Trouble in paradise
|The Witching Hour
If you're new to my story, you might want to begin from the beginning. It might help make some sense for you.
Otherwise; please, enjoy...
One quick note: as you might be able to tell from the rating, there is no sex in this one. Sorry, I just couldn't force it in and I needed to build plot. I hope you'll still enjoy it. Don't worry, it gets better after this.
* * * * *
Jack finished loading the last of his dishes into the cabinet that hung on the wall above the stove in his kitchen and looked around. It had taken all day yesterday, and a good bit of the morning, but finally he nodded with satisfaction at the job he had done setting up his apartment.
He wasn't overly obsessive about keeping everything orderly, but he knew if he didn’t get it done now, he would keep putting the job off, and never get it done. That and the mindless activity had been just what he needed to straighten out his mind, which had seemed scattered ever since he had shown up here a few days ago.
Looking around, he realized that he was happy with the way everything had come together. When he had first moved in, the place had seemed so bare and uninviting, but the addition of even the fairly inexpensive furniture that he had purchased appeared to make all the difference. The soft wood tables and chairs, along with the softer suede couch that focused around the fireplace in the corner -- rather than the usual TV set, since he hadn’t bought one yet -- made the place seem more like a home.
He could feel a pleasant breeze circulating around the room from his air conditioner, having finally broken down and turned it on while he was setting up and moving around his new stuff. Letting his head roll back on his shoulder, he felt his neck pop a little and he let out a contented breath.
Outside of his living-room window he could see through the opened slats in the blinds that it was rapidly turning into another beautiful day. The bright sunlight cast dappled shadows on the glass window pane as it passed through the leaves on the large poplar tree that was planted just beyond it. Jack felt the sudden urge to be out there, having been cooped up for quite a while. He definitely had earned a little bit of a break.
Walking into his bedroom, Jack stripped off the ratty t-shirt and comfortable lounge pants he had chosen when he got up this morning and exchanged them for nice pair of shorts and a light button up shirt. He wasn't trying to impress anyone, but hey, he never knew.
Slipping on a pair of flip-flops, he grabbed his keys but left his cell phone sitting on his dresser; he wouldn’t need it. Heck, he didn’t think he had even used it once since he had moved in, a definite sign of how his life had drastically changed. Before he had left the army, he wouldn't have been caught without it; never knowing when he would get a frantic phone call to deal with the latest crisis at work.
He let out a brief sigh and headed for the front door. It would be nice to have someone not work related to talk to occasionally though. He was very aware on how much his social life had been limited by the choices he had made, and his sex life had been relegated to spying on the neighbors from the shadows of his balcony. If he didn’t get himself out of this rut soon, he feared he was in danger of joining a monastery.
Opening the door and stepping out, he turned and used the key to slide the dead-bolt into position. The incident on his first day aside, Jack really hadn’t seen anything that suggested this was a bad area, but he figured it was better safe than sorry.
As Jack went down the stairs and headed out of the front of the building he noticed a definite sense of peace that seemed to blanket the area. A quiet breeze was blowing through trees of all different types that appeared to be planted everywhere around the community.
He had always been shocked by the sheer amount of color in the landscapes of Georgia. Having grown up in southern Colorado he was used to the deep, dark greens and browns of the mountain pines and the sandy grays, tans, and yellows of the high desert. After he had enlisted, the army had moved him around a lot, from one barren area of the US and the world to another. The army was more interested in secluded and unpopular areas, in order to give them plenty of elbow room for training, than it was in the scenery. Jack always found himself pleasantly assaulted by the bright greens, the rainbow assortment of flowering plants, and the luscious red-clay soil when he came here. It always gave him something he felt was missing from his life.
Natural looking paths crisscrossed between the five apartment buildings. At first, Jack had been fairly annoyed by the lack of parking near the front of his apartment, which had made moving in that much more difficult, the only driveway and parking being a small loop on the outside of the buildings just this side of the stone wall. But as he looked around, he could definitely see the appeal.
The soft green grass ran all the way to the edge of the small lake, broken only by the widely spaced trees and the almost unnoticed pathways that seemed to blend into, rather than divide, the area. Each apartment building had a small path leading to a bridge that spanned over the water to a small island in the center.
Jack knew that his apartment was the furthest south, being all the way on the back end of the complex. To get out he would have to drive back up to the office building and pass through the large wrought iron gates that shut the community off from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the city. He set out in that general direction, not really wanting to get anywhere, just enjoying the feeling of stretching his legs.
