Aurrora St. James

Romance is just the beginning...

 
Now available on Amazon!

The fierce and seductive Gregore Trenowyth—one of three men cursed by Gypsy magic—is driven by desire for the one woman who could be his salvation, but who he dare not let himself love…

A man in need of redemption...

Once falsely accused of his lover’s murder, Gregore knows when he is going to die, and he has spent decades searching for a way to break the curse that hardens his body to stone.  When a painful twist of fate lands the counter-curse in his hands then snatches it away just days before he turns to stone forever, Gregore’s desperation reaches newfound heights.  He’ll do anything to live—even if it means kidnapping the one woman who could steal his heart.

The Sweetest Redemption...

Although she comes from a long lineage of powerful women, Detective Tara O’Reilly is wonderfully content with her normal life.  The remnants of her Gypsy heritage and magic are firmly locked away where they can’t hurt anyone.  However, when a creature straight out of legend kidnaps her and asks for her help, she’ll have to choose between walking away from a man who stirs her soul and embracing a magic that could kill everyone she loves.

Set in Stone
 

PROLOGUE

February

England 1863

 

“And for his crimes against our family, I demand blood for blood,” Ranulf shouted, rousing the crowd to violence with his damning words. His damning evidence.


Blood for blood.


Bloodforblood. Bloodforblood. Bloodforblood.


The words swirled in Gregore Trenowyth’s head, dancing around like the shadows cast by the bonfire. He knelt on the cold, hard-packed earth of the forest clearing, drenched in the blood of his beloved Zola, and stared at the flames. Around him the Gypsies called for his death; swift or slow didn’t matter so much as brutal. He would suffer.


Was it no less than he deserved? He had failed to protect the one he loved. Her lifeless body lay before him, staring at the night sky and stars she had adored. His chest constricted in pain unlike anything he’d felt before. The loss was already crippling. But the night was not over.

A hush fell over the gathered crowd as if sensing his thoughts. He reluctantly dragged his eyes from the flickering flames, barely able to care for what came next. Colorful, dirty men and women with tanned skin and hate in their eyes formed a circle around the fire. Beside him, he felt the reassuring presence of Thomas and Jeffrey, his two best friends. Gregore would throw himself at the mercy of this troupe in order to spare their lives. They were innocent in this. Only he was to blame for the murder of Zola.


The crowd parted for an ancient woman of indeterminable age. Her skin was wrinkled, her hair white and flowing freely about her shoulders. Black eyes locked on him in malice. Two men grabbed Gregore from behind, holding him fast.


“Blood for blood,” one whispered, though a tremor ran through him when the old woman’s gaze transferred from Gregore to him.


Dear God in heaven, if her own men were afraid, what did that say for this woman? Her hateful vehemence hit him full force, leaving little doubt as to whom she was. Zola’s grandmother. Even Zola had feared her. People whispered she dealt in dark magic. Not simple potions or card tricks, but true commune with evil. Gregore’s heart clenched in fear. He took a deep breath and forced himself to remain calm. He would die this night, but Thomas and Jeffrey did not have to.


Gregore bowed his head to the woman. “Madame, I beg you for—”


“Silence!” She thrust her hand forward, closing it into a tight fist before his face. Suddenly his air cut off. His lungs closed and though he opened his mouth and nose, no air would come into this body. He gasped and sucked to no avail, panic taking over.


The woman looked to Zola, lying dead at his feet. His hunting knife lay on the ground beside her, coated in her blood. She transferred that dark gaze away to Ranulf.


“Blood for blood? No. That is too easy a death for three such as these. Bring me my book.” Someone hurried off to grab it.


Gregore’s vision receded, blackness closing over the scene before him.


“You’ll not go that quick, English.” Her rusty voice scraped across his nerves, seeming to finally, blessedly release the air to his starved lungs. He sucked in hard, coughing and hunching over in the grip of the two men.


His vision cleared. Clouds had thickened above, darkening the clearing and threatening a fierce storm. The bonfire illuminated the witch’s face, casting her sharp features into maniacal twists of malice.


“Please,” he tried again.


Ugly laughter cut him off. “Do not bother to beg for your life or that of your friends.” She came to him then, and he was assaulted by the smell of sulfur that seemed to spill from her pores. He struggled to get away, but his hands were bound behind him.


She accepted a leather-bound book from a young boy and stepped over the body of her granddaughter as if it were a rotten log. Stretching gnarled fingers out, she gripped his dark hair and wrenched his head backward, forcing his gaze to meet hers.


“You believe you loved her English? You know nothing of love.” She spat on his face. Gregore cringed but made no sound. “Your heart is stone, just as you shall be.” She released him and turned the pages of the book, her smile cold as ice. “You will suffer for your evil deeds. Not just this night, but every night. Blood for blood? Nay. A life for a life!”


