"Where are you?"
I heard Gwen stomping toward me and wondered if she stepped heavily on purpose. I mean really, she was all of five feet tall and probably weighed eighty pounds. How did she make such a noise?
She rounded the end of the bookcase, batting aside a dangling paper jack o' lantern to find me kneeling on the floor. I was considerably taller than five foot--I was five foot ten, actually--and kneeling to put books away on the bottom shelf was not a comfortable position for me. I glanced up and groaned. Not because of the fact that my legs from the knees down had gone numb, but because of what she held in her hand.
"You've been going through the trash again."
She waved the embossed envelope at me. "And it's a damn good thing I did! Do you know who this is from?"
"And you threw it away?"
I met her determined blue-eyed stare with my own brown-eyed one. "Yes."
She gaped, struck dumb, amazingly enough. It didn't happen often. I took the opportunity to use the sturdy bookcase and the cold floor to push-pull myself to my feet.
Gwen finally found her voice. "You're going to turn down an invitation to Shannon Cavanagh's Halloween party?"
I sighed, reaching up to put my disheveled ponytail back in place. Long strands of my straight black hair had managed to work their way free during the last hour that I'd been working. Or had I pulled them free? "She doesn't really want me there, Gwen."
She shoved the black-and-gold invitation toward my face. "This proves otherwise."
I pushed the invitation aside, not even looking at it. "She sent it as a courtesy to a witch in her territory."
"She didn't send me one."
I tried not to flinch. There were good reasons Gwen didn't get one, but she never wanted to hear them. "You don't have the pedigree that I do."
Luckily, that explanation almost always worked, even if it made her grimace. "Yeah, well." She opened the invitation, eyeing the gold-on-black script. Very high class. Very Shannon. "It says you could bring a guest. You could bring me. Introduce me."
"No." I picked up the box I'd emptied of books and turned to walk away.
"Aw, c'mon, Meg."
"She might be able to help you."
I froze. "Absolutely not!"
Like one of those little terrier dogs that keeps nipping at your heels, Gwen followed me. "Have you asked her?"
I shoved aside a paper skeleton dangling from the wall near the front counter. "Why would I do a fool thing like that?"
She trailed me past the front counter into the back room before she grabbed my arm to stop me. The look she gave me was less annoyed than worried, a strange look on that round little face that usually showed defiance.
"Meg, I'm serious. Roland's going to come after you. You need help. And the guardian spell hasn't worked. It's been two weeks."
I took a deep breath, tossing the empty box into a corner. "I know that, Gwen."
"So--" She waved the invitation at me again. "--maybe it's time to look somewhere else."
"Not Shannon, Gwen. She wouldn't help me."
I grumbled. "Just let it go. Trust me. Shannon would be about as helpful as my mother."
"And I still don't understand why you don't call her. She's your mother."
I shook my head and lifted another box of books. "I don't know how to explain it to you any better than I already have, Gwen." She and I had only known each other two years, but we had one of those solid relationships that just seemed to work. It was refreshing for me, since very few of my relationships ever really worked.
When I turned, she stood in the doorway, another invitation in her hand. That one made my blood run cold. It was white, with tasteful black lettering, elegant and understated. Gwen held it up with a sympathetic grimace.
"I found this one, too."
I pushed past her with the box, headed toward the front of the shop. "You've got to stay out of the trash."
"Meg, he'll come for you. You know that."
"Yes. I know."
"Halloween is tomorrow night."
"I know that, too."
"What are you going to do?"
I stopped at the end of one of the few bookcases in the far front corner of the shop, well away from the computer nooks and the front door. "I don't know," I whispered, trying to keep despair from resurfacing. I hated feeling helpless, and this whole situation did nothing but. "I'll call my sister tonight. Maybe Talia can..." I stopped, frowning.
"What is it, Meg?" Gwen stepped toward me, concerned.
I shook my head, propping the box on my left hip to free my right hand. Something like invisible ants marched up under my skin. What was that? I flexed my hand, but the tingling in my fingers didn't stop. Actually, it wasn't just my hand; it was my entire arm.
I whirled to face the door. The box clattered to the floor, forgotten in favor of the spell that I gathered in my palm. To a non-magic-user, it looked like I held nothing. But anyone with even a glimmering of the Gift or any training in the magical arts would see a whirling ball of yellow-white.
The bell over the shop's door jangled as it opened. I was at a bad angle to the front door, so I couldn't immediately see the person. I had to wait until whoever it was stepped in fully before I could see who had set off my metaphysical radar.
He was young. That was my first impression. Probably legal, but just barely. My second impression was that he was gorgeous! Tall and slim and built like a baseball rookie. Lean and muscular. He wore a faded denim jacket and matching jeans with a worn black Aerosmith t-shirt. A mess of light brown hair hung haphazardly almost to his shoulders, and the bluest eyes you ever saw scanned the shop from within the face of a teen idol. It took all of three seconds for that gaze to land on me, and the blue eyes changed. The color remained, but they were no longer human eyes at all. Canine.
Gwen gasped. I grabbed her arm to pull her behind me and held the spell ready. I didn't let loose. He didn't jump at me, just shared a stare. After a breath, he smiled.
Mmm, yummy! This was my protection?
I started to smile back, but he was pushed farther into the shop by the arrival of another. A bit taller than the first, this man barged into the shop with his eyes fixed on me. Like he already knew I was there. I barely got an impression of angry green eyes set into a face capped with silky black hair before he lunged, snarling.
The spell left my hand before my thought to release it happened. It hit his chest square, and I barked the word of power to activate it. He screamed, an entirely feline scream of rage that had our two customers ducking for cover.
I didn't have time to wonder at his appearance. The first man echoed the attack of the second, and because the spell wasn't ready, he actually reached me before I released another into his chest. He howled, tackling me as he fell.
It was done in a space of heartbeats. Both men lay stunned and moaning on the floor of the shop. I half-sat, half-lay beneath the wolfman. The wire rack behind me teetered, then fell, paperbacks toppling to the floor.
"Holy shit!" Have I mentioned Gwen is a wonder with words?
I didn't glance at her, though, too fascinated by my handiwork. The yellow-white energy spread through the auras of both men, alive as it crawled over their twitching bodies. It sank through their skin, their muscles, their bones, and I felt it. Not like it was happening to me, but like the spell was an extension of the hair on my arms, burrowing into their bodies. Then, as though it were being sucked up, the leashing spell coalesced into bands about their necks.
Unseen to any but me, another band snugged about the base of their cocks.
I groaned as the spell settled.
They were mine.