This is a bedtime story.
And like so many bedtime stories, it begins with a rebel prince, a brave soldier, a witch’s spell, and in our case, yes, a bed.
Not just any bed. A black and bronze Victorian antique four-poster with a superbly cast brass plaque decoration in the shape of a five-pointed star and one perfect crystal knob atop each tall and graceful post.
The perfect witch’s bed.
Or rather, the perfect bed for a witch.
The problem was, he saw it first.
John Joseph Galbraith.
I didn’t know who he was at the time.
I noticed him, though. At six-foot-four, with shoulders like a gladiator, he was hard to miss. Early forties. Not handsome exactly—or at least the handsomeness was secondary to his air of command. Of authority. Not a guy to fool around with.
So naturally, I had to try and fool around with him.
“That’s going to be a tight fit,” I said.
John looked up from his frowning contemplation of the star escutcheon. “What?”
I’m six feet, so it was a novelty to have to look up to meet his eyes. They were a striking shade of yellow-brown—amber—and those alert hawk eyes perfectly suited the severity of his features.
Despite the red glints in his thick hair, there were no freckles on his tanned face. Nor did it look like a face that creased into a smile very often, and he was definitely not smiling for me that afternoon.
I nodded at the empty rectangle formed by the black and bronze bed frame. “Especially if you’re planning on company.” I gazed right into his amber eyes.
He stared right back at me and said, “I sleep alone.”
“That would have to be by choice.”
“Now you’re catching on.”
He was not flirting back. He was not regretting his lack of bedtime companionship, and he was bluntly declining any and all offers I might have in mind.
I felt my smile falter a little. Not that I think I’m irresistible, but some people do. Mortals usually do. When I want them to.
Beside me, Andi gave a little Mary Poppins kind of sniff. Which is always a danger signal.
It occurs to me that a little backstory might be needed here. Andi—Andromeda Merriweather—and I were at Bonhams’ warehouse previewing Lot 132, a late 19th century George III-style mahogany quarter-chiming tall case clock, and Lot 136, the previously mentioned Victorian four-poster with the crystal bedknobs, in advance of the Elegant Home auction being held the following day.
I’d already decided to bid on the bed before that curtly delivered smackdown. Post smackdown, I determined the bed would be mine, period. I’d been trying not to use Craft for day-to-day interactions. We all rely on it too much. Plus, it’s not really fair when dealing with mortals. But I cannot lie. That crisp “Now you’re catching on” smarted.
Not that I can’t take no for an answer, but it could have been phrased a little more diplomatically.
So I said sweetly, “You’ll have to choose to do it elsewhere.”
It was not a nice laugh. There was no creasing of cheek, no crinkling of eyes, no smile in that sound. It was the sound of someone planning to take no prisoners. It was the chuckle Alexander the Great gave before burning Persepolis to ashes.
Did I mention that, in addition to all the time spent watching TV, I have a classical education? It’s not really relevant, except that those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it—and when it comes to romance, I can be a slow study.
“You think so?” John said, still amused.
“I know so.”
“We’ll see.” He nodded in dismissal, I nodded in I’ll-see-your-bet-and-raise-you-one-thousand, and we went our separate ways.
When the bidding began the next day, I didn’t have to resort to Craft. I’d have mortgaged my townhouse to make sure Paddle Number 131 didn’t win that auction, but it wasn’t necessary. He gave up the third time I doubled his bid. When the auctioneer’s gavel came down, John gave me a nod and a flicker of a wry smile.
At least he was a good sport. The truth was, that bed was way too small for him. I wasn’t sure why he’d even bid on it.
“Prick,” Andi muttered when we spotted him on our way out of the auction house.
I said nothing.
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