Heavy pounding on a wooden door woke Ronan O’Mara from a sound sleep. He struggled to open his eyes. It felt like they were glued shut. Throwing his legs over the side of the bed, he was surprised when they encountered what felt like hard-packed dirt rather than the soft throw rug that sat at the side of his king-sized bed.
Finally prying his gummy eyes open, Ronan quickly realized he wasn’t in his plush bed in his row house in Salem, Massachusetts. He was in some kind of a cabin.
Hovel might be a better way to describe his current lodgings. A homemade quilt was lying on what felt like a horsehair mattress. Looking down at the floor, he saw that his bare feet were indeed sitting on top of a dirt floor. The small room was lit by the embers of a dying fire.
The pounding on the door continued. “Ronan! We know you bide here!” a deep voice shouted.
“I’m coming!” Ronan called back. Thankfully, the voice sounded familiar. Nothing else here was, that was for sure. Grimacing as he walked over the dirt floor, Ronan grabbed the handle to the cabin door and gave it a jerk to open it. Standing on the other side with a flaming torch in his hand was his boss, Captain Kevin Fitzgibbon. “What the hell is going on, Cap?” Ronan could hear the confusion in his own tone.
“You must come now. It is time,” Kevin said simply.
“Come where?” Ronan looked past Fitzgibbon to see a full moon high in the sky. “It’s the middle of the night.
“We do not have time to converse. Dress quickly,” Fitzgibbon commanded.
Looking down at himself, Ronan saw that he was wearing some kind of long white nightshirt that reached his ankles. What the hell was going on here? “Fine.”
Shutting the door in Kevin’s face, he went back inside the cabin. Did he even have clothes here? Wherever here was. He walked to the small table positioned near the fireplace and saw pants and a shirt hung over the back of chair. “Guess these belong to me.”
The fabric was rough against his fingers, not what he was used to wearing at all, but there was nothing for it. He slipped into the shirt and pants, even found a pair of socks which were more like hose, and a pair of shoes that reminded him of what the pilgrims wore when disembarking from the Mayflower. “What the hell is going on here?”
Ronan supposed, for the second time, that there was nothing for it. Fitzgibbon was waiting for him outside with a torch. A torch! The man didn’t look like he was in the mood to be trifled with either. He put on the pilgrim shoes and headed out the door.
“Where are we going?” he asked as Fitzgibbon started leading them toward the woods.
“You know where we are going. Silence!” Fitzgibbon ordered.
Not liking his friend and boss’s tone one bit, Ronan obeyed. Things were crazy enough at the moment without further alienating the one person in this strange place that was familiar.
Speaking of familiar, where the hell was Tennyson? It was on the tip of Ronan’s tongue to ask, but with the mood Fitzgibbon was in, he figured it would be best if he shut up and waited to see how this played out.
As they continued to walk through the woods, Ronan could smell fresh rain and decay of the forest floor. The scent of woodsmoke caught his attention, setting him on high alert.
“Kevin, where are we going?” Ronan grabbed his robed arm and pulled the bigger man to a stop.
“See for yourself.” Fitzgibbon pointed ahead to a clearing.
Ronan stepped past him and saw a towering bonfire in the center of a clearing in the middle of the forest. There appeared to be a man tied to a post in front of the roaring flames.
“Jesus Christ! Why are you just standing here? We have to help that person.” Ronan took a step forward, intending to run to the man tied to the pole when Kevin grabbed his elbow in a vice-like grip. “You wish to bring more trouble down upon yourself, I see.”
“What?” Ronan didn’t understand. “There’s someone tied to a pole in front of an inferno. It’s up to us to save him.”
Fitzgibbon wore a curious look on his face. “We have been through this Ronan, either give evidence against the Witch Grimm or we fashion a noose at dawn for you as well. Choose now. The time is upon us.”
The Witch Grimm? Oh, sweet Jesus... It hit Ronan all at once where he was and what was going on. The reason his shoes reminded him of something the pilgrims wore was because, unless he missed his guess, they only landed in the New World seventy-two years ago. Ronan had a feeling if he asked Fitzgibbon what year it was, after giving him yet another puzzled look, Kevin would tell him it was 1692.
“We go.” Fitzgibbon grabbed his arm and began dragging him toward the raging fire.
Ronan could feel the heat of the flames against his face. As he got closer, Tennyson came into view. He was wearing a dark robe. The look on his face was unreadable until he caught sight of Ronan. Recognition lit in his dark eyes.
