby poked her sister on the arm. “Something did happen to you. I wanna hear about it.”

Ollie sighed and opened her mouth to speak when she was interrupted by Glen joining the group. “Perhaps you would like to go inside, Ollie.” Glen said, smiling down at her. Ollie nodded. Glen’s eyes moved from Ollie to Abby. “This is your sister?”

“Yeah, that’s Abby.” Ollie grinned.

Glen reached over and took Abby’s hand. “It’s a pleasure to have you here, Abby.”

“I would love to be able to say the same thing.” Abby said wryly, looking from Glen to Mark. Glen followed her gaze. His jaw tightened a bit, that was his only reaction to coming face to face with his brother in years.

“Glen.” Mark said his name with no emotion.

“It has been a long time.” Glen stated, sighing. “Too long perhaps. Dimitri means to have Remi.”

“I know.” Mark ran a hand through his hair. “What are your plans, brother?”

Glen looked down at Ollie again. “That has yet to be decided.”

“You have our help.” Mark said gruffly. It was an effort for him to side with his brother, but he knew he would have to. “You have my help, if you have no objection.”

Glen slowly smiled. “I would not object at all, Mark. Come, inside. We have much to talk about.” Glen gestured toward the stairs. Abby looped an arm over her sister’s shoulder and waked with her, a thoughtful frown on her face.

“What’s wrong?” Ollie whispered.

“Nothing.” Abby shook her head. “I’ll need to talk to you alone, that’s all.”

Ollie nodded. Obviously there was something on her sister’s mind that she didn’t want to share with the group, at least not yet.

“It’s damn nice to finally have somebody around who speaks my language.” Abby said with a grin. Ollie mirrored her expression.

“Same goes for me.” Ollie led her through the main hall and into the dining room. Once everyone was ushered inside, she took Abby’s hand. “If you don’t mind, Abby and I need a moment to talk.” She did not wait for an answer. Ollie pulled Abby away from the group, and back into the main hall. “Come on, I have a room upstairs, they can wait for us.”

Abby nodded, following her sister down a hallway and into a lovely room done all in white. Ollie sat on the edge of the bed and waited, her expression blank, for her sister to talk.

“Let’s see your back.” Was how Abby approached it. Ollie nodded and stood, turning and lowering the dress over her shoulders. Abby sighed and shook her head. “It’s healing fast.”

“They said it’s the medicine.” Ollie shrugged the dress back into place.

“Good.” Abby paced across the floor. “How are we going to get home, Ol?”

Ollie shook her head. “I don’t know. Maybe the same spell would work. Or maybe you’ll just go when your work here is done.”

“What work?” Abby pushed her hair back from her shoulders. “The only thing I wanted to do was find you, and I did it. Mission accomplished.”

Ollie sighed and smoothed the dress down her legs. “That’s not all Abby. Hell, that probably wasn’t even a priority for us coming here, for you coming here.”

“Me?” Abby’s voice was incredulous.

“Yes, you. You know how to fight, to take care of the bad guys. It’s obvious you are here to help them with Dimitri.” She shuddered when she said the name.

Abby’s eyes narrowed. “The only help I’ll give is killing that bastard.”

“That’s a step in the right direction.” Ollie said with a smile. “I’ve had a lot of time to think. It’s all about you, Abby. It has been since you walked into the kitchen that afternoon. Don’t you see that?”

Abby shook her head. “What are you talking about? You were the one playing with some crazy spell book!”

“I was playing, right. And nothing worked until you came in.” Ollie was not put off by her sister’s anger. She knew how to deal with it. “You brought us here. They need you here. It’s as simple as that.

“Great. Point me in this asshole’s direction and I’ll deal with him.” Abby said, smacking a fist into her other hand.

“It’s a lot deeper than that now I think.” Ollie gave her a knowing smile. Abby huffed.

“You should talk. Ollie, we have to get home, we don’t belong…” But Ollie was shaking her head emphatically before Abby could finish forming the thought.

“I’m not leaving.”

“WHAT?” Abby yelled, staring at her sister.

“I’ve thought about it, and I want to stay.” Ollie said calmly.

“Look, Ol, guys are a dime a dozen back home…”

“It’s not a guy.” Ollie smirked. “Ok, it’s not JUST a guy. It’s a lot of things. I’ve always felt like I don’t belong back home.”

“That’s ridiculous.” Abby stated, shocked her sister was even considering staying here.

“Is it? I’ve always felt out of place.” Ollie moved to stand in front of her sister. “I think that Glen likes me. And I have to admit…I’m more than a bit attracted to him. He saved me, you know. He got me out of there before…well…before worse could happen.” Ollie did not want to put it into words. “I think I can be happy here. I fit in here. I can teach still, there are always kids who need to learn. I can help them…”

“I can’t believe I’m hearing this.” Abby muttered.

“Why can’t you? Let me ask you something.”

Abby sighed. “Go ahead. I can’t stop you.”

“Will it be easy?” Ollie looked at her, that knowing smile on her face again.

“Will what be easy?” Abby shifted uncomfortably.

“Going home and leaving HIM here.” Ollie said, the smirk returning. “Just walking away from whatever it is that’s between the two of you.”

“Of course it’ll be easy, Olivia. We belong together about as much as oil and water.” Abby said, averting her eyes.

“Right.” Ollie shook her head sadly. “Why can’t you just admit that you have feelings for him, Abby? That you want to stay because of him, and that’s why you are so ready to get the hell out of here?”

“I do NOT have feelings for him.” Abby said, glaring at her sister. “Ok, I like him. Big deal. I’m…attracted to him.” She used Ollie’s word. “But what the hell do you want me to do about it, Ol? Claim my undying love and marry him?” She spat the words out. “You need to wake the hell up, Olivia. That might be what you want, what you’re looking for, but not me.”

“Of course not you.” Ollie sighed and held up a hand, fending off whatever caustic remarks Abby was ready to throw at her. “You’re right. We want different things. Glen has already asked me to stay. And I’ve said yes.”

Abby raised an eyebrow. “And that’s truly what you want?”

Ollie met her sister’s eyes. “It is. More than anything.” She reached over and took Abby’s hand. “I feel like…like my life back home was a dream, and I’m waking up into my real life. I know, that’s a terrible way of saying it, but I can’t think of how else to put it.”

Abby squeezed Ollie’s fingers. “No. You said it right, I guess. But we are not the same person, Ollie. I’ve felt out of place since I got here, out of sorts. The only time I don’t is…” She trailed off and shook her head. “Never mind. It doesn’t matter.”

Ollie’s knowing smile returned. “I’m sorry for dragging you into this Abby.”

“Not half as sorry as I am, believe me.” Abby flashed a reluctant smile. Ollie let herself relax.

“It was you, you know.”

“What was me?” Abby raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

“Like I said before, it was you that sent us here. Not me.”

“That’s ridiculous.” Abby shook her head. “I don’t believe in that crap.”

“That’s what makes it so scary. That you had that kind of power even though you don’t believe in a word of it.” Ollie shook her hair back from her shoulders and stood taller. “Even if you don’t believe you do, I know better. I just wonder what else you’re hiding.”

“I’m not hiding a damn thing.” Abby muttered sourly. “So…if I was the one who put us here, then I can get myself home, is that what you’re saying?”

“Yes. With the book.”

“The book? That damn book of spells you had?” Abby made a noise in her throat, a strange sound of frustration. “Damn it, can you remember what you put in it? Ingredients?”

“I can do one better. The book came with us.”

“Where is it?” Abby grabbed Ollie’s shoulders.

“Some of Glen’s men are getting it right now. If it’s still where I saw it. They should be back by nightfall.” Ollie looked sad. “Do you mean to use it as soon as you get it?”

Abby gave Ollie’s shoulder a pat. “Hell no. Not just yet. I do want to see if there’s something in there to use against this Dimitri guy.” Abby grinned sarcastically. “Or maybe a ‘get-along’ spell for those brothers downstairs.”

Ollie giggled. It felt damn good to laugh with her sister. She hadn’t realized how much she missed it until that moment. “I think it would take more than a spell. No love lost between those two.”

“Well, they’d better suck it up.” Abby let her sister go and sighed. “Let’s get down there. Before they kill each other. Or they come looking for us.”

“They would do that, yeah.” Ollie laughed. “They probably are just starting to think that we shimmied out a window and ran off through the woods.”

Snickering, the women opened the door. And almost walked into David. He smiled, unsure of what they found so amusing.

“The kings asked me to remind you that we are waiting.” David finally said when neither sister spoke. This made them laugh.

“We’re comin’. Damn. Tell ‘em to keep their pants on.” Abby smacked David on the shoulder. He grinned at her.

“I have already told them to keep their weapons out of reach. Will that suffice?” He asked, leading the women down the stairs.

The sisters laughed again. “Good job, David. I’m proud of you.” Abby commented between giggles. David gave her a look that made her laugh again. As if her praise had made his day. They managed to sober themselves up in time to walk through the dining room doors. The situation was serious. The sisters had just needed to blow off some steam.


“It’s the only thing we can do. Besides waiting for him to come to us.”

They group had been sitting in the dining room for an hour, debating their plan of action. Glen, David, and Abby were all for going after Dimitri as soon as possible, while he was off balance and running. Mark, Ollie and Firefly wanted to wait until they could come up with a more thought out plan.

“So it’s settled then. The three of us will go, you three will sit here and wait for us to get back.” Abby stated sarcastically. Glen snorted a laugh. David grinned.

“I don’t find this amusing.” Mark said, his voice low. He’d taken a seat as far from his brother as possible. The two of them barely spoke-when they did, they aimed it at other members of their group.

“Nor do I.” Firefly shook her head. “The rumblings are that he has built up a powerful army of mages. There is no one here to counteract that.”

“There’s him.” Abby pointed to Glen. “You blew up a building. How hard would it be to roast a few people?”

Glen’s smile was without humor. “It would be easy. But there will be protection. Magical protection, perhaps. He wouldn’t want to lose his collection so easily.”

“Well I still say we go. Right now. No sense in debating it.” Abby crossed her arms.

“Something like this would take preparation.” Mark said softly. “A week perhaps at the least. And to be really effective, we’d need more time than that.”

“If this were a normal campaign, I would agree.” David said, looking at his king. “But there is nothing normal about any of this. We have to be flexible in this, sire. Willing to do things we would not normally do.”

Mark nodded noncommittally. “We also have to be careful, David. Perhaps their book will help us, perhaps not. We won’t know until Michael comes back with it.” He sighed and rose to his feet. “Until then, I would suggest we suspend this discussion and get some rest. We have been on the trail for days.” He looked tired as he spoke. Abby watched as Mark excused himself and left the table.