Looking around as he walked, he was startled to see that he was not alone. Everywhere he looked people were strolling lazily along the paths, some in groups of two and three, while others walked by themselves. It was an odd sight, especially for a time of morning when most people usually had to be at work. As he passed them whatever conversation they had been having would stop and they would all turn to look at him. Every one of them smiled politely, some even looking a little amused, but Jack couldn't shake the feeling that he was being watched like a hawk.
As Jack neared the lake he noticed the tiny island in the center of it. Around its edge there were five small benches, only two of which were occupied so he set out across the bridge to claim one. He was feeling the sudden need to get away; the stares of the people he had passed starting to disturb the calm sense of peace that he had felt when he started out.
Stepping onto the island, Jack moved to the nearest empty bench and sat down, and took a moment to calm himself. When he felt better, he glanced around at his surroundings. Across the way he saw two young, teenage girls talking to each other in excited whispers on the far bench. Every once and a while they would glance quickly in his direction, but then immediately they would go back to their hushed, giggling conversation. Jack just rolled his eyes and glanced over at the other occupants of the benches.
Sitting just to his left were two small children, a boy and a girl, probably no older than five or six. They were probably the only two people who he had met today that where totally ignoring him. They were both way too busy with the ever important task of skipping the smooth, flat stones that littered the edge of the island across the mirror-like surface of the lake. Jack had to smile. He was glad at least someone had a normal life.
He leaned back and closed his eyes. The breeze on the little island was refreshing, having cooled slightly as it traveled over the water before circling around his body. Riding on that breeze came a myriad of scents to fill his head. He could smell the cool clean water next to him; with it he could smell the enticing aroma of lilacs and cherry trees, as well as the heady scent of the grass and dirt beneath his feet. As he concentrated on the breeze, he felt the sense of calm and peace flood back into him.
He almost fell asleep sitting on the bench, but then something in his unconscious tingled and he realized that there was someone next to him, staring. Cracking his eyes open to slits, Jack looked over and right into a pair of intense, silvery eyes, staring at him from the other end of his bench.
"Whatcha doin'?" The boy asked in a sing-song voice.
Jack felt the corners of his mouth twitch. "Trying not to fly away." he said, sounding as serious as he could.
"Oh, yeah," Jack said gravely. "If I don’t hang on to this bench, Poof!" He shot his hands up to simulate taking off, then quickly grabbed back on to the stone bench, as if he was afraid to let go.
"Nu-uh," the boy looked at him suspiciously, his eyes as big around as saucers.
"It's true," said Jack, forcing down a chuckle and putting his most serious face on, "gone."
"Cool!" the boy suddenly beamed. "My mommy says I can't fly till I’m older," then his voice lowered down into a conspiratorial whisper, "but I can already."
Jack leaned in and nodded, fighting desperately to keep the grin he felt from showing on his face. He had no idea why kids flocked to him, but they always did. It was alright with him, he loved it. Something about their innocent outlook on everything. Adults could be so cynical about the world; but to a child, everything was all so simple. It was refreshing.
He had thought about having his own kids before, but it had just never seemed to be the right time. So when Kelly had proved to be less than enthusiastic about the idea, he hadn't pushed her. A little precognition on his part, he guessed.
"Wanna see?" asked the boy, his eyes looking back and forth secretively.
Uh-oh, Jack thought. He didn't want the kids’ imagination to get the better of him. He could just imagine the boy launching himself off of the bench, falling and hurting himself. Maybe little girls never did that sort of thing, but boys; well, Jack had one or two not so fond memories from his childhood that might have started something like this. Better not...
"Where's your mom?" Jack asked, looking around nervously for the boy’s benefit.
"Oh, yeah," said the boy, just remembering that he his mom was watching. He waved in the general direction of a group of adults standing on the other side of the bridge. "She's over there."
"Mmm," Jack said to him, "better not then. I don’t want you to get in trouble.”
"Yeah," the boy said, sounding unconvinced. In typical kid fashion though, he was crestfallen for about three seconds flat and then he looked up at Jack, eyes beaming again. "Wanna throw rocks?"
Jack laughed out loud. "Sure." he said, and watched the boy run to the edge of the water to look for a few good rocks.
Smiling to himself, Jack leaned back and looked around again. Across the lake, back towards his apartment building, a group of adults milled around. As he watched, the crowd parted and a woman passed thought the center. Her eyes were fixed on the path ahead of her as she stormed in his direction.