Ronan wanted to call out to his husband. He wanted to break free from Fitzgibbon’s iron grip, but in the time that it had taken them to walk from the edge of the forest to where Ten was being held something else had taken over Ronan. It was an emotion he wasn’t used to feeling, stone-cold fear.
He didn’t know what this was, a dream, visitation, vision, but whatever it was, it was real. There was nothing dream-like about this situation. There were no fairies dancing around the fire. No buff naked men were offering to take him to bed. He wasn’t giving the winning answer on Final Jeopardy. This was happening. This was real.
Fitzgibbon marched Ronan to where a group of similarly robed people were standing a distance from Tennyson.
“It is about time, Brother Fitzgibbon,” a man Ronan did not recognize said.
“Brother O’Mara was not ready when I arrived, Preacher Black.” Fitzgibbon shot Ronan an angry look.
“It is of no consequence. Your lateness merely bought the witch a few more minutes of life upon this earth.” The preacher wore a look of satisfaction.
A few more minutes of life? Ronan felt his stomach lurch. He sucked in a deep breath. The last thing he wanted to do was start throwing up.
“Are you prepared to give your evidence against the Witch Grimm?” Preacher Black asked.
Ronan blinked a few times against the bright light of the fire. Why did that name sound so familiar? Who the hell was Preacher Black? He opened his mouth to buy some time when the answer came to him. Gideon Black.
Ronan and Tennyson had helped out friends of theirs, Niall Gallagher and Tobin Woods, with a haunting a few months back. Through them, they’d met the spirit of Mariah Goode, one of the victims of the Salem Witch Trials. Preacher Gideon Black was the man who’d pronounced sentence against her.
Now, it seemed he was asking Ronan to give evidence against Tennyson.
“The man asked you a question.” Fitzgibbon gave him a shove from behind.
Meeting Tennyson’s eyes across the expanse separating them, Ronan didn’t know what to do. There was acceptance and love in Tennyson’s dark eyes. His mind flashed back to an impossible scene. Tennyson was standing in front of the fireplace in the cabin begging Ronan to save himself if Black arrested him. Tears were flowing from his eyes as he told Ronan they’d be reunited one day.
“Yes,” Ronan said, his voice weak. “I am here to give testimony against the Witch Grimm.”
The hooded figures, who until this moment had their backs to him, turned. Ronan could see their faces now. Carson, Truman, Cassie, Cole, Greeley, and Jude were staring at him, their faces expressionless.
“Do you accuse him as a witch?” Preacher Black asked. His blue eyes blazed with glee.
“I do.” With those simple words, Ronan knew he’d sealed Tennyson’s fate.
“I commit Tennyson Grimm, a known witch, to the flames!” Gideon Black proclaimed.
The last thing Ronan heard before the blackness took him was Tennyson screaming.
“Tennyson! Ten, no! NO!” Ronan shouted, twisting and turning.
“Ronan!” Tennyson shook his shoulder. “Ronan! Wake up!”
“Ten?” Ronan sat bolt upright in bed. He reached for Tennyson who was still holding on to his right shoulder.
“I’m here. Are you okay?” Ten sounded terrified.
Was he okay? Reaching over to turn on the light, Ronan was relieved to see he was lying in his king-sized bed in his and Tennyson’s Salem townhouse. Gone was the 1692 bonfire, although Ronan would swear he could still smell woodsmoke, somehow. “Yeah, I’m okay. It was just a bad dream.”
“What happened?” Ten asked, still sounding a bit shaken.
“We ran out of lube!” Ronan kissed the side of Ten’s head and bounced out of bed on his way to the bathroom. Even now, wide awake and back in the present, the dream was too raw to talk about. He was afraid that if he told Tennyson what happened, it would somehow still have power over him. Which was ridiculous, wasn’t it?
Hours later, Ronan still felt like the nightmare had its claws sunk into him. Tennyson had fallen easily back to sleep after Ronan had come back to bed, but Ronan had been awake for the rest of the night, staring up at the ceiling, going over and over the dream in his mind.
Now, he was standing in the kitchen of their Salem, Massachusetts home with a cup of coffee in his hand watching Dixie, their Papillon puppy, do her business in the rain. Tennyson was out grocery shopping without him.