“What’s wrong with him?” Ollie asked, looking from Glen to Abby. They both shrugged.

“He’s right. I am kind of tired.” Firefly stated. She grinned at David. “How about escorting a lady to her room?”

“It would be an honor.” David smiled at her and helped her to her feet. That left Glen and the twins to fend for themselves.

“Perhaps you would like to rest as well, Abby?” Glen asked, smiling a bit. “He is right about that, at least. There is really nothing we can do just yet.” He absently took Ollie’s hand as he spoke. “You should go rest until dinner. One of the maids will come for you when it’s time.”

Abby raised an eyebrow. She wasn’t tired, but she got the feeling that Glen wanted some time alone with Ollie. Now it was her turn to give Ollie and knowing look. Ollie blushed and looked down.

“I suppose I can leave you kids alone.” Abby rolled her eyes and stood up. She stretched, making her back pop. “It’ll be nice to lay in a bed again. Camping is for the birds.” With that she turned and left the room. Ollie smiled shyly at Glen as he brought her hand up and kissed the back of it.

“Can I interest you in a walk?” Glen asked softly. Ollie nodded and let him help her to her feet. She was worried of course, but pushed it aside as she prepared to spend more time with Glen.

Abby lay on the bed in the room Glen had set aside for her. Like Ollie’s room, it was done in all light colors. She was relaxed, calm now that she knew her sister was safe. She was also lonely like she hadn’t been in a long time. The big bed felt too empty, the room was too damn quiet. With a sigh she pushed herself into a sitting position and looked around. There was nothing there to catch her attention, to distract her. Abby rose to her feet and went to the door.

Late afternoon sunlight filtered through large windows at either end of the hall. It was so quiet, she was almost afraid to ruin it by causing footsteps on the stone floor. Abby tiptoed down the hall and climbed a flight of stairs. Ollie had said that the royalty had rooms on the upper floor.

There was another hallway. Abby went from room to room, not stopping, just glancing at the doors as if looking for something. She found it at the far end. She did not know how she knew, but this was definitely Mark’s room. Abby smiled and carefully opened the door, keeping the silence that had fallen over the castle.

The room was not dark by any means. The door opened into a sitting area, much smaller than the king’s quarters back at Shadowflight. The bedroom lay through an archway in the back corner. She did not see any sign of Mark.

She turned to leave when she heard a noise. A sigh. It took her a moment to place it, but it could be nothing else. Abby stepped into the room and closed the door behind her. The sound had come from the bedroom. Abby stepped forward and peered through the archway. Mark stood in the far corner, looking out a window. He looked so sad standing there that Abby felt like crying.

Keeping the silence, Abby crept behind Mark and wrapped her arms around his waist, snuggling up to his back. He jumped against her, making her smile, before relaxing and stroking her hands with his.

“Abby. You should be resting.” He admonished gently.

“I tried. I’m not tired.” She rubbed her cheek against his back. “Besides…I got lonely. I’m used to you being close by, I guess.” She admitted in a whisper.

Mark turned in her arms and tilted her chin so she was looking into his eyes. It was on the tip of his tongue to demand she stay with him, never to return to her own time, if she were that ‘used to him’. He refrained, not wanting to start an argument with her, not wanting to scare her from him. He needed to be with her as much as he could while he could. He knew it and hated himself for it. It was impossible, what he felt, and it was not fair.

Abby must have seen something in his eyes, his expression. She shook her head and reached up, cupping his face in her hands. Then she pulled him down into a slow kiss.

Mark could do nothing but respond to her, moaning against her mouth as he gently stroked her cheek with his fingertips. When they paused for breath, Mark took her face gently between his big hands and stared into her eyes.

“I don’t know if I can go in much deeper with you.” He said softly. Abby took a shaky breath.

“What do…”

He did not let her finish. “Don’t play dumb, Abby. You know what I mean.” He stroked her lips with the tip of his finger. “Stay with me.”

Abby closed her eyes. “I can’t.” She said, barely above a whisper. “I don’t belong here, Mark. Even you have to see that.”

Mark nodded sadly. His green eyes were filled with pain. Abby opened her eyes and felt as if the wind were knocked out of her at the look he was giving her. “Come with me.”

Mark raised an eyebrow. “What?”

Abby smiled. “You heard me. Come back with me.” She put her hands against his and kissed his palms.


“They need you.” She said, cutting him off. “But I need you too. Let Glen have Remi. At least until Jacob grows up. Come back with me…when this is over.”

“I don’t think…” Mark shook his head. Abby reached up and pulled him down again, lowering his head until they were forehead to forehead.

“Don’t think about it damn it. Ollie’s staying here.” She said with a hitch in her words. “I can’t stay here.” She repeated. “But I can’t lose you either.”

Mark’s eyes widened at that. “If you feel that way…”

“Come with me.” She stroked his cheek with her hand.

“Abby…” Mark took a deep breath. “It’s not a decision I can make without a lot of thought.”

“Oh.” She backed up so she could look up at him. “Then think about it. I won’t retract it.”

“I will.” Mark smiled sadly. “I’ll think of little else, I can assure you.”

Abby nodded. “Good.” She looked around, finally letting her eyes rest on him again. She reached for his hand. “Doesn’t change what I came in here for, though.” She grinned at him. Mark felt his breath catch at the look in her eyes.

Abby said nothing else as she led him to the bed. She slowly stripped his clothes from his body, kissing each bit of skin that appeared, making him feel lightheaded. When he was naked, she pushed him back against the bed, laying him down on top of the blankets.

With a wicked smile, she shrugged her own clothes to the floor. She made a show of climbing onto the bed with him, her eyes raking his muscular body. “I’ve just realized…” She said, her voice husky, as she glanced around. “That this is the first time we’ll be doing this in an actual bed.”

Mark laughed, the sound strange to his ears. His mind was so passion fogged he could barely form thought. Abby straddled his legs and ran her hands up and down his chest and stomach, stroking his skin with a firm touch. Mark moaned and nestled into the bed, enjoying the feel of her warm hands on his body. Abby stroked him from his neck, down his chest and stomach, his legs, then back up. She smiled at his moans, relishing the feel of him against her hands.

Mark had to fight to keep from grabbing her and taking her at that very moment. It was obvious that Abby was in no hurry. He stretched his arms up and crossed them under his head, watching as she leaned forward and began dropping kissing onto his chest.

Abby worked her way down his body, nipping his skin, smiling at the sounds he was making. She brushed his hip with her fingers, her lips, biting the skin between her teeth, drawing a hiss from him. Her hand drifted to his overheated member, and she took him in her hand gently.

Mark had to fight to keep himself still as her hand found him and began touching his length. He grit his teeth at the silken feel of her skin rubbing against him, her hair tickling the sensitive area around his thighs, her mouth dropping hot kissing along his hip. He wanted to push her away, wanted to stop her, but her mouth found him, was suddenly on him, taking his cock into it’s hot depths with a little moan of pleasure from her at the feel of him. All thought was lost after that. He’d never felt anything like it in his life. Her teeth raked him, her mouth sucked at him, her tongue stroked him, until Mark thought he would die from the pleasurable sensations that overtook him.

Abby hummed against him, careful to slow down when he got too close to the edge, her hands still exploring his body. Mark reached down and tangled his hands into her hair as he muttered wordlessly in ecstasy. Abby smiled against him, then sat up. Mark watched as she moved up his body, his eyes raking her body from head to toe as she straddled his hips.

She leaned forward, resting her hands on either side of his head. Mark did not need more of an invitation than that. He reached up and took her breasts in his hands, kneading them, finding one tight peak with his mouth. Abby moaned softly and moved her hips, sliding him between her thighs. Mark gently bit at her nipple, his hand kneading the soft flesh, as his other hand snaked between their bodies. Touching him, sucking on him, had been a turn on for Abby…she was already dripping and ready for him. Mark hissed in a breath at the feel of her and began stroking her clit, not trying to enter her just yet. He wanted this to last as long as possible, and knew he would not be able to stand much of her tight body before he was done.

Abby cried out softly as he stroked her, his fingers curling against her rhythmically. She moved her hips in time with his fingers, feeling hot tension gather in her stomach. Mark muttered unintelligibly just as she was about to go over the edge and removed his hand. Abby barely had time to moan in protest when his throbbing member was pushing against her, into her. His hips came up from the bed as he thrust upward, suddenly not able to wait to get into her body, to fill her with his body.

Abby cried out, louder, and pressed her hands against his chest. She began moving, flexing her legs, riding him hard and fast. Each slam of their hips brought another moan from both of them. Abby’s body suddenly went rigid above him. He felt her inner walls clamping at him, as shockwaves went through her. She said his name, her voice so hoarse it was barely audible. Mark gripped her hips in his hands through her climax, still arching up into her body, letting her take him with her over the edge. He jerked her down hard against him one last time as his seed spilled into her, making her cry out again at the feel of him moving against her overheated flesh.

Breathless, she collapsed against Mark’s chest. He slowly stroked Abby’s back, soothing her, bringing her down. With a sigh and a moan of regret, he rolled them so he was cradling her in his arms.

“Now I think I can take a nap.” Abby muttered. Mark smiled and kissed the tip of her nose. Abby did not notice. She was already asleep. Mark sighed and kissed her again, this time on the forehead. He had tried not to respond, and had only lasted about two seconds. He could not tell her no, could not deny what she did to him. Mark held her close and listened to her breath, a thoughtful frown on his face. Would he be able to just watch as she left his life forever? As she went back home, to her own time, leaving him behind with nothing but memories? Mark took a shaky breath and shook his head. He couldn’t see carrying on without her playing some role in his life. He was in much too deep for that.



Abby blinked her eyes, aware that the quality of light had changed. The next thing that registered was the fact that Mark was no longer in bed with her. The third thing…she was not alone. She pulled the blanket tighter around her body and looked up at Firefly, who was sitting on the edge of the bed, studying her fingernails.

“Evenin’.” Firefly noticed she was awake and grinned at Abby.

“I guess.” Abby slowly sat up. “Uh…”

“He went downstairs to meet with David about gather a few men.” Firefly waved her hand. “Dinner will be ready in a bit. If you’re hungry.”

“I could eat.” Abby cleared her throat. “Was there something else?” She asked when Firefly made no move to leave or speak.

The other woman smiled. “Nothing of importance.” She shook her head. “I just wanted you to know that you don’t have to worry.”

