Authors: Kristen Painter
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Holidays, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Vampires, #Werewolves & Shifters, #90 Minutes (44-64 Pages), #Witches & Wizards
When a spell goes wrong on the night of Samhain for witch Corette Williams, her only hope is the man she loves, Bartholomew Stanhill. But time is running out. As the clock ticks toward midnight on Halloween, they grow closer to the moment when magic will erase him from her mind. Can Stanhill become Corette’s Halloween hero?
Bartholomew Stanhill stood on the front porch of Corette William’s house, not quite sorted enough to knock. He smoothed the lapels of his tuxedo one more time with his free hand. In his other, he carried a small shopping bag that held a box with two Halloween cupcakes in it and a clear clamshell containing a stunning tiger lily corsage. He was totally prepared for this evening; there was nothing to be worried about. After all, his entire life was about preparation.
Tonight was no exception. He took a breath and lifted his hand, then hesitated and put it down again.
His nerves weren’t because tonight’s event, the Black and Orange Ball, was the biggest social event of the year in Nocturne Falls. Social events were all part and parcel with living in this town. No, his nerves were because of the small velvet box in his jacket pocket. The one holding the exquisite sapphire-and-diamond engagement ring he’d picked out for Corette.
night. He was going to ask her to marry him. Granted, their lives would never be normal. Corette was a witch with three grown daughters who were also witches, and between them and her bridal shop in town, her life was a whirlwind of activity. Although she always made time for him.
Stanhill was a rook for Hugh Ellingham, one of the founders of Nocturne Falls and an almost-four-hundred-year-old vampire. Stanhill was slightly older, but in his own opinion, the touch of gray that Hugh would never have was His Lordship’s loss.
Being a rook meant Stanhill had the immortality of a vampire with a half measure of a vampire’s strength and speed, but it also meant he couldn’t be too far from Hugh. Any distance too great and they would both suffer.
Stanhill had known the risks and conditions before Hugh had turned him into a rook, but it had been a choice between life or death, as would have been forthcoming from the plague that was ravaging those around them. And as Hugh’s former valet, a life of service was one he was comfortable with. So choosing life, even with all that being a rook entailed, had been the right decision.
Especially now that Corette was a part of that life. After all these years, she’d taught him that love was still possible. It was an unbelievable gift.
He glanced into the bag at the corsage he’d brought and smiled, thinking about the winsome witch. Tonight would be one for the memory books. He finally brought his knuckles up to the door. He knocked three times, then stood back to wait.
A moment later, his beloved opened the door. In a split second, he took Corette in. Her black satin gown accentuated her brilliantly curved figure with the perfection of old Hollywood. Her deep auburn hair matched the look as it fell in coiffed waves around her beautiful face. She offered him a soft smile, but the light in her eyes he was accustomed to seeing wasn’t there. Was she nervous about something too?
She pulled the door a little wider. “Hello.”
“Hello, love.” He knew what they both needed. A reminder of what mattered. He stepped inside, pulled her into his arms and kissed her soundly.
Her hands flew up to his chest and shoved him away. “What are you doing?”
His mouth came open in shock at her reaction, but before he could respond, Pandora, Corette’s flame-haired middle daughter, flew around the corner and into the foyer.
“Stanhill! Don’t you look handsome? Good to see you. Sort of. Oh, bother. I was afraid this would happen.” Her mouth bunched to one side as she glanced at Corette. “Mom, I said I would get the door.”
“Afraid what would happen?” he asked.
Corette pointed at Stanhill, eyes snapping with anger. “This man kissed me.”
Stanhill stared at her, befuddled as to why that was a problem. “You’ve never complained about it before.”
Pandora gave her mother a stern look. “Mom, Marigold needs you in the kitchen. Now.”
Corette shot Stanhill an accusatory glare before stalking off.
He watched her go, totally confused. “What the devil is going on?”
Pandora sighed and shoved a hand through her hair. “We had a little…mishap with a spell.”
“We? That doesn’t sound like your mother.”
“Not her; me and Marigold and Charisma. Mom was upstairs getting ready and we were in her spellroom, using her supplies because none of us had everything necessary and this was a big spell. You know Missy Tressler? She just got dumped by her boyfriend by text. Text! Can you believe it? Anyway, she came to Marigold for a spell to forget the creep, but like I said, it’s a big spell and it takes three of us and so we came over here to get everything together and work our magic as it were.” She smiled brightly, causing Stanhill no small amount of bewilderment.
He blinked as he went back over her conversation, but nowhere in all of what she’d said could he find the issue. “Not sure I’m following, love. That still doesn’t explain why your mother was shocked by me kissing her.”
Her smile disappeared. “Oh, yes, that. Mom sort of…walked in while we were finishing up and startled us and my elbow hit the cauldron and she caught it before it went over, but the spellworks splashed onto her.”
Stanhill got a sinking feeling. “What was this spell again?”
Pandora bit her lip. “For Missy Tressler to forget her awful ex-boyfriend. She was
broken up by getting dumped.”
He held on to a small shred of hope. “So your mother wasn’t affected by this then?”
“No. Well, yes. Sort of.”
That hope slipped from his fingers. “Bloody hell. What does that mean?”