After his and Tennyson’s encounter at the fledgling Black Cat Inn out on Witch Hill Road with some of the victims of the Salem Witch Trials, back in March, it wasn’t any surprise to Ronan that he had a dream like the one he’d had last night. Somehow, though, while he’d been stuck in the grips of the nightmare, it hadn’t felt like any other dream he’d had. There was none of the usual confusion or totally impossible scenarios of his regular dreams. Not to mention the fact that he remembered every detail as if he’d lived them.
Ordinarily, Ronan dreamed about fucking Chris Hemsworth. Hard. While the God of Thunder urged him on and called him dirty names. When Ronan woke up from those kinds of dreams he only remembered them in snatches and knew, to his deep regret, that he hadn’t lived one moment of those crazy interludes.
This bonfire/witch hunt dream was something else entirely. From his time with Tennyson, Ronan knew that what he’d seen last night could have been a vision. Carson Craig, Tennyson’s best friend and partner at West Side Magick, the psychic shop where they worked, never had his first vision until a few years ago. Was it possible he was coming into psychic powers of his own?
“Fuck me blue,” Ronan muttered under his breath. He’d been there to witness the struggles first-hand that Tennyson, Carson, and his brother, Cole, went through dealing with their gifts of sixth sense. He hoped to fuck last night wasn’t his induction into the psychic friends network.
“Can you hear me, Bertha?” Ronan called out to Carson and Cole’s deceased mother. “Is that what this is? Am I getting superpowers too?”
Bertha Craig had passed away three years ago after a brave battle with breast cancer. She was Tennyson’s mentor and helped out from time to time on the cold cases Ronan and Tennyson worked on for the Boston Police Department. Bertha was also slightly obsessed with Ronan’s ass.
Unfortunately for Ronan, if Bertha was answering his question about becoming one of the cool psychic kids, he couldn’t hear her. So, that meant, for the moment anyway, that he wasn’t adding mediumship to his bag of tricks.
Ronan supposed he could rule out what happened last night as being a visitation. Usually, a visitation was a spirit’s way of communicating with someone in the physical world. Since everyone in his dream, with the exception of Preacher Gideon Black, was still alive, Ronan felt pretty safe ruling this option out. Black didn’t seem to want to speak to Ronan. He was more intent on playing his role as judge, jury, and executioner in the perverse drama.
His attention shifted back to Dixie, who had just scampered back up the deck steps and was daintily shaking off each paw. His little pixie was definitely not a fan of going out to do her business in the muddy backyard. Ronan opened the door for her, scooping her up in a clean towel. “Hello, my little love.”
Dixie barked but let Ronan rub her down with the soft towel. He set her down on the kitchen table, dropping into one of the chairs. “What should Daddy do, hmm?”
The dog tilted her head to the side before barking sharply.
“Oh, you think I should talk to Other Daddy about the dream, huh? I was gonna talk to Uncle Carson and ask him if last night was a vision.” Saying it out loud to the dog, Ronan could hear that the idea sucked.
Barking sharply again, Dixie started licking Ronan’s face.
Under the circumstances, Ronan would take that as a vote for not talking to Uncle Carson.
Now all he needed was a way to bring up the dream to Tennyson and explain to his husband that he’d lied to him. Piece of cake, right?
Psychic Tennyson Grimm loved grocery shopping by himself. Still a few weeks away from Memorial Day Weekend and its influx of summer tourists, the aisles of the Salem Market Basket were relatively quiet for a Saturday morning. Tennyson assumed it had to do with the rain. Most people were probably sleeping in.
Ten would have liked being one of those lucky bastards doing that very thing, but he didn’t tend to sleep very well next to his lying dumbass of a husband.
“Now, Tenny, that’s no way to talk about my favorite boy-toy,” Bertha Craig said from in front of the Lucky Charms. She folded her arms over her chest and raised an eyebrow at him.
Raising an eyebrow right back, Ten stepped around her and grabbed a box of Cheerios. “He lied right to my face, Bertha,” he muttered low enough so that none of the nearby shoppers would hear the crazy psychic talking to himself. Again.
“That dream must have scared the hell out of him if he lied to you about it,” Bertha remarked casually.
“Scared him? What the hell are you talking about?” Ten hadn’t considered what Bertha was saying at all. He just figured Ronan was being a dumbass. Again.
“He’s told you all about fucking Chris Hemsworth. Lordy, the things I’d do to that poor boy if I got my hands on him.” Bertha shook her head, her eyes losing focus.