“I don’t?” Abby rubbed her eyes, trying to figure out what Firefly was talking about.

“About Mark, Abby. You don’t have to worry about my intentions toward him.” Firefly said it as if Abby were a slow to learn child.

Abby smirked. “Honestly, I wasn’t.”

“Good.” Firefly nodded. “Mark and Glen are like older brothers to me. I come from a land where male children are rare. It is something of a novelty to be with them.”

“I’ll bet.” Abby pushed her hair from her shoulders. “So…what about David?”

Firefly blushed prettily. “That was something else I wanted to discuss with you.”


“David has asked me to marry him.” Firefly said the words in a rush. Then she grinned broadly. “It has only taken ten years.”

Abby laughed. “He’s slow, I guess.”

“Just careful. It is very hard for him to accept the fact that I am royalty. He is so used to serving his king.”

“He’ll get over it.” Abby sighed. “So that’s what you had to tell me?”

“Oh…well…part of it. The other part is…we don’t want to wait. As soon as we get this mess cleared up, we’re going to have our wedding. And I would enjoy very much if you were there.”


“Yes. It would mean a lot to me, and to him.” Firefly nodded. “He’s gained respect for you. I think he would be hurt if you said no.”

“Is this some kind of trick to get me to stay longer than I have to?” Abby asked, hating herself for doing it.

“No, Abby. No trick. I would like you to be a witness. Rion custom calls for outsiders as witnesses to a life bond. I have already asked you sister.”

“You can’t get much more outside than us.” Abby said with a smile.

“That is why I would feel especially blessed going into this union. It was foretold I’d have the first male heir in two hundred years. I can’t imagine doing that without David.”

Abby nodded. “All right. But just the wedding and no longer. I’d love to be a witness.”

“Wonderful!” Firefly clapped her hands happily. “On that note, it is time to go downstairs. Do you need help dressing?” Firefly gestured to her clothing. She’d put on a shimmering white gown of some gauzy material that was less see-through than any of the other clothes Abby had seen her wear. Her hair was almost the same color as the dress. She looked lovely, delicate. Abby knew that was a front.

“I think I can manage. But thank you anyway.” Abby sighed. Next to Firefly, whatever she put on would look like a potato sack. So it really didn’t matter what she wore or how she dressed.

“Well, I’ll scout you back to your room.” Firefly laughed and stood. Abby rose to her feet and wrapped the blanket firmly around her body before following the other woman to the door. Firefly made sure no one was coming, and led the way down the stairs, unseen back to Abby’s room.

“Thanks, again.” Abby grinned at her. “I’ll be down in a few minutes.”

“I’ll let them know.” Firefly gave a half-bow, which made Abby feel a bit strange. Firefly was a princess, weeks from being a queen, and here she was deferring to some commoner. Shaking her head, Abby shut the door and went to the trunk at the foot of the bed. Glen had told her she’d find clothes there, and he hadn’t been kidding. Dresses, pants, shirts, night things…Abby sorted through quickly. She settled on a dress…for the simple fact that after dressing in men’s clothes for days she wanted to feel a bit feminine. And she didn’t want to be the only woman at the table not dressed for dinner.

The dress was sky blue, floor length, made of the same material as Firefly’s. It shimmered in the light from a lamp on the table. The fabric left her shoulders bare, and she quickly brushed her hair out. It hung down her back in soft waves, the blue of the dress making her hair look even darker than normal. She dug into the trunk one more time and found a pair of slippers with no heel. With a sigh of relief at that, Abby slipped them on and eyed herself critically in the mirror that hung against the far wall. She looked presentable. Riding for days had baked her skin to a golden brown color. Her eyes matched the color of the dress. She almost didn’t recognize herself again, and that was mostly because she felt so changed over the last several days.

Abby forced herself from the mirror and exited the room. David was coming down the hallway from the direction of the stairs going up. He took a look at her and grinned in appreciation.

“Abby, you look lovely.” David took her hand and made a show of bowing over it to kiss the back.

“Thank you.” She smiled back at him. “I hear that congratulations are in order.”

David’s grin widened. “Firefly has spoken to you, then.”

“Yes. And I said yes.” Abby had to laugh at his look of relief.

“Thank you, Abby. For that I am in your debt.”

“I haven’t done anything yet.” Abby reminding him, adjusted the neckline of her gown minutely. David held out his arm.

“You will. And I would like the honor of escorting such a lovely woman to dinner, if I may.”

“I would be honored to have you escort me.” Abby winked at him and took his arm. David did look especially dashing in what she had come to recognize as formal attire. Solid black, unrelieved, but with buttons and designs in the fabric that weren’t noticeable if a person wasn’t looking. Everyday clothing might be black, but it was mainly functional. This clothing was custom tailored, detailed, flattering. “And I should repay the compliment and say you are decidedly handsome this evening. You don’t have to impress her, now. She already said yes.”

David laughed at that. “But it does not hurt to remind her.” He said, guiding Abby down the stairs. They crossed the foyer, talking quietly. The door to the dining room was closed and they heard raised voices coming through the thick wood. Abby and David exchanged a glance.

“Oh no. Tell me they’re not arguing already.” Ollie had appeared behind him. Abby looked at her sister and shrugged. Ollie too had dressed up a bit, another yellow dress, this one much paler than the first. Her hair was scooped back from her face. She looked so young and innocent it made Abby’s heart hurt. She dreaded losing her sister to this place. She’d miss her.

The voices dropped. Abby sighed and motioned to David. He gave her a look and pushed the door open.

Abby did not know what she expected to see, but this was not it. Mark and Glen were standing face to face, yes, that had been an expectation. But they were not yelling, were not showing anger. They were smiling at each other, Glen’s hand on his brother’s shoulders.

“Do I want to ask what’s going on here?” Abby asked anyway.

Mark and Glen looked at her and were both momentarily at a loss for words. Mark recovered quickly. Glen’s attention was taken by the sight of Ollie standing in the doorway. “Nothing, Abby. Just talking.”

“Just talking, huh?” Abby smiled. David took her elbow and led her to the table. Mark nodded at the other man and held Abby’s chair for her. “David is supposed to be my escort for the evening.”

Mark looked at David with a puzzled smile. “Just for dinner sire, I promise she is all yours after that.” David said with a small bow. Mark’s smile became genuine.

“As long as we are in agreement on that, I think I can let you get away with a small infraction, David.” Mark looked back at Abby, literally unable to keep his eyes off of her. The gown made her look ethereal, delicate. He knew that the illusion was wrong, and still could not make his mind see that this was just Abby, his wonderful strong hard-headed Abby.

“I really wish you wouldn’t tower over me.” Abby said with a laugh. “You don’t have to be intimidating.”

“I apologize.” Mark took his seat and reached for her hand. Abby felt a shiver go up her arm at his touch.

“There is nothing to be sorry for…you just…” She did not get to finish. The door opened and firefly walked in, leading another man who appeared to have just gotten back from a long journey.

“Michael?” Glen rose from the seat he’d taken after helping Ollie into her chair. Michael grinned at his king.

“Yes, sire.” He carried a brown leather bag. He bowed low before his king and held the bag out for his inspection. “We rode hard with minimal rest, sire. The book was exactly where she said it would be.”

Abby and Ollie looked at each other, then at the book. “We gotta...” “Let me…” They talked over each other. Glen looked at them both and waved a hand.

“Take the book, Michael. Give it to Tavia to keep until after dinner.” Michael nodded. Glen smiled and reached out, touching his friend’s shoulder. “And get cleaned up and join us. You are always welcome at a king’s table, Michael.”

“Thank you, sire.” Michael bowed again and turned, striding from the room. Everyone else sat in thunderstruck silence.

Abby finally spoke. She surprised them by not mentioning the book that she was so eager to use to send her home with. Instead she looked to David, who sat on her left. “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you two were related.”

David nodded and smiled. “Michael is my brother. Younger by two years.”

Abby and Ollie exchanged another glance. Abby knew her sister was thinking the same thing she was. That the split kingdom had effected more than just Mark and Glen. It had torn families apart.

Mark reached under the table and took Abby’s hand, giving it a squeeze. “Loyalty to any king of worth is a reward of itself.” He spoke softly. Abby nodded although she did not know what he meant. Glen cleared his throat.

“Penelope.” The woman had appeared at the door to the dining room.

“Yes, sire?”

“Please, bring us wine. We’ll hold dinner for a few minutes and await Michael.”

“Of course, sire.” Penelope said as if it were the obvious thing to do. She returned moments later carrying a large carafe. She poured out for everyone and bowed before exiting the room.

“A toast.” Glen raised his glass. The others followed his lead. “To new beginnings.” He gave Mark a meaningful look. Mark returned it and nodded slowly before sipping from his cup. Abby frowned thoughtfully and drank her own. David spoke from her side and she turned her attention to him, even though she had serious questions she wanted to ask Mark about his relationship with his brother.


Of course, her questions would have to wait.

They spent a long leisurely time at dinner. Abby talked candidly to Michael and David, laughing at some of their stories, feeling a kinship with them that she hadn’t felt since she’d last been at work. It was the feeling of having found the good guys and being accepted into their fold.

After dinner and dessert, David and Michael excused themselves to talk quietly together. The group wandered in various directions. Abby gave Mark and Glen a look.

“I’d like to see the book now.”

Glen nodded. “It will be in my chambers. Come, follow me.” He took Ollie’s hand and led the way up the stairs.

Mark walked behind Abby, saying nothing. He seemed lost in thought. Abby did not want to bother him when he seemed so troubled. Glen held the door as they entered his private rooms.

Once again, everything was done in light colors. There were a lot of reds in the mix though, the castle’s color. Glen went toward a table in the corner when the leather bag had been placed. He took the spell book out and set it down in reverence.

“I was worried for a minute.” Ollie said with a laugh. “I thought maybe I had dreamed it.” She reached out and ran a hand over the leather cover of the book. Then she picked it up and handed it to Abby.

Abby flipped it open and glanced at random pages. Unlike that evening in the house, she could make out each word clearly. Ollie seemed to be the one with trouble as she frowned down at the pages.

“How do we know this is even going to work?” Abby asked softly. The book felt warm in her hands, a feeling that was not quite pleasant. But it was growing on her. She was getting used to it. She had a feeling if she wasn’t careful the book could be as bad an addiction as any drug produced in her own time.

“It will work.” Mark said, resting his hands on her bare shoulders. Abby felt stronger because of it. The book seemed to throb in her hands.

“I don’t even know what to look for.” She said softly.