Jack couldn't help but stare. She was wearing a light sundress that flowed down her body and clung to every curve as she moved, her perfectly formed hips swaying from side to side, unconsciously seductive as she walked. The sheer dress dipped low enough in front for him, even at a distance, to catch tantalizing glimpses of her deep cleavage, and it ended a few inches above her knees giving him a peek at her flawless alabaster skin. It was obvious from the way her not too large breasts jiggled with every step that the single strap style of the dress did not allow for a bra.
Her long auburn hair was pulled tightly back behind her head in a pony tail that swung freely down her back, allowing him a good view of her face as she drew closer. Holy... Wow, was all he could think when he caught sight of her face clearly as she started over the bridge.
When Jack had met the Britt girl a few days prior, he had thought that she had possessed the single most beautiful face he had ever seen. But this woman had her beat hands down, only in a different way. Where Britt's exotically dark skin and almond eyes had virtually oozed sexuality and the promise of forbidden pleasure, this girl had a sweetly innocent beauty to her that Jack could not resist. Even with her brows knit together under the obvious cloud she had hanging over her head, his heart wanted to jump out of his chest at the sight of her. Not even knowing what had her upset, he had the strongest urge to jump up, run to her side and comfort her.
As she came to within a few steps of him her head suddenly came up and she caught sight of him. Instantly she stopped in her tracks, her intensely bright, steel-blue eyes widening in apparent shock.
"What are you doing here?"
Jack was taken aback by the cold metal in her voice. For a moment all he could do was stare into the deep pools of her eyes, at a loss for what to say.
"What are you doing here?" she repeated, louder this time, glaring down at him.
That brought Jack back to himself. Something in the tone of her voice put the steel back in his spine and he glared right back up at her.
"Well," he said, lacing his voice with sarcasm, "I'm pretty sure I was sitting down." He watched as her eyes flashed with angry lightning.
"And," he continued "the boy and I were planning on skipping rocks on the lake here in a minute, if it’s any of your business."
The woman shifted her intense gaze to the others on the little island. The two teenage girls were still sitting on the far bench, but there chatting had stopped and now they were staring with wide, astonished eyes at Jack. As she looked at them they immediately jumped to their feet and, dropping a small curtsy towards the woman, they hurriedly left using the far bridge.
Who the hell does this woman think she is? thought Jack.
"Ryan," she said, softening her voice a little with obvious effort, "Why don't you run and help you sister."
The boy was frozen in place, mouth hanging open and a small collection of stones still clutched in the little pocket he had made by folding up the corner of his shirt. He glanced fearfully back and forth between the two of them and then turned and ran across the bridge, stones making a trail behind him as he went.
When he was gone the woman whipped back around and, putting her finger right in his face, she hissed. "What are you thinking? You are not supposed to be here!"
Oh, that’s quite enough of that, thought Jack furiously as he drew himself off of the bench and towered over her. He had reached the end of his patience with this woman.
"I think," he growled, his voice rising with his anger, "that I pay rent here just like everyone else. So I think, that I'll go wherever I damn well please. Thank you very much."
For a long moment they faced each other. Impossibly she had somehow managed to draw herself up and gave the impression that she was glaring down her nose at him. It was definitely an impressive feat, given that he had at least eight inches on her. He could have sworn she wanted to stamp her foot at him, but instead she simply turned away from him abruptly and stormed off, leaving electric bolts of anger in her wake.
Jack closed his eyes for a moment and tried to calm himself. It wasn't often that he lost his temper, but she had hit a raw nerve he hadn't known he had inside of him. What the hell was her problem? He let out a long, slow breath. God, he hated it when he lost his control. He definitely should have handled that differently.
So much for a nice break, he thought glancing at her retreating form which, he noticed despite himself, still looked incredibly appealing. Shaking his head, he headed the opposite direction back to his apartment. All the people that had been out enjoying the day seemed to have disappeared.
When he was most of the way back to his apartment, a thought suddenly struck him and he whipped around and gazed back the way he had come. Idiot! That voice, the one he remembered coming from behind the big guy on his first day. That was Jennifer, he thought, suddenly putting the two voices together in his head.
Great, Jack, just great. Like you don’t have enough problems already.
Jack started back towards his apartment again, fuming. He did already have enough problems with his neighbor, now this. And to top it all off, when Jennifer had stormed away from him it looked like she was heading for the office. If she hadn't reported his part in the fight here the other day yet, she was probably on her way to do it now.
