Monday, August 12, 2013

The Knight of Wands

Vanessa Bentley and Callum Lyon are opposites. She’s a free-spirited socialite who writes horoscopes for London’s underground newspapers; he’s a passionate political astrologer who lives in a castle in Scotland. She’s Aquarius; he’s Leo. She’s a butterfly; he’s a lion. She’s vegetarian; he drinks blood. She’s human; he used to be.

Now, he’s a Knight of Avalon, a shape-shifting dark faery who requires blood and sex to survive. And has been since he fell at the Battle of Flodden Field back in 1513. After centuries of sowing his dark-faery oats, Callum is ready to settle down. He sets his sights on Vanessa, who he affectionately calls mo dearbadan-de—my butterfly—because she flies away before any man can catch her. 

Vanessa claims it’s because she values her freedom more than her heart—the truth, though not all of it. Deep down, she fears she’s too flawed to be loveable. Once a man sees the real her—a reckless, flighty, promiscuous, and basically screwed up woman who’s stumbling through life without a compass—he’ll high-tail it for the hills, right? And, if she’d been foolish enough to risk her heart, well . . . shame on her.

Will Callum's love be enough to ground Vanessa for good?

Here's a wee taste:

Vanessa Bentley opened her eyes to a pounding headache and the dim sensation that she was not alone. Scenes from the night before rose inside her mind like mist after a warm rain. Callum Lyon’s lecture on political astrology. Waiting around while he signed books. Fleeing back to the inn, disappointed and alone. Going down to the bar for a nightcap. Chatting with the bartender until the object of her desire sauntered in from the blue. They had talked—but what about?—and drank whisky. Things got fuzzier after that.
            Swallowing, she rolled on her side, expecting to find him sleeping beside her. She was alone in the bed, meaning what? She checked for the telltale signs of coupling, but found she was still mostly clothed. He had very decently removed her shoes, her jacket, and her jewelry, but left on her trousers and top. So, he had been too much of a gentleman to take advantage. She liked that scenario, but it did not explain the feeling that someone else was in the room. Checking farther afield, she found a figure sleeping on the couch at the foot of her bed. The long ochre hair confirmed the sleeper’s identity. But why had he opted for the couch?           
            Her necklace lay in a tangle on the nightstand. She rolled to the edge of the bed and peered over the side. He had neatly tucked her shoes—alongside his—under the ruffled skirt. She reached down and picked up one of his. They were classic lace-up oxfords with punched trim. Black and freshly polished, judging by the smell. She peeked inside. They were Church’s—a quality brand. Size twelve.
            She put the shoe back, crawled to the foot of the bed, and looked him over before slipping the blanket down just far enough to bare a powerful shoulder. Was he naked under there? Shivering under a little thrill, she scouted around for evidence. His shirt and both their jackets lay over the back of the desk chair, but there was no sign of his trousers. Oddly, though, there were muddy footprints leading from the couch to the window . . . or, rather, upon closer inspection, from the window to the couch. Had he gone out the window at some point and come back in? She scowled, puzzling. Why would he do that? And, more to the point, how? Her room was on the second floor.
            Her mind grappled with the jigsaw, trying to fit the jagged edges together. She must have passed out at some point . . . and he had put her to bed, but not taken liberties. So, she’d picked a nice guy for a change, thankfully. She combed her mind for other details. They had kissed. With tongues. In the bar and in the elevator. And they’d talked for a while. But what about?
            Astrology? Yes, he’d said he was a double Leo and she’d told him she was Aquarius with Leo rising, which meant she was a free spirit who couldn’t bear to be tied down. She was like a butterfly, he’d observed, moving from flower to flower, belonging to none but herself. That was good. That meant he understood. But what else had he said? With considerable effort (and pain), she excavated fragments of last night’s dialog from the miasma clogging her mind.
            Double Leos are ruthless romantics, Miss Bentley. A verra dangerous prospect for a butterfly such as yerself, would ye no’ say?”
            So, why are ye still sitting here, mo dearbadan-de, eh?
            Why are you?
            Because fire needs air. Tae breathe and tae burn.
            Fire might need air, but air did not need fire. Air needed space, even in a committed relationship (not that she’d ever had one of those or had the least desire to). Another memory surfaced then, giving her a jolt. She’d asked to see his castle. And he’d consented, but only if . . . she’d stay for a week! To give him a chance. And—oh, bugger--she’d promised she would.
            Vanessa bristled. What had she gotten herself into? She might have been tipsy, but she’d given her word. And, in her book, there was a difference between free-spirited and fickle. Besides, part of her wanted to stay. He was smart, gorgeous, sexy, and principled. He would be her perfect man, in fact, if she were in the market for one—which she absolutely wasn’t. She’d come up here not to meet someone but to get away from the paparazzi who’d been hounding her since she dumped Nick Crow, the notorious bad-boy rocker, last week.
            She’d hooked up with Nick a few weeks ago at a PETA fundraiser, so she’d assumed they shared similar values—a mistake. Nick Crow had no values, no principles, and no manners. He’d loudly called her the c-word. At the Queen’s Garden Party, no less. In front of her father, the royal family, and most of the British aristocracy. Jaws and teacups had hit the lawn. The thought of it even now made her cringe in horror.