“You’ll know it when you find it.” Glen said, nodding in her direction. “We’ll leave the book to you. Study it. See what you come up with.”

“All right.” Abby shared a look with Ollie. “Sorry sis.”

“No big deal.” Ollie said with a grin. “I’m kind of glad it’s out of my hands. I was never much of a fighter anyway. You were always the great protector.”

“That I was.” Abby said absently. “I’m going to my room. I’ll see you all later.” With that she abruptly turned and left the three others staring in her wake.

“I told you.” Glen said, a smile curling his lips.

“We’ll have to wait and see.” Ollie said. She took his hand again. “That book…I don’t know. Before it was just a book. If I didn’t know better, now I’d think it was alive. It’s silly of me…”

“Not at all.” Mark said, running a hand through his hair. “This place is a more magical realm than where you are from. Magical items tend to take on a life of their own.”

Ollie had nothing to say to that. She could deny it but had felt for herself. The book had been warm, yes, but she’d sensed it pulling toward Abby with a power that was frightening. Yet she did not fear for Abby. The book needed a master. There was little that Abby could not conquer.

“I believe I’ll go visit with Firefly and Tavia for a bit, if you don’t mind.” She finally said, smiling up at Glen.

“Of course not. Enjoy yourself.” Glen kissed her hand. Ollie blushed and said goodbye to both men before exiting the room. Glen and Mark eyed each other. “Will she know what to do?”

“I believe so. Yes.” Mark nodded. Then he smiled. “She’s a strong one.”

“I saw that for myself.” Glen smiled back. It was strange, sharing that kind of humor with his brother again after all this time. But things had changed. He wanted to change with them. “Let’s have a drink, brother. A real drink. And a toast to the future.”

Mark nodded. “I think I’d like that.” He clapped Glen on the shoulder and followed him out of the room. He’d have to check on Abby later. Of course that was merely a justification. He wanted to hold her in bed while she slept, needed to feel her close to him, book be damned. With a smirk he let Glen lead them to the library, where Penelope had strong liquor and a warm fire waiting.



Abby stretched across the bed on her stomach, book open in front of her, chin propped on her hand. She’d gotten the dress off as soon as she’d gotten the door closed and had found a man’s shirt that went to her knees. She was comfortable and that helped her get lost in what the book said.

It was not just a book of spells. The spells were mingled in with stories of situations that had required their use. There was a spell for finding a lost love. The story with that one almost made her cry. The woman had lost her husband apparently, and found out he’d been murdered. Using the spell, she’d brought him back to protect her from his killers, who had returned to the house the night of his burial.

There were bad spells too, and it bothered Abby to even glance at them. Spells for summoning a demon. Why would a person want to even try that? According to the book, only a high level witch could control them. Any lesser witch would be torn to shreds.

She found the spell that Ollie had used to send them to Remi. A time spell. The person who had written the book had used it to travel back to prevent the birth of a demon/human hybrid. There was also a note at the bottom of the page. She had to put her face close to the book to read the tiny print, and sighed in frustration. The spell could not be used to prevent the death of a loved one-especially if the death were for a greater purpose.

Well that certainly explained why they had not been sent back to stop their parents from being murdered. Abby kind of figured the greater purpose for them was to come back to this time and stop Dimitri. The idea made her head spin.

There were healing spells, reversal spells, karma spells…Abby flipped the pages, not looking for anything in particular, just reading what caught her eye. The book fell open on a shield spell. That one was interesting. It protected the user against magic attacks. For a powerful enough witch, it would protect large groups. She folded the corner to mark the page and read on.

There was just too much to take in. It would take days…at least…to go through everything. Some of the writing was faded to barely legible scrawling. Some looked like it had been inked with blood. The color was rusty, flaky. Abby shuddered and stayed away from those pages, as they tended to harbor the bad spells.

She didn’t hear the door open behind her, and jumped when Mark cleared his throat. Putting a hand to her chest, she looked at him over her shoulder. “You scared me.”

“I apologize. I knocked but I suppose you did not hear me.” Mark smiled. “It is late. I am going to go to bed.”

“Ok.” Abby looked at him for a moment. “Oh. Ok.” She laughed and slid off the bed, shutting the book and holding it in one hand. Mark’s smile widened.

“Are you tired?”

“A little bit. I did have a long nap today, though.” Abby took his hand as he led the way down the hall.

“You don’t have to come with me if you don’t want to.” Mark halted and turned to look at her.

“Don’t be crazy. Of course I want to.”

“And no reading?” He asked, looking with a grimace of distaste at the book in her hand.

Abby glanced down. “I don’t have to go over it anymore tonight. I don’t really think there’s anything in there to help us.”

“Oh.” Mark looked into her eyes. “I have not seen a spell book in some time. The powerful ones…they have a call to them. They can pull you in and drive you mad if you are not careful.”

Abby smiled. “Well, you have nothing to worry about with me. I can’t even look at half of this stuff.”

“Good.” Mark resumed walking. Abby kept up but her mind was elsewhere. It seemed there was too much happening, and it wasn’t processing. The book. The brothers. Dimitri.

“When do we go after him?” She asked, not having to say WHO.

Mark shot her a look as they climbed the stairs. “I don’t know yet.”

“Well…we have to do it soon.”

“Why?” He asked, curious, as he opened the door to his room for her.

“Because I think he’s a lot farther along in his plan that you guys are giving him credit for. He already took over one of your castles. That takes more than just a dream and a wish.”

“How can you know that?” Mark asked as Abby put the book on a table in the corner.

“It’s nothing magical. I just…I don’t know. It’s a strategy thing. Believe me, I have dealt with enough crazy people to know when they are escalating. And this guy is overdue.”

Mark pulled Abby into his arms. “We will take care of him.”

“I like that you are all confident all of a sudden.” Abby murmured as he ducked his head and kissed her. Mark smiled against her mouth.

“With you beside me, I think we can do just about anything Abby.” Mark said hoarsely. Abby looked up at him, eyebrow up.

“That sounds like a line.”

“A…line? A line of what?” Mark looked genuinely confused. Abby laughed.

“A line of horse shit, where I come from. But since you are you, I’ll take it to mean you are sincere.” Abby stepped away from him and began unbuttoning the shirt she was wearing. Mark’s eyes were riveted on the movement of her hands. Abby smiled and bared herself to him, welcoming his hot embrace when it came.


“Are you sure you want to stay?”

Ollie sat at a dressing table, running a brush through her hair. She was dressed for bed and had been braiding her locks when Glen had knocked on the door.

“I am positive.” She smiled at him over her shoulder. He looked handsome in his dark outfit, the buttons loose over his chest, his hair flowing over his shoulders.

Glen smiled sadly. “If you stay, there is no guarantee that you could ever go back.”

“I realize that.” Ollie rose to her feet and turned to look at him. “Do you not want me to stay?”

Glen sighed and pushed away from the door frame, entering the room and shutting the door behind him. “I would love for you to stay, Ollie.” Glen stood in front of her, taking her chin in his hand, his thumb stroking across her skin. “But not at the expense of your family.”

Ollie smiled, just as sad as his had been. “I’ve already told Abby.”

Glen arched an eyebrow. “And she was all right with it?”

“Well…no. She doesn’t want me to stay. But she understands why I have to.” Ollie touched Glen’s fabric covered chest. “I finally feel like I belong somewhere.”

“You do.” Glen took her hand and kissed her fingers one at a time, sending shivers up her arm. “You belong with me, Ollie. I’ll not deny that hearing you say it makes me happy.”

“I do think we are moving fast.”

“Moving fast?” Glen asked, sucking her index finger into his mouth gently. Ollie whimpered and pulled her hand away.

“We just met.” She grinned. “Technically.”

“I’ll not hide the fact that I wish to take our relationship farther, Olivia.” Glen said gruffly. “If you are not sure, then I can give you space…but only to a point.”

“To a point huh?” Ollie’s smile softened. “I can’t wait until we get to that point, Glen. Really. But I want to make sure. I’m scared, all right?”

“You have nothing to fear from me.” Glen said softly, touching her hair, her cheek, his fingers feather light against her.

“I’m not afraid of you. I’m afraid of what I feel for you. I’ve never felt like this before.” Ollie admitted. She smiled. “I also don’t want to distract you while this situation is going on. Dimitri, your brother, the book…I don’t want you to resent me for bringing any of it on your head.”

“I would never think such a thing, Ollie.” Glen stepped closer and pulled her into his arms. “I want you, Ollie. Whether or not there are other circumstances that need attention, I have fallen in love with you. I want to share my life with you. I want you to stand beside me as my queen.”

Ollie shut her eyes and swallowed the lump that had risen in her throat. “Glen…”

“Do not argue with me, Ollie. You will not change my mind. I would go through heaven or hell to be with you.”

Ollie looked up at him, her cheeks a bit flushed. “I would not ask you to go that far.” She sighed and rested her head against his chest.

“You would not have to ask. I would just do it.” Glen stroked her back, cuddling her close. Ollie’s hands crept around his waist, clutching at the material of his shirt.

“All right.”

Glen raised an eyebrow. “All right, what?”

Ollie smiled and looked up at him. “All right. I want to be with you. Right now.”

“Olivia…” Glen groaned her name, thinking she was just teasing him.

“Don’t Olivia me.” Ollie grinned sheepishly. “Glen, if you want me, take me. Show me. I’m tired of waiting, I’m tired of feeling like I’m missing something.”

“Missing something?” Glen asked, looking into her eyes with a glint in his own.

“Missing some piece of you that I just have to know.” Ollie licked her lips. “I know that I want to be with you…and I want to stay with you, here. But I worry that it’s not what you really want.”

“Ollie…” Glen sighed and chuckled. “How could you even doubt how I feel about you?” He touched her face again, stroking her cheek. “Maybe I am not making myself clear enough. I have not had a lot of practice at this kind of thing.”

“You are clear as a bell.” Ollie sighed. “I wish I was more daring.”

“You want to be daring?” Glen smiled.

“I want to be uninhibited.” Ollie said, grinning back. She drew her hands up to rest on his shoulders. Glen took that as a cue to duck his head and claim her lips with his own.

Ollie finally had to pull away to gasp for air. “Ok…I’m ready.”

Glen laughed, the sound a deep rumble in his throat. “I think those are the sweetest words I’ve heard in a very long time, Olivia.” He looked from her to the bed. “I don’t want to waste time going back upstairs. I want you now, Ollie.”

She nodded and let him lead her to the bed. Her stomach was filled with butterflies, but it was not a bad feeling. Mostly it was anticipation at what was to come. With a shy smile she was pulled onto the bed, into Glen’s strong arms, all thought lost as he began his slow explorations of her body.