It didn't matter that he wasn't the one at fault for the fight. He was the new guy here, and he knew that the management was more likely to side with her, unless she had a history of problems. Landlords always liked it quiet, so they preferred to get rid of any possible trouble-makers as soon as they could.
Thinking furiously as he started up the stairs, Jack totally missed seeing the man in black barreling down the stairs until he had was already crashing into him. The man let out a small scream as he fell backwards, landing flat on his back against the concrete steps.
Cursing himself for not paying more attention, Jack looked down to apologize and was suddenly looking into the same steel-blue eyes that he had seen a few minutes earlier on the island. This time however, they were attached to an admittedly handsome man in his mid twenties. At least, Jack figured the guy would have been handsome, if his face had not been contorted with a look of rage and pain. He was dressed smartly in an expensive looking black silk three piece suit that seemed extremely out of place, considering the weather.
Worried that he might have really hurt the guy, Jack reached out to give him a hand up but the man just shrugged him off and jumped back to his feet, clutching one hand to his chest in pain. Mumbling to himself darkly he bolted away from Jack, quickly dashing down the stairs and was gone in a flash, disappearing around the corner. Jack was left standing on the stairs, staring after him with a dumbfounded look on his face.
What’s with these people? Jack thought, shaking his head. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if he did have to find a new place to live after all. With the exception of the kid on the island, Jack didn’t think he had met one normal person since he had signed the lease. He knew he really couldn't afford to move out; even if he could even find another vacancy in town, the cost of moving all his stuff and setting up again would drain him. Of course, at this point, he might not have a choice in the matter.
Turning, he headed back up the stairs to his apartment. When he reached the landing he pulled out his keys to unlock the door. He stopped, arm extended, when he noticed that it was standing slightly ajar. Confused, Jack looked around him. He could swear he remembered locking the door when he went out; in fact he was sure of it.
Every nerve in his body suddenly went on alert. At the same time though, he felt a strange calm descend over him that while familiar, seemed totally out of place here, so far removed from combat. He could feel the blood pumping faster through his body and his mind becoming unnaturally alert to everything going on around him as years of training and experience took over. Something was wrong here, he could feel it.
Wishing he had a weapon; something more than a set of keys anyway, Jack nudged open the door to his apartment, his body bracing for an attack. There was a calm, detached part of his brain that was picking up every small detail of his surroundings. Everything was examined and logged away for later use. He noticed quickly that there was no sign of forced entry on the door, and also there seemed to be a strange smell that tickled at the back of his mind, he wasn’t sure why. When the attack didn’t come, he moved slowly into the room looking around, still alert for any danger that might show itself.
When he was satisfied that no one was waiting for him in the well lit living room, Jack walked quickly to the kitchen and pulled a knife out of the block that sat on the counter. It wasn't much, but he felt better having something besides his bare hands.
Knife in hand, Jack quickly swept the apartment, leaving no corner or closet unchecked, but he couldn't find anything out of place. No attackers crouched behind the divider in his small shower, or under the bed, ready to spring out and grab him. By the time he had finished, Jack was starting to feel decidedly foolish.
He had known friends of his from the military who had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder when they had come back from deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan. The adrenaline pumping fear and paranoia that was necessary to keep them alive in combat suddenly refused to turn off, even when they had returned to normal life. They began to see things that weren't there, and even the most innocent of things could possibly set them off. Jack himself had never had to deal with it, always finding himself able to separate the different parts of his life. He could shut down that part of him when it wasn't needed. Though, he had always been afraid it would catch up to him eventually. Suddenly he started to wonder if he should be a little worried.
As he walked back into the kitchen however, he still couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn't quite right here. Everything appeared just as he left it, and nothing was out of place that he could see. He slid the knife back into the block on the counter, turned back to face the living-room, and that’s when he saw it. There, just under the lip of the small kitchen island where he hadn't noticed it the last time he came through, was the package that had come yesterday for Jennifer McCoy next door. He could see, even without bending down, that it had been torn open and it now lay empty on the floor.
Jack stepped over and picked up the tattered paper; he could still make out the odd, faded script on the top of it. It looked singed. The box itself hadn't just been opened; it had been ripped in half. Setting it down on the counter, Jack considered his options.