Gregore closed his eyes and prayed for forgiveness. From his friends, his father, and Zola. Prayed his father had made an easy crossing to heaven this night. His heart bled for the loss of those he had loved most. And for the loss of his life that would come.


The wind picked up, blowing so fierce it sent a shock of fear through the Gypsy tribe. Several cried out and staggered back. The wind lifted the woman’s hair in a wild white cloud. Lightning streaked the sky, followed by thunder that rocked the earth beneath them. More screams followed but not from the old witch. Her wrath seemed to fuel the storm. She opened her mouth, speaking a chant. Gregore stared at her mouth and the rotting teeth within, barely hearing her words in the storm.


She slammed the book closed in time with another peal of thunder and laughed as her people ran for shelter. Rain slammed the ground like daggers, but he felt none of it. It was as if his skin were made of stone. He couldn’t move.


She did.


Kneeling before him, she smiled as if satisfied with her work. “You will live long with your regrets, English. May the suffering of your soul taunt you for the remaining time you have on this earth. I condemn you to half a life, just as you have condemned me. To live without my Zola.”


“Wait,” Thomas cried out. “He cannot live like this. Not forever. He is innocent.”


“No English is innocent,” she growled. “You fear us, call us thieves and murderers when it is you who kill us. But fear not. I am not without mercy.” She looked back to Gregore. “You have one hundred fifty years, English. Think you can break the spell in that time?” Her laughter grated his skin, curling like hate in his heart.


He still could not move, not even his eyelids. He could only listen to the cries of his friends as they suffered under the fury of the Gypsy witch and think about his actions. It was the worst birthday of his life. And if the old woman were to be believed, one of a very many to come.



CHAPTER ONE

 

February—Present Day

Seattle, Washington

 

Tara O’Reilly pulled open the door to the Mystical Moon Coffee Shop and stopped to stare.


“Interesting,” her partner, Carson Holt, said as he dusted the chilly rain off his jacket and pushed past her, heading for the barista.


“Doesn’t quite sum it up,” Tara replied as she looked around. “Wow.” Dim lights overhead illuminated the cheap plastic, glow-in-the-dark stars that decorated the ceiling, and paper mache moons of every shape and size covered blue walls. A black floor gleamed with a spiraling galaxy and enough glitter to supply a kindergarten class for a year, while classical music played in low, soothing tones. Somehow the coffeehouse managed to walk that thin line between soothing and horrifying.


Carson wanted to give this place a try, hoping to find a cheaper cup of brew than the local mega coffee shop. Not to mention it was an unusual, out-of-the-way spot to meet their contact. Tara relented, knowing that with all the syrup he had in his coffee, he couldn’t taste the brew anyhow. Coffee was coffee. If it helped open her eyes, she was happy. And this coffee smelled heavenly. The scent of fresh-baked bread and pastries called her through the dark room like a magnet. She navigated her way over to Carson to order.


“Already got ya, partner,” Carson said, winking at the barista. His voice rose to a frightening imitation of a woman. “Coffee. Black. Nothing fancy here.”


The sorority girl behind the counter giggled and actually batted her eyes at Carson. She leaned forward, nearly falling out of the too-tight sweater she wore. He smiled, cocked his hip against the counter, and struck up a conversation.


“Casanova strikes again,” Tara muttered as she grabbed a coffee cup and filled it to the rim. She took a sip and let it warm her. Not bad. Certainly not a burnt flavor like other places they had tried. She sipped more coffee and scanned the shop. A few students sat in the stuffed chairs scattered around, listening to music and reading or working on their computers. An elderly Asian man sat by the window with his coffee cup. Ordinary traffic for a late Tuesday afternoon in the middle of winter.


Carson’s low chuckle reverberated through the room. Tara rolled her eyes and walked away. She stretched her jaw, feeling the muscles tense all the way to her shoulders. Carson’s love life got under her skin. While he insisted the women he chased knew the stakes, it was the different face every day that drove her nuts. She’d asked him once if he’d ever wanted to settle down with just one woman.


“There’s a lot of fish in this sea, partner,” he’d replied. “I intend to try as many as I can.”


Tara shook her head. She shouldn’t let it bother her. But lately it ground on her nerves, though she couldn’t say why. Carson’s life was his own. She certainly had no interest in him. His blond spiked hair and casual surfer looks never really appealed. She didn’t even envy him.


Liar, her inner voice whispered. After their shift she would go home alone. And Carson would likely come back here for a bit of company. How long had it been since she’d had a date?


Tara blinked as if slapped by the thought. Was it a full moon? Why was she thinking about dating? She was happy. Happy and too busy with work to play games with men. She forced her thoughts back to their objective. Dates…ha!