There were loud voices from the hall outside Mark’s door.

Abby groaned and blinked her eyes open. It was still on the dark side of the night, that was the only thing she was sure of. The sky through the window had taken on a deep color. The moon was down.

There was a pounding on the door. Mark muttered and sat up. “Yes…”

The door was opened. A flushed looking David all but fell into the dark room. “Sire…Scott…”

Mark raised a hand. David just made it out in the light that spilled into the room from the hallway. “Take your time, David. What about Scott?”

David took a deep breath. “Scott has come to Raventhorne. The scouts have spotted Dimitri’s men heading for Shadowflight.”

“What?” Mark was up, on his feet, grabbing his clothing before Abby could really register what had been said.

“He says they mean to take the castle in retribution for the burning of Dimitri’s lair.” David said in a rush. “They’ll be there at noon at the earliest.”

“Have you awakened Glen?”

“No sire.”

“Do it. Get him to get some men together. We ride in ten minutes.” Mark sat on the bed to yank his boots on.

“Mark…” Abby pushed up on her elbows. Mark touched her arm, sighing in the darkness.

“Stay here Abby. We will deal with this.”

“But…I thought I was supposed to help you…”

“No. Not with this.” Mark’s tone was cold, hard. Abby shivered at the sound of it.

“But won’t he be…”

“I don’t know yet, Abby.” Mark heaved a sigh. “Stay here. You’ll be safe.”

“Like Jacob is safe back at your castle?” She asked spitefully, hating the way it came out but not being able to help it.

“Jacob is yet safe at Shadowflight.” He said, his movements becoming jerky as he yanked his shirt on. Abby hesitated before reaching out and touching his bare back before he could cover it up. Mark stiffened at her touch.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. I’m just…worried.”

“It will be all right.” Mark relaxed under her hand. Abby bit back a sigh of relief. He rose to leave, hesitating before bending down to kiss her gently. “Do not fear for me, Abby. This is not the first time I’ve had to ride into battle against Dimitri’s men.”

“Be careful.” Abby said softly, grabbing his hand before he could rise to his full height. She looked at him in the dim room, biting her lip. “Come back to me.”

“It would take more than Dimitri’s men to stop me.” Mark said, tracing a finger down her cheek. With that he turned on his heel and strode from the room.

Abby collapsed against the bed, feeling a bit sick to her stomach at the thought of Mark putting himself in danger. She knew she was done sleeping for the night. With a groan she got up and began pulling her clothing on.


“David…I want you to stay here. Watch over Abby and Ollie.” Mark barked the order. David stood there with a frown on his face.

“Sire…if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather…”

“It is not all the same to me, David.” Mark climbed into the saddle of his horse and looked down at his friend. “You are the only one I trust to watch over them. To keep them safe. To keep…her…safe.”

David slowly nodded. “I never thought to become captain of the queen’s guards.” He said with a bit of humor. Mark gave him a grim smile.

“Not a queen so far, David, but I would change that if she would only let me.” Mark nodded. “Keep them safe.” He repeated.

“With my life, sire.” David bowed and watched as Glen and Mark led fifty men toward the gates. More would follow in an hour. They would have to hurry to beat Dimitri’s men to Shadowflight.

“Guard duty this morning, David?” Michael spoke from behind him. David looked at his brother with a grin.

“I see you also pulled the duty.”

“King Glen has ordered me to relax. Relaxing means watching over the women.” Michael shrugged.

“I don’t need a babysitter.” Abby spoke from the stairs. They both turned to watch her descend.

“No one said you did, Abby.” David said amicably.

“Yeah? So why are you guys here and not off defending the castle from the galloping hoard?” She was all sarcasm as she came to a stop.

“I would prefer the fight, without doubt. But the king insists we stay behind.” Michael said in way of an answer.

“It’s a trick, you know.”

The men both looked at her, eyebrows raised. “What is a trick? It is no trick that Dimitri plans to attack Shadowflight.” David said with a smirk.

“Why would he send a regular army to physically attack a fortified castle when he’s so close to this magical…power…thing…he’s trying to achieve?” Abby asked rhetorically. “And I was of the opinion that everybody and their mother knew that Glen was the guy with the fire…thing. Why would he attack Mark?”

David and Michael glanced at each other. “She has a point.” Michael said softly.

“We can ride after them, catch them before they get too far.” David said, looking in the direction that the kings had disappeared in.

“No.” Abby said firmly. “It’s probably safer for them to go back to Shadowflight anyway. Dimitri’s probably planning on using his magic against this castle. Would you want them both HERE if that happened?”

The two men shook their heads. “What do we do?” David asked, rubbing a hand down his face.

Abby shrugged. She had an idea…but she’d have to give the book another study before saying anything. “Give me fifteen minutes.” With that she turned and ran back toward the entrance. David and Michael exchanged another glance.

“How does she know that Dimitri is coming here?” Michael asked, peering out into the dark.

“She could be wrong.” But there was doubt in David’s voice. “She has a plan, obviously. I don’t think I would want to be the one to tell King Mark that we allowed her to be put in danger.”

“Agreed.” Michael sighed heavily. “Let’s go. See what she’s got. Best we’re prepared and nothing happens than waiting for trouble to come.”


“What’s going on?” Ollie stood in the door to her room as Abby rushed by.

“Can’t talk…tell you later!” She took the stairs two at a time and flung open the door to Mark’s room. The book was still on the table as she’d left it. Abby snatched it up and flipped through it quickly. And found what she was looking for on the second try.

She studied the pages for a moment, trying to memorize what she was seeing. She had to be crazy, to think it would work. But if she were sent here for a reason, and she was sent here to get rid of Dimitri, then she’d be damned if she’d sit in Mark’s room and wait.

There was a noise at the door. Ollie appeared with Michael and David at her side. “Abby…what the hell is happening?”

“Do you think Dimitri is close?” She addressed the question to Michael. He’d been inside Dimitri’s pocket for a while, gathering information. He would know better than anyone.

“As much as I would hate to think it. Yes.” He admitted.

“He’s looking for magical beings.” Abby did not state it as a question. Michael nodded slowly. “What if I put on a little show? A magic show, so to speak.”

“To draw him out?” Michael followed her train of thought.

“To stop him.” She gestured to the book. “I found a binding spell. I didn’t pay any attention to it last night because it’s…one of the bad ones.”

“Do you have enough power to use it?” Michael asked, coming closer to peer at the pages spread in her hands.

“I think so. I brought us here, didn’t I?” Abby laughed merrily.

“You mean to use yourself as bait.” David said softly. Ollie’s mouth hung open at the verbalization.


“Look. I can handle myself. I can throw this spell at him and bind him. He won’t be able to use his power.” Abby pointed at the spell. “No ingredients. Just a chant.”

“What if it doesn’t work?” David asked, curious in spite of himself.

“Then I deal with him the old fashioned way.” Abby said, her voice carrying an edge that David had not heard, not even when she’d been so angry the day they’d set off from Shadowflight.

“And what way is that?” Michael asked. Abby grinned. She turned from them and went to the side of the bed. She sorted through one of Mark’s bags and rejoined them. Her gun was in her hand.

“Magic can’t stop a bullet.” Abby rolled open the cylinder. She still had five bullets in the chamber. Unlike other cops who used semi-automatic weapons, she chose a standard .38 revolver. It was small, it was lightweight, it was deadly.

Michael grinned. “I think I have another idea.” The three others looked at him. Michael hesitated before outlining his plan.


“This better work.”

Abby ignored her sister’s remark as she began to read aloud from the book. They had traveled about half an hour from Glen’s castle and were in the thick woods to the east. Abby had made them stop so she could use the spells she’d found.

The first was the spell titled ‘shell’. Supposedly, it would render her invulnerable to magic attacks. She’d found another spell too, another one of the bad one, but she’d use it anyway. It was titled ‘reflect’, and caused any magic thrown at her to be reversed onto the caster. Feeling a bit foolish as David and Michael kept watch, she muttered the written words to herself, wondering if she would feel anything if the things worked.

Abby finished and looked up. Ollie was smiling at her. “It didn’t work, did it?”

“Only one way to know for sure.” She tossed the book at Ollie, who caught it with a smirk. “David.”

“Yes?” He stepped forward.

“What’s your power?”

“My…power?” He asked, not looking at her.

“Yes. Your power. Seems to be an abundance of it around here.”

David sighed and shared a look with Michael. “I also carry the power of fire. Not as strong as King Glen, as he is a royal bloodline. But fire all the same.”

Abby waited. Then she looked at him. “Well?”

“Well, what Abby?”

“Use it! Hit me with your best shot.” She stood with her hands at her sides, waiting. David shook his head.

“I’d not harm you, Abby, not for anything in this world.”

“If the spells work, you won’t hurt a hair on my head.” Abby motioned to him. “Come on, we don’t have all day.”

David sighed and raised a hand. He had to concentrate, his power was weak compared to some. Ollie gasped in surprise as a ball of fire formed in his hand. He built it up a bit and flung his wrist forward, throwing the glowing ball directly at Abby’s head.

She thought for a moment that the fire went out. Instead, it seemed to disappear within a foot of her. Purple light flashed. David was thrown backward off his feet. Ollie started clapping, and even Michael looked impressed.

“Well…it works.” David said ruefully as he rose to his feet.

“I still don’t like this.” Ollie said, carefully touching her sister’s shoulders, not wanting to be flung backward like a rag doll. “Be careful. If it’s too crazy, get the hell out. Screw that guy. We can try again later.”

“I know, Ol. I love ya, sis.” Abby kissed her on the forehead, something that Ollie normally could not abide. She laughed instead. Abby turned to Michael. “Are you ready?”

“Yes.” He held out his hand. Abby took it and allowed him to help her onto the horse that stood waiting. With a look of regret, he held up the rope. Abby extended her arms and let him bind her wrists. “Do not use the binding spell until the absolute last second.” He advised, checking the knot. He did not want it too tight.

“I know.” Abby smiled. “Let’s hope this works.”

“It will work.” Michael smiled back. Then he climbed onto the horse behind her. “We will return in a day’s time if all goes well. If not…” He did not need to finish. Ollie put a hand to her mouth and David looped a comforting arm over her shoulders. They watched in silence as Michael rode away.

“This is crazy.” Ollie finally said, breaking the silence.

“Agreed.” David shifted and looked down at her. “I say we ride for the king and tell them of this plan.”

“And put them in danger?”

“Your sister is in more danger.” David said with a frown.