He had completely forgotten about the package in the process of setting up his apartment last night. It was an innocent mistake, but he didn't relish the thought of trying to explain that to her. Given their last two meetings, she would probably just assume that he had stolen whatever it was that had been in the package.
He could always just not tell anyone and pretend that he had never gotten any package for her. She would just assume it had been lost in the mail, or maybe stolen from the landing. She might suspect him, but she would have no proof. As it was, his real story didn't sound that good. Someone had broken into his apartment, and stole her mail without touching any of his stuff. No, not someone; the man in the black suit. Jack didn’t believe in coincidences, and his run in with that man put him top on the list of suspects.
Jack sighed heavily and walked back to his bedroom. He wasn't going to do that, for two reasons. The first one was that he just wasn't that type of guy. He sure as hell wasn't perfect, but he always tried to be honest and do the right thing, even when it would be easier to lie. It had gotten him in trouble before, but hey, you had to draw the line somewhere.
The second reason was that, while he was busy contemplating what to do, the logical, detached portion of his brain had finally solved a small mystery for him; the smell that still hung faintly in the air. It was no wonder that it had set off something in his mind when he had smelled it. It was a smell you never forgot, no matter how hard you tried. It was the smell of burnt flesh.
Something bad had happened here, and he was not going to hide it. Not just to save his apartment anyway. He needed to get some answers. Picking up his cell phone off the dresser, Jack flipped it open and dialed.
* * * * *
Jennifer McCoy felt a small, guilty sense of pleasure when she slammed the door to the front office hard enough to cause the pictures on the wall to shake and elicit a small eek of surprise from the terrified young girl who sat at the front desk. Well, Jennifer thought, not really a girl. In truth Ashley was a little older than she herself was, and they had been in many of the same classes together growing up. But as Jennifer's powers had grown, so had her station, while Ashley’s had hit their plateau early on. Ranking among the witches of her order was not based on age, not entirely anyway.
"High Priestess Jennifer," Ashley said in a surprised voice, bobbing her head respectfully. "What can I do for you today?"
"Please tell High Priestess Pamela that I am here as she requested." Jennifer said.
"Of course, please," she said placating, "make yourself comfortable."
Nodding shortly, Jennifer moved to one of the plush chairs lining the wall that Ashley had indicated and sat down. The door to Pamela Munion’s office was closed, so there was no telling how long she would have to wait.
Technically, as one of the five High Priestesses that made up the Governing Council of Witches here, she should have been on equal footing with Pamela. What should be and what was, however, didn’t always mesh up; especially when it came to Pamela Munion. The High Priestesses each had charge of one of the five houses in the Coven, each one taking their power from one of the five Guardian Elements. So as the High Priestess of Spirit, Pamela was naturally considered to be first among equals.
Add to that the fact that Jennifer, the newly appointed High Priestess of Fire, was the youngest person to hold her office in over seven hundred years, and it didn’t give her a lot of ground with the older woman. A fact which she thought Pamela had taken great advantage of in the months since Jennifer’s Raising. That, along with the fact that she had yet to anoint a High Priest for her house, she knew had become fodder for the gossipers all around the Coven.
Jennifer was still fuming from her encounter with Jack Gardener at the circle only a few minutes before. She had no idea how a single man could be so utterly…well, so utterly infuriating. She had nearly died with embarrassment when he had started to yell at her in front of the other members of the Coven. The gods knew they were all probably talking about it by now. She had heard from Britt that everyone was already speculating on who this new mundane really was and why he was here. No one knew anything about him. The talk would be exploding now that he had publicly berated a member of the Council.
Closing her eyes for a moment, Jennifer tried to calm down. If she was honest with herself, she could admit that it really hadn’t been his fault entirely. She probably could have handled the whole situation a little bit better than she had, as hard as it was for her to admit.
Jennifer had just been so shocked when she saw him standing there. But she knew there would have been no possible way for him to know – that is, if he was what he appeared to be – the weeks of hard work his single non-magical presence inside of the circle had probably ruined.
At any rate, Jennifer’s day had not started off well at all. It had been late into the night, after Britt had left her apartments, before the pain of the Backlash had faded from her completely, allowing her to finally rest. Even then, she had slept fitfully for a long while. Until dreams of fire, pain, and dully glowing, red eyes were slowly replaced by even stranger dreams.