“But you digress?” Ten prodded, his lips barely moving as he spoke.
“Yes!” Bertha crowed. “Tennyson, he tells you about the dirty ways he manhandles Thor’s hammer and the ways he wins Final Jeopardy in a landslide. If he’s spilling the beans about dreams like that, this one had to be a doozy for him to keep it to himself. Plus, I might have a little inside intel…” She offered Ten a bit of a smirk.
Inside intel? What the hell was this? A C.I.A. briefing? “Spill it, old lady.” Ten grabbed a canister of Quaker Instant Oats and pretended to read the box.
“I was spending a little quality time with your shirtless hubby this morning hoping that since you were gone he might use that quality alone time to spank the monkey.”
“Jesus Christ save me from your horny dead woman hormones!” Ten angry-whispered.
“Well, it’s a good thing for you that I was there perving on your man. I never took you for such a prude, Tenny! And don’t say it’s because you grew up a repressed midwestern Baptist. Some of the horniest men I knew were midwestern Baptists. Good times…” Bertha sighed like teenage fangirl.
“Focus, Hot Pants. Why was it a good thing that you were there perving on Ronan and Mary Palm?” Ten felt the irresistible urge to giggle, right there in the cereal aisle. Mothers with screaming toddlers were pushing their carts past him reaching for boxes of Cheerios, while their little terrors grabbed for everything in sight with their sticky little mitts. His little miss was sure as shit not going to be a supermarket terror with grubby hands.
“Of course not, Tennyson.” Bertha rolled her blue eyes. “Your child will be the only perfect angel in recorded history with impeccable grocery store manners. ‘Father, may I please have every item in the store. I realize it’s horribly out of our household budget, but be a dear and load up the carriage, posthaste. There’s a love.’ Oh, please. She’ll be a horrible brat just like all those other snot-nosed goobers.” Bertha cackled.
Tennyson pinched the bridge of his nose. “For the love of Teddy Roosevelt’s moustache, woman, why the hell was it good that you were perving on my half-naked husband this morning?” he shouted, his patience at the breaking point.
Everyone in the cereal aisle stopped to stare at him screaming at no one. A young mother turned her shopping buggy around and left, while a young man with bloodshot eyes slapped a hand down on Tennyson’s shoulder. “Let go and let God, man.” He pulled a rumpled business card out of his pocket. “Next AA meeting is at 2pm over on Essex Street. Hope to see you there.”
Tennyson nodded at the complete stranger. He could hear Bertha laughing her ass off. Grabbing the handle of his cart, he wheeled it past her. She was bent double, her face beet-red, laughing so hard that she would have been peeing her pants if she were still alive. “You know what? I don’t care what your inside intel is. I’ll just go home and ask my husband what happened last night.”
“He thinks he had a vision,” Bertha managed between fits of the giggles.
That stopped Tennyson dead in his tracks. A vision? Why the hell would Ronan have thought he’d had a vision?
“I had a feeling that would grab your attention.” Bertha grinned wickedly. “He thought about going to Carson about this, but after a soul-searching conversation with Dixie, he decided to discuss the matter with you.”
“My husband decided to come to me with this dream situation after an in-depth discussion with our dog?” Tennyson wasn’t exactly sure he wasn’t the one dreaming at the moment. He was half expecting to wake up any moment now with Huge Jackman nudging the crack of his naked ass. He and Ronan were going to have a good laugh about this after his husband was done fucking him into the mattress.
“You’re not dreaming, Tennyson. Although I would like to meet Huge Jackman…” Bertha’s eyes went wide and she shook her head as if she were mentally trying to get back in the game.
“Check, please,” Ten muttered. He still had half of his grocery list to get through, but all he could think about was getting home to Ronan. To talk about the dream, not to interview Huge Jackman on his knees.
Bertha had made a good point. Ronan had never been shy in the past in telling him about his wild and crazy nocturnal adventures. Why would last night be the dream to change things? Ronan being afraid of what he’d seen or done would be a good reason for keeping what happened to himself. It might not have been that he didn’t want to share what happened with Ten, but more along the lines of Ronan needing to sort out what happened and why for himself before telling Ten about it.