“We should have stopped them. I should have argued more.” Ollie spoke as David led her back toward the horses that grazed behind them.

“There is no arguing with your sister.” David said with a laugh.

“You can say that again.” Ollie shook her head. “If we can get Mark and Glen to turn in time, they can meet Abby and Michael at Dimitri’s camp.”

“Yes.” David nodded. “It will give them time to try but not enough time for Dimitri to figure out what’s going on. Hopefully.”

Ollie nodded and boosted herself into the saddle. David nodded at her and set off at a fast pace, wanting to catch the kings before they traveled too far.


“How long will we ride?” Abby asked, shifting a bit. She kept her voice low. Dimitri and his men were close, according to Michael. She did not want to risk them thinking she and Michael were friendly.

“Not long. There used to be an encampment just an hour ahead.” Michael too kept his voice low. “That is where he would stay. The buildings burned to the ground long ago, and there were many losses of life. Dimitri likes that kind of power. He says he can feel the damned calling for help.”

Abby shuddered. “Sounds like a sick person to me.”

“If by sick you mean…crazy…then yes, he is.”

“That is what I mean.” Abby sighed. “If you have to rough me up a little, do it. Don’t make them think anything other than I’m your prisoner.”

Michael nodded reluctantly. “I know. I will try not to hurt you though.”

“That’s a good thing.” Abby huffed. “Do you know what you’re going to say?”

“Yes.” Michael shushed her. “I hear horses.”

Abby listened, straining her ears. Far off there was the muted thump of horses hooves on the packed trail. She swallowed nervously. “Is it them?”

“It must be. Scouts.” Michael whispered. “Time for the gag. I’ll leave it loose until we see someone.”

Abby nodded as Michael pulled a piece of cloth over her mouth. They were quiet then as they rode, Michael looking left and right, trying to place the noises they were hearing.

They say nothing for a while. The sky to the east had lightened considerably, dawn was not far off. They’d ridden for an hour, possibly more. Abby caught herself trying to doze off, wondering how she could even think about being tired at a time like this.

The trail suddenly opened up. Directly ahead was a sheer cliff face. It rose into the sky at a right angle, hundreds of feet above their heads. The ground was littered with the burnt shells of makeshift houses. Along the cliff wall were caves. “This used to be a silver mine.” Michael said, voice so low that Abby barely heard him. She nodded. There were men standing at the entrance to one of the mines. She stiffened slightly at the sight of them.

They looked at Michael as if he were a ghost. “Sir!” One of them, a young man, fell to one knee and bowed his head in reverence. “We heard you were killed at the outer castle, sir. Fallen in the fire with so many others.”

Michael shook his head. He forced a cold look onto his face. “Not killed, merely captured by men of Raventhorne.” He slid from the horse and roughly pulled Abby to the ground. “For the effort, I decided to repay the favor.” He pushed her and she stumbled, falling to the ground.

“What is this now?” The second man, older than the first, eyed Abby with a leer. “She’s a fine lookin’ woman you found at the Raven.” He reached out as if to test her reality. Abby cringed back.

”DO NOT TOUCH HER!” Michael’s voice was a roar. The other men jumped back in terror at the sound of it. “She is a witch. The one Dimitri has been looking for. I claimed her for our own. Killed his best guard to do it. The king protected her as you would a precious jewel.” He smirked, sneering down at her. “A pity all one had to do was recant the following of Dimitri to be trusted. Fools, the lot of them. We do this land a favor by ridding it of them.”

Abby kept her eyes to the ground. Michael was really getting into his role. No wonder Glen had sent him. He was believable…more than believable. He was frightening in his accuracy.

“I’d see Dimitri now, if he’s fit for a visit.”

“Of course, sir.” The young guard bowed and hurried off down the tunnel. Michael reached down and yanked Abby up by the arm.

“Shall we remove her bindings and put her in the cell?” The second guard asked, still eyeing Abby’s body with unmasked lust. She shuddered.

“Did you not understand me when I said not to touch her? Do you want to bring a curse down on all of us?” Michael asked, pulling Abby along with him as he walked.

“No sir.” The man’s face paled at the thought. “Is she the one?”

“Undoubtedly.” Michael waved the guard off. “Watch the entrance. We are too far into enemy territory to be slacking on the watch.” The guard jumped as if slapped and spun on his heel to return to guarding the door. Michael made a face at Abby. She was too nervous to respond in any way. Besides that, the gag was making it difficult to breath. “A few minutes more. I’m sure Dimitri would hear your voice before deciding on your fate.” He said in a whisper. Abby nodded.

Michael led her through the tunnels, turning left and right seemingly at random. It was all she could do to keep up with his long strides. Without warning, Michael turned, jerking her forward, and gave her a slap against her cheek. Abby blinked her eyes, stunned. Michael looked pained for a moment, then his face resumed the carefully neutral expression.

“He would think it strange you had no marks.” He said, looking at the red mark on her cheek. Abby nodded. Understandable. She’d make sure to remember to repay him the favor.

Michael came to a halt. In front of them a piece of black cloth hung, blocking their movements. Michael tapped his foot impatiently. Barely audible voices came from the other side. The young guard, his face flushed, came through a gap in the material.

“The master will see you, Michael. And welcome back.” He half-bowed then scurried down the tunnel. Michael squared his shoulders and pulled her forward through the cloth.

The material had been blocking a large cavern. Silver streaks ran through the walls. Obviously they had abandoned the mine with the fire…otherwise this silver would have been harvested long ago. There was a fire pit in the center of the cavern. No furniture of any kind. A strange metal structure was erected on the other end of the room. And in front of it stood a tall, thin man with scraggly dark hair.

He turned and watched as Michael dragged her across the huge room, their footsteps echoing against the rock wall. Dimitri smiled harshly as Michael came to a stop and bowed deeply.


“Michael, favored guard.” Dimitri came forward and put his hand on Michael’s shoulder. “I had heard tales of your death.”

“Obviously they were greatly mistaken, master.” Michael said, a cold smile on his face. “The guard at Raventhorne are weak. Most have cleared out to follow the two kings back to Shadowflight at the news of an attack.”

“Two kings, Michael?” Dimitri said. His voice sent a cold chill down Abby’s spine. Michael had pushed her into a kneeling position as he’d bowed. She stayed there, sneaking looks up at the men when she thought she’d get away with it. Dimitri seemed not to even notice her presence.

“The brothers reunited.” Michael said with a harsh bark of laughter. “Too late to do any good against your efforts.” He shook his head. “I also bring news of another sort. King Mark has given up his right to the throne of Remi.”

Abby’s eyes widened. Dimitri laughed. “Oh…tell me, he didn’t!”

“Just last night. He passed his rulership to his brother with not a word of protest.” Michael informed. Dimitri was practically dancing with delight.

“The split kingdom, split no more. It matters not. It will only serve to cause confusion as we wipe them out.” Dimitri laughed again.

“That was my way of thinking as well, master.” Michael grabbed a handful of Abby’s hair and pulled her head back until she was looking up. “Allow me to introduce you to King Glen’s pet witch. The traveler.”

Dimitri’s eyes raked over her face, her body. Abby felt like shuddering again but Michael was holding too tight to her hair. She had to fight to keep from struggling against him.

“Well! Good news indeed!” Dimitri touched her chin. Abby tried to jerk away but Michael held her still. “And still some fire in her. Are you sure this is the one?”

“Aye, master. It was her that sent the other woman through space. We were getting too close. She did it as a distraction.”

Dimitri clapped his hands, delighted. “Wonderful! Vain and selfish! I am pleased, Michael, pleased! When this is over, the celebration in your name will be written about for generations.

“I ask for nothing but the chance to serve you, master.” Michael bowed his head. Dimitri was too lost in looking at Abby to really see him do it.

“I would like for you to chain her up. I’d like to take a better look at her.”

Abby stiffened at his words. Michael pulled her to her feet and once again dragged her across the floor. This time she fought him, caught between acting and really being scared. Michael manhandled her to a standing position.

“Behave, witch, and this will go much easier on you.” He hissed out. Dimitri was eyeing the veins of silver that ran through the room. Michael let his expression relax for a moment. Abby nodded. She struggled again, this time not as hard, as he moved her toward the metal she’d spotted earlier.

Two long iron rods had been jammed into the rock floor of the cavern. They crossed at the top, six feet above Abby’s head. There were ropes tied to each rod. Michael quickly tied her hands, then her feet, spreading her legs to do it. Abby gripped the metal in her hands and watched warily as he stood back, eyeing his handiwork.

“She is ready, master.” Michael said. Dimitri came into view, smiling, looking like every friendly old professor Abby had ever known.

“We shall see about that.” Dimitri looked her over. Michael had not undressed her. She wore a plain black gown, borrowed from one of the maids. Her long hair hung around her face, blocking most of it from view. She seemed defeated. As if her spirit had already been broken.

“Release her mouth, Michael, so the witch might speak to us.”

Michael nodded and came forward, pulling the gag down from Abby’s mouth.

“Now. Are you a witch?” Dimitri asked, sounding like he were asking about the weather. Abby did not answer. She merely stared at him.

“She’s strong willed, master. It will take much to break her.” Michael spoke softly. “She was given run of Raventhorne with the king’s blessing.”

“My, he’s not keeping very good company then, is he?” Dimitri clucked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Child, answer me or prepare for punishment. Are you a witch?”

Abby tossed her hair back from her face. Then she reared back and spit in his face.

Dimitri stood shocked for a moment before using a hand to wipe his face dry. “That will cost you, lady. It will cost you dearly.” He looked deceptively calm as he stood there.

“No price is too high for the pleasure I just had.” She hissed at him. Dimitri looked surprised she had spoken. And she showed so much fire! He was truly amazed. Michael had outdone himself.

“You say that now. I think you will be singing a different tune in a very short time.” Dimitri smiled. “But I am tired. Perhaps hanging there for a bit, thinking about your attitude, will change the way you look at me.” He turned to Michael. “Keep the others away from her. I won’t have any slip ups.”

“Yes, master.” Michael bowed.

“I will rest, then see to a few…business…items.” Dimitri cackled at this. “Then we shall see who breaks who, won’t we dear?” He touched Abby’s hair. Abby snapped her teeth at his hand. Dimitri laughed and walked away, his voice fading into the tunnel.

Michael waited a few moments, then gave Abby a sad smile. “That went better than I thought.” He kept his voice low, to keep it from echoing.

Abby nodded. “Was it true?”

“Was what true?” He asked, stepping forward to loosen the roped that bound her to the metal. He gave her some slack but did not untie her. Dimitri could come back at any time.