“Who’s there, darling?” Corette’s voice called out as she strolled into the foyer. Her gown swirled around her as she came to a stop, and this time her sparkling green eyes lit up when she saw Stanhill. “I didn’t know we were having company. Are we all going to the ball together?”
Pandora sighed. “Double bother. Apparently Mom’s having some memory issues on top of everything else.”
“What’s everything else?” Stanhill asked, but Corette interrupted him by making a disapproving noise with her tongue.
“Pandora, I’m having no such thing. I’m sure I’d remember our guest if we’d met before. Although I’d be happy to make your acquaintance now.” She offered Stanhill her hand. “Corette Williams. And you are?”
He took her hand, his body numb with the realization that his beloved no longer knew him. Was this what Pandora was talking about it? It had to be. “Bartholomew Stanhill. The man you’ve been dating for the past four years.”
to remember Stanhill. You two are like peas and carrots. You’re together all the time. He comes over for Saturday-night family suppers.”
Not to mention, Stanhill thought, he’d just had his mouth on hers a few minutes ago. Had his kiss been that forgettable?
Corette held on to his hand and leaned closer, peering at him like he was a curiosity in an antique shop. “I don’t think so. I’d remember you.” Her gaze raked him up and down. “Love the tux.”
“You should. You sold it to me.”
She smiled and finally let go of his hand. “I have wonderful taste.”
“Yes, you do. I’m your date for the ball tonight.”
She put her hands on her hips. “So we are going to the ball together. Excellent. I’d hate to think I looked this good and had no one to escort me.”
Just then, Marigold strode into the foyer, her purse in one hand and a tablet in the other. “Hi, Stanhill. I guess you heard?”
She frowned. “I’m so sorry. Even sorrier that I have to go. As always, I’m in charge of the flowers, and I’m helping Delaney organize the last of the decorating. I should already be there actually.”
She pushed a curly blond tendril out of her eyes. “I promise, the minute I’m done, I’m back here and working on this…issue.”
He nodded. “Go. You can’t keep the Ellinghams waiting.”
“Thanks.” She kissed him on the cheek as she left. “It’s going to be all right, I swear.”
“I know.” He hoped that was true. He glance at Corette, who was watching him intently. “You look beautiful, by the way. But then you always look beautiful.”
Her smile went from bright to beaming. “Aren’t you a charmer?”
“Mom.” Pandora sighed in frustration. “You really can’t remember Stanhill?”
Corette shook her head, but her eyes stayed on him. “No. I guess your magic really is fully functional again, sweetheart.” She stepped closer to Stanhill. “Do you still want to take me to the ball?”
“I do.” Whether or not Corette remembered him, he couldn’t imagine being with anyone else. Nor did he want to. He lifted the corsage he’d brought her out of the shopping bag. “Here’s your bit of orange.”
She took the clear plastic case, popped it open, and lifted the flower free. “I know you’re supposed to do the honors, but considering I don’t know you from Adam at the moment, how about we let Pandora do it?”
He nodded. “Whatever makes you happy.”
While Pandora fixed the corsage to her mother’s dress, Stanhill took a moment to gather a little more information. “How long will the spell last?”
Pandora’s brows knit. “Why don’t we talk about that once I have this corsage attached, okay?” She laughed nervously. “You know I can’t talk and chew gum.”
That wasn’t the Pandora he knew at all. She must have something to tell him that she didn’t want to reveal in front of her mother.
Pandora steadied the flower in place while she attached the superstrong magnets that would hold it there without damaging the gown. “There you go, Mom. Oh, it’s so pretty. Go show Charisma and have her take a picture so Mari can see it when she gets back.”
Corette made a face. “Honey, she’s going to the ball. She’ll see it there.”
“With all the work she’s got to do, she might not. And since it came from her shop…”
Corette kissed her daughter’s cheek. “I’ll be right back.” She glanced at Stanhill on her way out. “Maybe I’ll remember you by then.”
He put a hand to his heart. “I can hope.”
“She won’t,” Pandora said when Corette had left. “The spell wasn’t built that way.” She let out a deep sigh. “This is awful. And on Samhain of all nights.”
“What aren’t you telling me? Is there more to this than your mother understands?”
“No, she knows all this, but I feel like talking about it in front of her is going to reinforce the negatives, and I’d rather not do that.” Pandora frowned. “What I haven’t told you yet is that the spell becomes permanent at midnight. And…there’s no fail-safe built in. Missy didn’t want one—she wanted a complete and total wipe. We thought that was kind of severe, but we do what our clients want.”
“Okay, but it’s not permanent yet. That means you can still undo it.”
Pandora shook her head. “We can’t. It’s done.”
“You just said it becomes permanent at midnight. That means it’s not permanent now. Why can’t you fix it?”
“Because it’s already in motion.” Pandora frowned. “And the midnight thing is because it’s Samhain. Halloween.” She waved her hands in the air. “On this night, at the witching hour, a lot of magic things can occur. Certain spells becoming permanent is just one of them.”
“What does that mean then? She’ll never be able to love me again?”
“Not just that, but at midnight, if we don’t find a counterspell, you will disappear from her life completely.”
“You can’t just make me go away.”
“In a way we can. She won’t see you or hear you or have any idea you’re around. You could be in the same room with her and she’d have no idea.”