Ten knew damn well he had the tendency to be like a dog with a bone with certain things. If Ronan had told him he didn’t want to talk about the dream rather than lying about them being out of lube, Ten would have hounded Ronan until he’d either made up a lie or talked about something he wasn’t ready to talk about. So, Ronan had taken the quick way out and just fibbed from the outset. Not that Tennyson appreciated being lied to, but he could see Ronan’s reasoning.
Pushing the cart forward, Ten was no longer enchanted with the nearly empty grocery store. All he wanted to do was speed through his list and get home to his husband.
Ronan was showered and shaved by the time Tennyson pulled up in front of the house with his Chevy stuffed full of groceries. He raced to the front door with Dixie hot on his heels. Scooping her up, he opened the door just as Ten was coming up the stairs, his hands full of reusable grocery bags. “Hey, babe.” Ronan brushed a kiss against Ten’s right cheek as he breezed past.
“Hi, Snookums.” Ten snorted, setting the bags down on the kitchen table.
“So, I, um, lied to you last night about my nightmare.” Ronan nibbled on his bottom lip. This was going to go one of two ways. Ten was going to play dumb and make Ronan work for his forgiveness or he was going to play the role of ice queen and tell Ronan he’d known his husband had been lying all along. Ronan’s money was on ice queen.
Ten grabbed a box of Cheerios out of the first bag and moved across the kitchen to put it away. He didn’t say a word.
This didn’t bode well at all. Ronan held his tongue, curious to see how Ten would deal with the situation.
“I had an interesting visit from Bertha in the cereal aisle.” Tennyson turned to face Ronan. The look on his face was full of concern rather than the anger or disappointment Ronan was expecting to see.
Ronan let out the breath he wasn’t aware he’d been holding. “Bertha?” None of what Tennyson said made any sense.
“Apparently she was taking advantage of my being out of the house in hopes you’d spend a little quality time with yourself.” Tennyson held up his right hand and waggled his fingers before making the universal hand gesture for jacking off.
“She was hoping I’d have a tug of war with cyclops so she could watch?” Ronan burst out laughing. Thankfully self-abuse was the last thing on his mind after the dream last night. “Who knew she was such a dirty old woman? The next time I do that, I’m gonna call out her name instead of Chris Hemsworth’s. That’ll teach her.”
“I think that would only encourage her.” Ten walked over to Ronan, setting a hand against his cheek. “Bertha heard you ask her what you saw last night was a vision. I know it’s not playing fair to come to you with that inside intel. After out talk on the last day of the cruise I promised to do better with talking about what’s going on in our marriage rather than taking the easy way out by using my gift, but this information was given to me.”
Ronan nodded. He knew Bertha went to Tennyson with the best of intentions. He also knew Tennyson wasn’t reading him.
On the last day of their honeymoon cruise to Bermuda, Ronan had told Ten that he sometimes felt like he was on uneven footing with his husband thanks to Tennyson’s sixth sense. He was hoping Ten would try to use Ronan’s body language and his words to figure out what was going on with him instead of instantly using his gift to read him. Over the last few months, Ten had made great strides in that area of their marriage.
“I had planned on telling you all about the dream when you came home and I did ask Bertha for help, so I’m not upset that she came to you.” Ronan opened the refrigerated bag and started unpacking the meat. He needed a minute to put his thoughts in order.
‘’It wasn’t your usual He-Man sex dream or one of those ego-driven things where you answer every question on Jeopardy and Alex Trebek asks for your number at the end, was it?” Ten chuckled.
Ronan snorted. “No and Alex only did that once.” Taking a deep breath, he felt his mood sober. “Ten, this felt so real. Like, when I’m with Thor or on Jeopardy, in my dream-mind I know it’s bullshit. This was so real. I felt like my words and actions had real-world consequences. Like I could actually do damage.” Ronan shivered. His hands came up to rub against his arms.
Ten’s dark eyes narrowed on his husband. “Come, sit.” He guided Ronan to the dining room table and eased him into one of the chairs. “Tell me everything you remember.”
Nodding, Ronan took a deep breath. He wasn’t anxious to relive what happened, but he knew he had to tell the whole story to Tennyson. “Pounding on a wooden door woke me up. I was in a rustic cabin with a dirt floor and when I opened the door, Kevin was there telling me I needed to come with him. He led me through the woods to a clearing where a man was lashed to a pole in front of a raging bonfire. I went to go help the man, thinking I was still a cop and Kevin stopped me, telling me that I needed to make my choice to either give evidence against the Witch Grimm or have a noose waiting for me at dawn.”