“That Mark…that he…”

“Yes. Glen told me himself before turning in last night.” Michael nodded. “Mark has handed all control of Remi over to his brother.”

“He gave it up.” Abby said, her whisper full of wonder.

“Aye. Every bit of it.” Michael shook his head. “After all the fighting, the torn families…”

“He gave it up.” Abby repeated.

“No kingship is worth losing the one you love.” Michael said, giving her a meaningful look. Abby stood there with her mouth open at that. She really had no answer to it. “Rest if you can, relax, practice that damn spell. We’ll need it soon.”

Abby nodded. Michael walked away, moving to the entrance of the cavern. The news of Mark giving up his throne became an obsessive thought as she whispered the words of the spell over and over under her breath.


David led the way back through the woods, his horse snorting with effort as he raced with Mark and Glen behind him, hell bent to reach the camp before Abby and Michael were hurt.

He’d caught up to them easily enough. Just one rider could progress faster than the fifty that the kings had taken with them. Glen had sat grimly in the saddle as David explained what was going on. Mark had been more expressive, cursing under his breath and kicking his horse to turn even before David was done speaking.

Ollie was waiting on the trail. She fell in beside Glen without a word, her face showing every bit of her nerves as they cut through the woods. David halted suddenly, jerking the reins hard.

“This is where we left them.” He said, his voice just loud enough to be heard.

“They are heading for the mines.” Glen stated, looking at the tracked on the trail.

“Dimitri is bold, sire. Making camp near Raventhorne.” David stated. His horse stamped the ground, tired but sensing the need to go even farther on the trail.

“Has he collected his power?” Glen asked, frowning.

“No sire. The witches he has collected still reside in the Far kingdom. The time is not right. He was awaiting the final power.”

“Michael was sure of that?” Mark asked, wanting to go on.

“Very, sire.” David nodded. “Dimitri wanted no mistakes. He wanted the traveler found before beginning the drawing ritual.”

Glen nodded. “Ollie…go back to the castle.”

“What?” Ollie looked at him as if he’d lost his mind. “Hell no. That’s my sister. I got her into this mess. I’m going.”

Glen heaved a sigh. “There is no time to argue. Stay behind us. Stay close to one of us. We will protect you as best we can.” Mark and David nodded. David took that as his cue to guide his horse back along the trail.

They heard Dimitri’s men before they saw them. Dimitri was bold all right; he’s sent most of his guards to Shadowflight, confident that he would no be found. Michael had guess fifty, at most one hundred men still served Dimitri at his lair. The odds were staggering but there was nothing they could do.

The thunder of horses’ hooves was loud in the still morning air. His men were riding out, possibly going to Shadowflight to join in the fight. Dimitri’s confidence had grown with the finding of Abby. Mark climbed from his horse, his hands clenching into fists at his sides as he waited for the ruckus to die down a bit.

“Do you think they are moving them?” Glen asked from behind him as he peered through the trees as the last of the horses passed.

Mark shook his head. “No. I think Dimitri means to gather the other powers here, in this dead place. He’ll feel stronger because of it.”

Silence descended after a while. Dust hung in the air. David moved forward carefully, trying to get a look at the enemy’s hideout.

“They are in the caves.” He said in a low voice. “Two men guard the door. Two very green men.” He smiled coldly as he said it. Only a fool would post his newest guard at the main entrance.

David went back to the horses and gathered up the kings’ swords that were attached to the saddles. He grabbed his own, and hesitated before taking a spare from Glen’s steed. He reverently handed each man his weapon, then stopped in front of Ollie.

“You may need this. You should not fight, but use it to protect yourself when you can.” He offered her the blade. Ollie took it carefully, hefting it’s weight in her hand.

“I’ll try.” She said with a grimace at the thought of having to hurt someone with it. She was not a violent person. Of course, this was something altogether different from any situation she’d ever been in.

“Let’s rush them. It will throw them off balance, create confusion.” Glen said.

David nodded. “There are back ways into the caves. We used to play here as children.”

“There may not be time to remember the way, David.” Mark clapped his shoulder. He was worried but tried to hide it. “Through the front door. This is after all Remi. Glen is king. He should not have to sneak into any back door.”

David smiled broadly. “Yes, sire.” He led them through the trees, getting as close to the cave entrance as he could before breaking cover and crossing the open land between the trees and the cave entrance.

The guards saw him and for a moment were too shocked to do anything but watch as the man dressed all in black raced toward them. The younger of the two, looking pale with fear, opened his mouth. The word ‘All’ was the only thing he could get past his lips before David was ramming the sword into his throat, cutting off the next bit of vocalization.

Mark was right behind him, sword flashing in the bright morning light. The second guard had never moved-Mark cut him across the throat and kicked his body away from the entrance to the cave. “Come…we must not waste time!” He said, plunging headfirst into the cave. David grinned, the emotions leaving him, his training as a guard taking over.


“What’s that sound?”

Abby had been hearing it for a few minutes. It would be quiet, then soft metallic sounds would echo through the cavern. Michael cocked his head and frowned. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was a sword fight.” He rose to his feet and let his hand rest on the hilt of his own sword, looking at the doorway.

There was an echoing scream that seemed to go on a ridiculous amount of time. Abby shifted uncomfortably and gave Michael a pleading look. “What the hell?”

“I do not know, Abby.” Michael unsheathed his sword and waited, still, listening to the sounds of the battle beyond the material.

The cloth parted. Dimitri entered the room, looking calm, but moving with nervousness that was not usual for him. “Fool guards of the king had decided to try to break through the caves, Michael. Please, see what you can do about them.”

“Yes, master.” He gave Abby one more look and disappeared through the material. Dimitri stood there for a time, watching the covering, a thoughtful frown on his face. Then he abruptly turned to Abby, sneering.

“Are you that important to the king, witch?” He asked but expected no answer.

Abby did not supply him with one. Dimitri was drawing closer. He had a long staff in his hand. The tip was covered with what looked like blood. He was waving it a bit in the air as if testing it.

“I’ll not have time to break you as I have the others.” He said, almost sorrowfully. “I’ll collect your power now. I’m sorry to say that it will hurt. You won’t survive the collection.” He shook his head ruefully. “Do you have any last words.”

“Just a few…” Abby muttered. Dimitri looked at her expectantly. “Go ahead with it, asshole. I’m not afraid of you or your little stick.”

Dimitri’s neutral tone turned a shade of red that Abby had never seen before. He was beyond angry. With a hiss, he raised the staff above his head.

“Foolish girl. Your pitiful attempt to belittle me has only made it worse for you.” Dimitri swung the staff, pointing it at her, and began chanting in a low voice. Abby had no clue what he was saying, the language was more foreign to her than any she’d ever heard before.

Dimitri frowned in concentration. A dark red light began pulsating at the tip of the staff. He grinned, his teeth flashing in the dull light as a ray of sick redness began slowly creeping toward Abby’s chest.

She held her breath and watched as Dimitri finished the spell with a flourish, pushing the staff forward, the beam turning into a ball of light. It flew at her, so fast she barely registered it. And the process she’d tried on David earlier repeated itself. The ball disappeared. A flash of purple light made her momentarily blind. But her vision cleared in time to see another ball of light, this one purple, slam into Dimitri’s chest with the force of a shotgun blast.

Dimitri fell backward, gasping for air. The strange redness at the end of the staff disappeared in a whiff of foul looking smoke. He struggled to get up. Abby grinned harshly and threw her hair back over her shoulders. “Now that you’ve had your turn, I’ve got a little spell for you.” Dimitri’s eyes widened in shock as he gained his footing. He held out a hand and bright blue light began to form at his fingertips. Abby ignored it, raising her voice, chanting words from the book. Dimitri’s eyes strayed from her to the material. Someone had entered. His expression changed to one of recognition and his hand moved to point at the newcomer.

Bolts of lightning streaked from his fingers, arching across the room, slamming into Mark’s chest. He struggled for a moment against the pressure as the electricity shot through is body. Abby cried out as he fell to his knees then onto his side on the floor.

“Fuck a spell.” She said, jerking her hands from the loose bonds that held them. She groped inside the arm of her dress for the gun, the one she’d brought with her from another world, and yanked it from the cloth that held it against her forearm.

Dimitri turned his eyed to her, a harsh laugh caught in his throat. “What means of magic is this?” He asked, staring at the glimmering steel of the gun.

“It’s a helluva lot more powerful than your stick.” Abby said, her voice cold. She pulled the trigger. Dimitri fell back, a round hole appearing in his forehead. He twitched, gurgled…and then lay still.

Abby yanked at the ropes that bound her legs and ran across the room to Mark’s side. She did not have to look close to see he was in trouble. His shirt had been burned from his chest. There were dark marks on his skin, contact burns over his heart. Abby struggled to turned him over and held him there on the floor.

“Mark…what are you doing here?” She said, fighting back tears at the sound of his harsh breathing. His eyes were unfocused. Blood trickled from one corner of his mouth. He blinked and met her gaze, a smile slowly spreading across his features.

“I thought you needed saving.” His voice was weak. He struggled with words as air refused to be pulled into his electrocuted body.

“Mark…” Abby sobbed his name. “You were supposed to leave. You were supposed to be safe!”

Mark shook his head. She could tell it took great effort. He gasped and coughed, more blood coming from his mouth. “I love you, Abby…”

“Mark…” Abby started crying. “Don’t you do that.”

“Love...you. I’ll find you...again.”

“Don’t leave me Mark.” Abby leaned over him, pressing her cheek against his. “Don’t leave me. I love you.”

She felt him move. His hand came up to touch her cheek, stroking it gently one last time. “I’ll…find you…Abby…” He wheezed another breath and then he was gone.

Abby began sobbing uncontrollably. “No!” She sat up and stroked Mark’s face with her hands, his neck, down his chest. He could not be dead, she would not let him be dead. Not after he’d already given up everything for him, not this too.

She collapsed against him, unable to see through the tears in her eyes. She refused to let him go, even as David gently pulled her away from Mark’s prone body. David held her against his chest, letting her sob into him, his eyes turned away from his fallen king, trying to comfort her as best he could.


One month passed and Abby was inconsolable. She refused to talk, she barely ate. The danger was past. Dimitri’s men had scattered at the loss of their leader. Many were caught out by Remi’s guards and properly punished. The witches, Dimitri’s collection, were freed. All should have been right. But it was not.