In them she lay, unable to move as a stranger’s hands ran sensually over her body. She was never able to see the man’s face in her dreams, but she knew him from the many nights he had visited her before. His touch always excited her beyond belief and leaving her longing for more. Just like every other time though, she awoke alone, left only with the memory of his touch and a throbbing wetness between her legs. Afterwards she had finally fallen into a deep and dreamless sleep.
Upon awakening in the late morning sunlight that came through her bedroom window, she had immediately received the High Priestess of Spirit’s request for a meeting.
Request, Jennifer snorted to herself, more like a summons.
The door to Pamela’s office opened abruptly and the graying woman stuck her head out. Taking in the scene in front of her, she saw Jennifer sitting there, lost in thought and glowering at her hands as they rested in her lap, while Ashley sat cowering at her desk, dutifully trying to give the impression that she was hard at work while studiously pretending to ignore both women.
“Oh, do come in Jennifer and stop trying to scare the wits out of this poor girl,” Pamela said, and immediately turned and reentered the office, leaving the door standing open behind her.
Jennifer rose off of the seat as gracefully as she could and followed after the woman. As she entered she saw Ashley look up at her and flash a sympathetic look, before turning and going back to her work.
Pamela Munion’s office was a study in contradictions. On one hand she was extraordinarily neat, almost bordering on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; everything had its place and was neatly arranged within it. Not a scrap of trash or speck of dust could be found anywhere within the room. Jennifer was sure if she had been able to pull the massive filling cabinets back, she would find that Pamela had dusted there as well.
On the other hand, she was an avid collector of cats. Not the real kind, but small porcelain figurines. Without trying Jennifer could quickly make out at least thirty from where she stood, ranging in size from life-size kittens strategically placed on the floor and bookshelves, all the way down to thumbnail size figures that decorated her desk. Despite the cleanliness and neatness, the amount of figurines strewn about gave the entire office a cluttered feeling.
Pamela gestured to a chair on the other side of her desk and Jennifer moved to take a seat. She kept her face outwardly calm, but inside she was terrified. She had no idea why Pamela had called her here; the request she had sent had not mentioned a topic for this little meeting, but all Jennifer could think of was the spell that she had used on the marak two days prior.
That sort of magic was not allowed within her order. In fact, no order of Witches that Jennifer was aware of allowed the use of that kind of killing spell. Witches were by nature a passive people. One of their guiding tenants had been to do what you will, as long as you cause no harm. That had been the original philosophy anyway. It had changed over the years, as the world had changed, and evolved so the Witches could survive.
It would have been naïve and extremely foolish to stick to the letter of the law in today’s world, so gradually the Covenant of Witchcraft, which acted on behalf of all the Covens, had decided to slowly bend, if not actually break this rule. Still, the Covenant forbid the use of death magic by Witches, more for the fact that very few Witches were strong enough to handle it without falling victim to the Backlash. The Rule of Three still applied, so a witch always had to be willing to except the consequences of his or her actions. That and the fact that if the mundane governments ever realized that Witches controlled so much power, the fragile stand-off that had existed since after the Burning Times would crumble. The balance had to be maintained.
Jennifer waited as Pamela dug through some paperwork, tipping her spectacles down to the tip of her nose and making notations in her computer. The older woman’s platinum grey hair and wrinkled, motherly face crinkled as she frowned at her work. Not knowing whether she was actually working, or whether she just wanted her to sweat it out for a little bit, Jennifer kept her mouth shut.
She didn't want to interrupt Pamela if she was actually working. Though Jennifer wasn’t overly fond of the woman’s master-of-my-own-universe attitude, she in no way wanted to replace her. The High Priestess of Spirit was in charge of the day to day running of the entire Coven. With the help of an assistant – a required, rotating duty that was dreaded by all young witches – she ran all of the administration needs, as well as being the public face of the Coven. She dealt with everything from paying bills to running interference with the local mundane government. Jennifer had spent a short time in the assistant position. To this day, she still had nightmares about it.
“So, your brother stopped by today,” Pamela said, conversationally, not looking up from her paperwork.
Jennifer froze. “Step-brother,” she said, a hint of ice dropping into her voice and her face hardening at the mention of Jacob.
Sighing, Pamela leaned back in her chair, leaving her paperwork on the desk.
“Child,” she said softly, “you both have the same amount of your mother’s blood running through your veins. Despite what he has done, or what you may feel towards him, that will never change.” She paused and then continued lightly. “And don’t glare at me girl. High Priestess or not, I changed you swaddling clothes enough times to earn the right to call you whatever I want.”