Tennyson took a sharp breath. “The Witch Grimm? As in me?”
Ronan nodded. “Kevin grabbed me and pulled me along through the clearing, closer to you. Our eyes met and you recognized me. He kept dragging me along until we got to a group of hooded people standing a distance away. It was all of our friends, Carson, Tru, Cole, Cassie, Greeley, and Jude. There was one other person standing there who I didn’t recognize until Kevin said his name.”
“I’m afraid to ask who it was.” Tennyson’s voice trembled.
“It was Gideon Black, Ten.” The look in Ronan’s eyes was dire.
“Oh.” Ten’s mouth dropped open. “Gideon Black, as in the man who sentenced Mariah Goode to die as part of the Salem Witch Trials?”
“The very same,” Ronan agreed. “He asked me if I accused you as a witch and a strange thing happened.”
Ten leaned closer to Ronan. “What strange thing?”
“I had a flashback.” Ronan could see the image in his mind clear as day, like it was an actual memory rather than a memory of his dream.
“What do you mean you had a flashback?” Tennyson wore an incredulous look as if such a thing weren’t possible.
“That’s what made me wonder if this was a vision.” Ronan met Ten’s eyes. The look in them was full of curiosity and something Ronan would classify as fear. “I flashed back to the cabin I woke up in. We were both there and you were begging me to save myself if Black had you arrested. Then you said we’d be reunited one day.”
Ten’s head tilted to the side as if he were thinking about something. “What were we wearing?”
“What?” Ronan couldn’t believe his ears. “I tell you I had a dream about you being burned at the stake and your asking me about your fashion sense in 1692? This isn’t an episode of Queer Eye, Ten!”
Reaching out for Ronan’s hand, Tennyson rubbed his thumb against Ronan’s skin. “I’m not asking to find out how fab I was in the seventeenth century, but your rant answered my question. We were both dressed like it was a Salem Witch Trial costume party, yes?”
Ronan nodded. He felt worn to the bone. “My shoes had the buckles on them like the pilgrims wore.”
“I don’t think what happened last night was a vision. I’m one hundred percent sure you’re not coming into superpowers like mine and Carson’s.”
“I’m not?” Relief surged through Ronan’s exhausted body.
“That doesn’t mean you’re not my superhero.” Ten winked.
Feeling instantly energized. Ronan perked up. “Oh, really? Do you want to see me go faster than a speeding locomotive?”
Ten burst out laughing. “Hardly! Why don’t I show you what I had in mind?”
“You got it, Lois Lane.” Ronan was still feeling a bit off-kilter about the dream, but that wasn’t going to stop him from playing Superman for a little while.
The original fears Tennyson had about Ronan’s dream had been put to rest. What Ronan had was most definitely not a vision. It wasn’t a visitation either as he’d wondered. What it could be, however, was something else entirely. Something a bit more interesting and maybe more far-reaching.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your point of view, Ronan was trying to work his pants off which wasn’t leaving Tennyson any brainpower to think about this new scenario.
“Jesus, a little help here, Ten. What did you do, paint these jeans on for fuck’s sake?” Ronan laughed. “You were going to the grocery store. Who were you thinking you’d meet in these ass-huggers?”
“I was thinking my husband was a lying dumbass and if a good-looking, younger man offered to thump my melon, I wasn’t gonna say no.” Ten laughed when Ronan slapped his ass.
“Oh, so that’s what we’re calling it now, thumping a melon?” Ronan managed to drag Ten’s jeans down past his cock, but left his briefs pulled up.
“I bought a cantaloupe. You thump the end to see if its ripe.” Ten rolled his eyes dramatically.
“Hmm, and did some young stud thump you in the produce aisle?” Ronan licked Ten’s cock through the material of his boxer briefs.
Ten hissed, loving the drag of the dampened material against his hardened flesh. He managed to shake his head no. Even when Ronan was being a dumbass there was no one else he ever wanted thumping him in the produce aisle or anywhere else. “Ronan, please.”
“Please, what?” Ronan licked him again. “You called me a lying dumbass and then tried to get thumped by a total stranger in the grocery store. There has to be some payback for that.” He blew a breath against Ten’s wetted dick.