She flung the thought away, returning her attention to the man in front of her. Callum Lyon was a Leo—with the leonine good looks characteristic of the sign: thick mane, slanted golden eyes, and a mouth that curled up at the corners like a cat’s.
            She hadn’t told him she’d come to Caithness with the express goal of hooking up. She had read his books and, like many women, lusted after the handsome face on the jacket. And what providence that she happened to be passing through this part of Scotland on the night he was making a rare public appearance. As it turned out, the picture didn’t do him justice, but how could it? No two-dimensional image could possibly capture the feral carnality he exuded or the graceful power with which he moved. No wonder women threw themselves at him. 
           Feeling suddenly tempestuous, she moved over him and blew softly in his ear. He made a growling noise deep in his throat and twitched a little, but didn’t wake. She reached down and ran her finger along his temple, but he only swatted at it like an annoying insect. As she withdrew her hand, she dragged her fingers across his hair, which was sleep-tousled and cashmere-soft. He came to at once and blinked up at her, looking adorably sleepy.
            “Why are you still here . . . and on the couch?”
            “Tae be honest,” he said, yawning, “I was afraid ye might leave if I didna stay. That ye’d forget the promise ye made tae me before ye passed out.”
            “And you intend to hold me to that promise, I take it . . . despite my being less than sober when I made it?”
            “No,” he said, eyes meeting hers with the same spark she’d felt last night. “I willna hold ye tae it if ye truly wish tae go.”
            “I’ll stay,” she told him. “Provided you promise to show me a good time. And understand that, when the week is up, I’ll be on my way.”
            “Aye. Of course. Unless I can persuade ye otherwise, aye?”
            “You can’t. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.”
            “Oh? And how can ye be so sure?”
            “Because I know myself,” she told him, shrugging. “And I’ve already made other plans.”
            His brows knitted in confusion. “Other plans? Since last night?”
            “Before last night.” She heaved a sigh. Hell, she might as well tell him the whole bloody story. “I’m moving to America. To New Orleans. In a month. To take a job at Zodiac magazine. And nothing short of another Hurricane Katrina is going to stop me.” She paused to reconsider, then added, “Actually, not even that would stop me. Because I’d go anyway to help out with disaster relief.”
            “So,” he said, looking dour, “what ye're saying is that it canna be anything more than a roll in the heather?”
            “Not at all. What I’m saying is that even if it should turn into more, you’ll need to let me go.”
            His expression grew serious, contemplative. He didn’t say anything for the longest time. Worry began to gnaw. Oh, no. Would he break their bargain? Send her on her way? That was not what she desired. They hadn’t made love yet, and, despite his need for a pound of flesh, she still wanted him desperately.
            “When I was a lad, I collected butterflies,” he said at last, looking thoughtful. “There are more than thirty different varieties in the Highlands alone, believe it or no’. Skippers, Fritillaries, Hairstreaks, Peacocks, Painted Ladies, and dozens more. My favorite was always the Scotch Argus. The sub-species of erebia aethiops called Caledonia. When newly emerged, they’ve got these bonny chocolate wings emblazoned with bright orange bands and eye spots. I used tae net all I could, pin them tae a board, and label each with its Latin name and where I’d caught the wee thing.”
            He stopped talking and just looked at her. She returned his gaze, waiting for him to go on, but he didn’t. He just stared up at her like he was seeing into her soul. Meanwhile, her mind was racing. Why had he told her that he’d once collected butterflies? Was he planning to collect her, too? Pin her to a board with her name and where he’d caught her? Vanessa Angelica Bentley. Wild Gorse Inn, John o’Groats, Scotland. Finally, unable to bear the silence—or his probing gaze—another second, she said, “What’s your point, Mr. Lyon?”
            He rubbed his morning-whiskered chin a couple of times and licked his lips before he finally said, “Call me Callum, eh? Given that we’re about tae become intimate. And my point is that I now ken it’s the spirit of a butterfly that makes it beautiful. And that by trying tae hold onto that beauty, I destroyed it. So, aye. Whatever comes of our time together, I will let ye go. But with the hope that one day ye might see fit tae come back.”   
            And then he touched her face with a tenderness that almost made her regret her need to fly away. Swallowing the feeling—and her lust--she climbed off the bed and, without another word, headed into the bathroom, closing and locking the door behind her. She still wanted him, but also wanted to see what he was made of—to understand what made him tick. Most men were too easy to solve and thus, incapable of keeping her interest for long. She hoped Callum Lyon would prove to be different as much as she hoped he would not.


  1. Wow! Nina, it looks great and those are some damn sexy Scots! :-)

  2. Thanks, Amy. And for the Tweet. You should see what I couldn't post! Yowza. I'll be changing the gallery week by week. God, how I love a man in a kilt. Wish my husband would get his out of mothballs.

    1. Oooh, new men weekly. I'll be stopping by for sure. :-)


Writing smexy paranormals with a Celtic twist. Blogging about good books.