“Care for a reading, love?” a soft voice said from behind her.


Tara started and turned to find the female voice that had spoken. Burgundy drapes sectioned off a corner of the room she hadn’t noticed before. Though in reality, she had probably been blinded by the glitter. Directly above the woman, a plaque read “Louisa, Mistress of Tarot.” Louisa was a plump brunette with dark eyes, long curling hair, and a wealth of silver bracelets decorating each arm. She smiled, keeping eye contact, as she laid out her cards.


Tara forced a smile. “Thanks. I’ll pass.”


“Ah, come on, O’Reilly. Where’s your sense of adventure? Let the lady read your cards.” Carson appeared at her elbow, waggling his eyebrows.

The woman watched the two with wise eyes, gently laying each card out into a complicated cross.


Tara shook her head. She wouldn’t be bullied into this. Besides, they were technically here on police business.


“Stuff it, Carson. I don’t need a psychic for this case. Aside from the coffee, we’re here to see Mr. Hiroshi, remember?”


“Relax, Shamus, I’ve got that. You just see the pretty lady about that unknown future of yours. Make sure to ask her when you’ll meet tall, dark, and dreamy. Besides, we might need her later. You know that psychics and detective partnerships are on the rise. Two months time and you might not even need me anymore.”


Tara scowled at him. The last thing she needed was Carson reading her mind about dating. “I only put up with you because you’re assigned to me. You know that, right?”


Carson laughed. He knew her better than that.


Tara sighed and turned to decline the woman’s offer.


The woman pointed to a card. “You’re looking for something here. But you won’t find it. Your path lies elsewhere. I can help you if you are open.”


Of all the tricks to get her business…Damn it. Tara glanced back to see Carson talking with the white-haired Asian gentleman who sat by the window. If she interrupted, it could appear that the police were ganging up on the informant. She’d do best to stand aside and blend in.


“Okay,” she said before she could change her mind. She took a seat at the psychic’s table. “I’m game. Tell me what path I’m supposed to be on then. Enlightenment? World peace?”


The woman smiled. “You don’t believe in the cards.”


Tara shifted uncomfortably in her wooden chair and took a sip of her coffee to cover her expression. “I choose not to believe.”


Louisa cocked her head, studying Tara as she collected the cards and shuffled.


Tara avoided the scrutiny. Carson and the Asian were talking, using their hands as well. Each looked confused. Tara grinned. It seemed only fair that Carson would also get the short straw, if she had to be tortured like this. Turning back to Louisa, she found the woman relaxed but focused as she shuffled. On the table lay a single card, a woman on a throne holding a sword.


Louisa leaned forward to capture Tara’s attention with her dark, soulful eyes. She held the cards out. “Take the deck. Share your energy with it.”


Tara eyed the cards and licked her lips. Just simple paper. There was nothing to fear. Squaring her shoulders, she took hold of the deck.

Almost immediately, her vision flickered. Wavered. A shadow passed over her head, like a giant bird. Tara straightened in the chair and blinked a few times, ruthlessly shoving the images away. Oh yes, she’d had her cards read before. And just like now, the visions always came. Last time…no, she wouldn’t think about that. She leveled her glare on Louisa, who didn’t seem to notice.


“Focus on your question while you shuffle. When you are ready, cut the deck into thirds using your left hand.”


“What are the lotto numbers this week?” Tara quipped. At the teller’s frown, she reluctantly focused on the silly question and did as she was told. She cut the deck, then put it back together in the way that felt right and waited.


Louisa laid the cards out in the shape of the cross. She took her time studying each picture as it appeared before her. Finally her eyes flicked up to meet Tara’s. “Your past was troubled. You have lost those who—”


“Just the future, please,” Tara said, shifting in her chair again.


Louisa regarded her, then nodded and studied the cards. “A stranger will come to you for help.”


Tara snorted. “That’s the nature of my job. I’m a detective. All kinds of strangers come to me for help.”


Louisa smiled patiently. “This is not just any man. With him comes danger and here, you see uncertainty.” She pointed to a card that was unmistakable. Death. “This man brings change to your life. Or transformation.”


Tara shivered involuntarily. She didn’t believe in this stuff, she reminded herself. She was a detective. Strangers, danger, and change came with the job. It was a part of life and she was comfortable with it.


“Tell me something I don’t know.” She meant it sarcastically, yet somehow it came out as a plea. Definitely a full moon.

Louisa smiled in a way that said she both pitied Tara and knew something she didn’t. She tapped a long red nail on the next card.

Tara groaned. The lovers.


“You will find this man attractive,” Louisa said as she studied the lovers standing nude beneath the angel. “Your association with him will expose your secrets…and his. But danger lurks with this man.” The final card was an upside-down angel with two cups in hand. “It is my warning to you.”