Jennifer felt the heat creep through her face and she dropped her eyes, not able to keep the corners of her mouth from twitching up a little.
“Anyway,” she said, coming back to the original topic, “it would seem that Jacob has lost something of value to him: the Bracelet of Akasha. Though how he would have come by such a powerful amulet, or how in the world he could possibly hope to use it, I do not venture to guess.”
Jennifer had to work to keep her face studiously uninterested, her smile suddenly seeming painted on.
“I wouldn’t deign to repeat his exact words in polite company, but he seemed to be of the opinion that you were now in possession of it.” Pamela said.
Jennifer concentrated on keeping her voice bland and uninterested as she replied. “What Jacob believes, doesn’t really interest me. I can honestly say I’ve never seen this Bracelet he’s talking about, and if someone stole it from him, he may want to check with the person he stole it from. They probably wanted it back.”
Pamela gazed suspiciously at Jennifer for a moment, but when she continued, her voice was light and unconcerned. “Of course, I told him that you would never be so stupid as to play around with such a dangerous and powerful Spirit amulet like the Bracelet of Akasha. That’s old magic, from a thousand years before the Covenant.” She gave Jennifer one last piercing look and said, “Some things are better off remaining forgotten.”
“Now,” Pamela said with finality, leaning forward and looking at her computer, “that wasn't the main reason I asked you here today.” Jennifer felt herself tense again. “Have you met our new resident yet?”
Jennifer was actually surprised to feel the blush that colored her face; luckily though, Pamela was too busy making new notations on her computer to catch it. She had to clear her throat softly before she could continue.
“Uh, only in passing,” she said, taking deep breaths to try and cool the skin on her face.
“Yes, well, it looks like Mr. Gardener will be staying with us for the time being.”
Jennifer sat up a little, her interest peeked despite herself, “But, how…” she asked.
“I honestly don’t know,” Pamela said, looking up from her paperwork. “Every once and a while a particularly stubborn or dense mundane will make it through the wards we have set up. Normally when that happens, I just run through a set of motions that they expect. Like calling for approval or something, and then tell them that we have no openings, or that they aren’t approved, what have you,” she paused for a moment, suddenly looking uncharacteristically surprised. “When I came into the office this time to pretend to call for approval, I had a message waiting for me from none other than the Chairman of the Council of the Elected himself, ordering me to let him stay. Ordering, not asking.”
Jennifer was shocked, “Morgaine told you to let him stay?”
“Yes,” said Pamela, continuing, “Which is why I asked you here.”
Jennifer just looked at the older woman, confused.
“As you know, there was only one place available to put him.”
Yeah, thought Jennifer, Jacob’s old apartments. He definitely won’t need them anymore.
“I don’t know what that old vamp Morgaine is up to now Jennifer, so I need you to keep an eye on the mundane until we can figure this all out.” The older woman looked at her sympathetically. “I hate to throw him into your lap like this, but since he’s in your house for the time being, you’ll have to make sure he stays out of trouble.”
“I understand,” Jennifer said, feeling a strange mixture of relief and trepidation.
Just then the phone that sat on the corner of Pamela’s desk rang. Both women stared at it. Witches had more efficient means of communicating with each other, so they rarely ever used the telephone. Jennifer herself had never even owned one. If this one was in Pamela’s office, it must have been for the times she had to communicate with the outside world.
When Pamela answered the phone, Jennifer found herself trying to listen in on the conversation, but she could hear none of what was being said on the other side, and after the older woman had answered it she simply listened as the caller spoke.
The conversation stretched out for a few minutes and then Jennifer heard Pamela say, “Very well…yes, of course, send them by… Do have your men stop by the office before they go down… Yes, thank you. Goodbye.”
Pamela hung up the phone and stared at it for a few moments, looking thoughtful. Then she stood up and began to straighten out her desk.
Not looking at Jennifer she said, “That was the local Chief of Police; he called to give us a heads up. Apparently, our newest resident has phoned for assistance.” She looked up, “It seems that someone has broken into his apartment.”
“W-what?” Jennifer almost shouted.
“Hm, yes. Well it appears that our lives will most definitely not be boring with Mr. Gardner around.” She smiled faintly and went back to her work. “I must remain here to let the police know what is expected of them. I trust you can handle things without my help.”
Hearing the dismissal, Jennifer nodded; it wasn't a question. She rose and walked out forcing herself not to break into a run as she left the office and headed back across the field.
* * * * *
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