Abby was in a daze. She went through the motions. David and Firefly had been married in a beautiful ceremony on the castle lawn. Abby had fulfilled her promise-she stood as a witness to their testimony of love and smiled at their first kiss as husband and wife…or to the people of Rion-King and Queen. The titles became active as the wedding became official.

Ollie and Glen married. Theirs was a quieter affair, with only Abby and Michael as witnesses. Abby cried and hugged her sister, and convinced her it was tears of happiness that were falling from her eyes. Ollie had never looked as happy as she did on Glen’s arm, and she carried the title of Queen of Remi with grace and kindness.

With the good…came the bad. Glen’s guards had gone into the cave to retrieve Mark’s body. He’d been laid to rest in their family tomb next to his father and sister. Abby made it a point to sit there every morning and cry. She mourned so much it hurt to shed tears. But it was cleansing too. She blamed herself. It was her fault, her idea, that had gotten them into this mess. That had gotten Mark killed.

It was time to go. She knew it. It was past time to go, but she could not stand the thought of leaving Mark behind, even if he were dead, she could not make herself leave.

And then one day it was time.

Ollie tried to talk her out of it. They all did. They wanted her to stay. Abby’s killing of Dimitri was already a legend around the kingdom. People bowed to her as they would royalty. She heard whispers, heard herself referred to as the king’s love, and decided she could not take it any more.

“You don’t have to go, Abby.” Ollie said, watching as Abby studied that damn spell book. She was reading the passage that they had used to get to Remi in the first place. She would not have to make another potion. She just had to say one more spell and she’d hopefully go back to her originating point.

“I do have to go.” Abby said softly, smiling at her sister. The smile was sad. Ollie felt tears well in her eyes in response.


“There is nothing here for me without him, Ollie. I admit it.” Abby shook her head. “I love you, you’re my sister, you’re my other half, but you have Glen. You have a whole new life here. I don’t belong here, I never did.”

Ollie hugged Abby and stroked her hair. “I don’t want you to go. I want you with me.”

“You have castles to run, Ol. I’ll be all right.” Abby smiled again. It was a poor effort. “I would say something stupid like…I want to forget this ever happened…but that would be a lie. I don’t ever want to forget him. That’s why I can’t stay.”

“I understand.” Ollie whispered. “When?”

“In the morning. I want to stay goodbye to everyone.” Abby gave Ollie another hug and pushed her away. “Go on, you’re a newlywed, go find your husband and entertain him or something.” Ollie laughed, but it was forced. She left her sister alone to her thoughts.

Abby did as she said. She joined their group for dinner, listened to their stories, and pretended she was feeling better. She wasn’t. She was going to miss these people, but none more than Mark, that was for sure. Her sister seemed so happy, Abby could not muster any sadness at leaving her behind.

“You’ll be gone before we awake, I’m sure.” David said, coming up to her. He held out his arms and Abby stepped into him, accepting his warm hug. David had been the one to comfort her when no one else could. For some reason he found it easy to let her lean on him.

“Most likely. I’ll miss you David. You take care of Firefly.”

“I plan to.” David kissed the top of her head. “You should stay. We could use a knight such as yourself.”

“A female knight?” Abby raised an eyebrow. David chuckled.

“You’re right. Perhaps we’re not ready for that quite yet.” He squeezed her gently and let her go. “I will miss you as well, Abby. And we hope to name our first daughter for you, to honor your bravery.”

Abby sniffled. “That…that would be wonderful.” She hugged him one more time, then turned to Firefly. The women grinned at each other.

“I hope your journey is safe, Abby.” Firefly kissed her cheek. “Practice those spells. Perhaps you can muster the one to let you travel freely to our time to visit.”

“I’ll think about it.” Abby smiled. She was done with magic after the trip home. It was too painful, and it reminded her too much of Mark.

One by one, she said goodbye to her friends. Michael was one of the last. “I feel I should apologize yet again for what I did to you.” He said softly.

“No apology necessary. I did tell you to make it believable.” Abby accepted his hug and tousled his hair. “I’m sorry for punching you at David’s wedding.”

“Understandable.” Michael grinned and rubbed his jaw. Abby had been quiet until she’d thrown a roundhouse punch at his face. Then she’s smiled and said that was for hitting her. Michael had laughed and shaken it off. He supposed he deserved it.

Abby found herself alone with Glen. Ollie had gone with Firefly to discuss some manner of the castle or other. She sat down and Glen sat opposite her, taking her hands in his.

“You can’t do it.” He said softly. Abby frowned.

“I have to leave…”

“I know that you have to go, Abby.” Glen sighed. “You can’t used the spell to come back and save him.”

Abby let her head droop. “Why not?”

“It’s the rules. Magic is wild and unruly, but it does have its limitations. All things happen for a reason. You were meant to come here, meant to fall in love. He was meant to die. There are some facts that cannot be changed, no matter how much we want them to be.” Glen smiled sadly. Abby felt tears threaten to fall once again.

“But he wasn’t meant to die.” She whispered. “He was supposed to be with you, safe.”

“I think he was meant to be with you. Protecting you. It is all he wanted, Abby.” Glen stroked her fingers. “He loved you. I think that was what brought him back here.”

“Brought him back here?” She sniffled again.

“To Raventhorne. To his family.” Glen sighed. “We spent two years not talking, two years thinking we hated each other, and he followed you to my home to make sure you got here all right. I admired him his tenacity. I am not a forgiving man by nature…under normal circumstances. But I was so happy to have my brother back, even if it was just for a few days, I would not go back and trade it for anything.”

Abby nodded. “I understand. I won’t try to save him. The book even says you can’t save a loved one.”

“Good girl.” Glen gave her hand a pat and let her go. “We will think of you often, Abby. Your sister will not let people forget your sacrifice.”

“What did I sacrifice?” Abby asked, incredulous.

“Your life. You came to a world you did not know and you stood tall in the face of the unknown.”

“Mark was the one who gave up…”

Glen shook his head and silenced her with a look. “Mark came to me and willingly gave over his share of Remi. He said he would rather have you for a day than the kingdom for a lifetime. I did not understand why he would make such a decision, but now I do. Now I do.” Glen repeated it, smiling as he thought of Ollie. “He never got to tell you. He was going to. Things happened to fast.”

“They always tend to, don’t they?” Abby wiped her eyes. “I have to go.”

“Bedtime already?” Glen asked as she rose to her feet.

Abby shook her head. “No. I mean…I have to go. Right now. Home.”

Glen’s smile faded. “Abby…”

“I can’t take this anymore, all right? I can’t sit here and pretend I’m all right with what happened! I said my goodbyes and the spell is in here…” She tapped her head. “Tell Ollie I love her, all right? Tell them all I love them. I never knew I could love anybody until I came here, and thank them for showing me how to do it.”

Glen nodded slowly. “All right, Abby. If that is what you want.” Glen stood up and hugged her, the last hug of the night for her. She held onto his shirt, feeling a bit desperate, wanting to just take it all back.

“Goodbye, Glen.” She finally muttered, pushing away from him. Tears falling again, Abby climbed the stairs to her room, saying the spell before she had the door shut behind her.



Abby opened her eyes.

She was standing in her kitchen.

She looked around at the mess. Ollie had really trashed the place in her quest to make that potion. She looked down at the pot on the stove. The contents were clear, and looked to be just regular old water. The spell was over, apparently. The spell book lay open next to the stove.

With a sigh she set about cleaning the house. Anything to take her mind off what had happened to her. She checked the clock on the computer. It was just six o’clock. The same day she and Ollie had left. It felt as if it were a lifetime ago.

Things had changed.

She called the college and pretended to be Ollie, telling them she’d accepted a position teaching in England. That had always been one of Ollie’s dreams. The director at the school had been surprised by her leaving, but ultimately understood. Ollie loved change.

Abby resigned from the police force. She could not do it anymore, the work she had loved so much for twelve years just didn’t seem to be enough for her. And it was also a personal risk she was no longer willing to take.

She found out a month after her return that she was pregnant. Seven months after that, she gave birth to twins: a healthy baby boy with her dark hair and Mark’s green eyes. She named him Christopher Marcus. And a sweet little girl who looked so much like Ollie it made Abby cry. Her name was Christabella Olivia. Abby just called her Bella. So not all of Mark had died after all. She had carried a piece of him inside of her, and now she had his children to raise and love as she’d loved their father.

The twins were nearing on a year old. Abby had decided to start up her own internet security business. She only dealt with people online, never had to leave the house to work, and loved every minute of it. One day while the kids were taking a nap, she’d taken the spell book from the top shelf of her closet and flipped through it. There was a spell she had been fighting against using. Mostly because she was afraid it would fail.

Summoning a lost loved one. With a little tweaking she was sure she’d be able to make it more forgiving of the rules. She worked at it for an hour that day, more the next, getting the words just right.

She sent the kids to a friend’s house for a morning, and decided it was time to try it. With tears rolling down her cheeks, Abby read aloud the words she’d written, hope in her heart for the first time in a long time.

Nothing happened. With a sigh she put the book away again, this time for good. Her world was not made for magic. She could not bring Mark across time and space.

She picked up Chris and Bella and headed home, balancing them, two diaper bags, and a bag of groceries in her arms as she struggled with her keys at the door. The groceries were slipping. Abby almost dropped Chris. He was trying to reach over her to grab something behind her.

Strong hands stopped the bag before it could split open on the porch. Abby looked over her shoulder…and almost dropped the twins.

It was Mark.

But it wasn’t him.

His hair was a bit different, more red than brown. He had tattoos covering both arms. He was wearing a pair of worn jeans and a faded t-shirt. His eyes…those green eyes that had seemed to see into her soul were the same though.

“Hi.” God help her, even the voice was the same. Mark smiled. “Uh…you look like you have your hands full. I thought you could use some help.”

“I…” Abby could not speak. Chris wiggled in her arms. Mark grinned at the boy and held out his hands. Chris…who in normal circumstances did not like strangers, squealed and leaned toward the man with a giggle.

Mark cradled Chris in his arms and smiled down at Abby. “Twins, huh?”

“They’re a handful.” Abby commented, finally finding her voice. Bella settled more comfortably in her arms, taking advantage of her brother’s absence.

“I’m Mark.”

“Abby.” She had to bite back the ‘I know’ that had popped into her mind at his name.

“I just moved in next door.” He nodded in the direction of his house.

“Oh. Well…uh…welcome to the neighborhood.” Abby smiled.

“Thanks. You want a hand in the house?” Mark gestured at the door. Abby smile sadly and nodded.

“I’d like that. Thank you.”

“No problem. Any time.” He tickled Chris on his chin and followed Abby into her house, closing the door behind them.