Ten felt his cock twitch. Ronan had a point. “You’re right. I was a bad boy.” It didn’t make any sense to point out that Ronan was a bad boy first. His husband’s sweet mouth was so tantalizingly close to his aching dick. The name of the game now was to get his dick into that mouth, not to antagonize his husband further. “I think you should punish me by sucking my cock to within an inch of my life.”
Ronan barked out a surprised laugh. “That sounds like a punishment to you?”
“Yes.” Ten plastered a serious look on his face. “That would teach me a lesson for sure.”
Ronan lifted a curious eyebrow. “What lesson would that be?”
“Bad boys get their dick sucked. Good boys get fucked against the kitchen counter.” Tennyson tried to look properly chastised. He wondered if Ronan was buying it.
“Do I look like I was born yesterday, Tennyson?” Ronan was wearing his resting bitch face.
Nope, not buying it. Oh, well, “A” for effort, as the saying went. Ten looked down at his drooling dick and then up at his smirking husband. “Of course not, Ronan, but if you don’t do something about that soon, I’m going to have to take matters into my own hands.”
“Hmm,” Ronan rocked back on his heels. He went for the button of his jeans. “I’d like to see that.”
“You would?” Ten’s eyes went wide as Ronan pulled his own erection out of his pants.
Ronan nodded. His right hand sliding from the tip of his cock slowly down to the base.
Ten swallowed hard. His eyes were glued to Ronan’s hand which continued to glide up and down his shaft.
“You gonna watch or participate?” Ronan’s voice was barely above a whisper.
Getting down on his knees in front of Ronan, Ten parroted his husband’s speed. When Ronan’s hand slid up, Tennyson’s hand slid down. He reached out to set a hand against the clean-shaven side of Ronan’s face. “God, this is sexy as fuck.”
Ronan bit his lip and nodded. “I love watching you take care of yourself.” Leaning forward, Ronan nibbled at the hollow of Tennyson’s shoulder where it met his neck. He could feel Ronan’s tongue lashing against his pulse point. “I thought you wanted to watch?” Ten panted.
“Hmm, you’re right.” Ronan pulled away. “I forgot you were being punished for being a bad boy. I saw all that skin and just had to taste it. It slipped my mind that you were going to offer what’s clearly mine to some troglodyte melon thumper.”
Unable to help himself, Ten burst out laughing. He had a mental image of a bearded caveman dressed in animal skins trying to figure out which end of a melon to thump and in the end trying to gnaw it open with his teeth.
“Something funny?” Ronan asked darkly. “Keep it up and you won’t get to finish at all…”
Tennyson sobered instantly at that suggestion. “I would only offer myself to you, Ronan.” Tennyson shivered in the warm room. He got the impression he’d spoken those words before, but not to this Ronan.
“You love it when I’m possessive, don’t you, babe?” Ronan growled.
If Ronan believed his shiver had to do with desire, Ten was content to let him believe that until he had time to do a bit more research on the matter. He bit into his bottom lip and nodded. Ten could see how crazy the idea had made Ronan. His blue eyes were nearly black with need. Ten knew it wasn’t going to take much to push Ronan over the edge. “I’ll be yours until the earth stops spinning,” he whispered, feeling his own cock pulse in his hand.
“Ten!” Ronan cried out, his own dick jerking in release.
Those weren’t the words of a lovesick fool, they were the words of a man who knew he’d live another life with his destined soulmate.
“I sure as shit hope Bertha Craig liked that little performance earlier this morning!” Ronan announced as he picked up Tennyson’s empty dinner plate and brought it to the sink.
“What?” Tennyson practically howled. “You did that for her? I thought you were punishing me for what I said about finding a guy to help me pick out a cantaloupe?”
“Oh, please.” Ronan rolled his blue eyes. “Like you’d ever leave me for someone else. Face it, you won the husband lottery with me.”
Tennyson was the one rolling his eyes now. “If your ego gets any bigger, we’ll need to move. There won’t be any room for the baby when she comes.”
Ronan laughed. “You know that little girl is gonna inherit my swagger.”
Tennyson sighed, sounding like he knew that exact thing. “God help us all.”
Ronan opened his mouth to remind Tennyson that it was two weeks to the insemination date, when the doorbell rang. “Are you expecting company? I’m not.”
Ten shook his head, looking uneasy.
“What? Should I not open the door? Is it bill collectors? Mormons? Yankee fans?” Ronan was especially concerned over the last one. He could deal with a lot, but Yankee fans just rubbed him the wrong way even now that the curse was broken and three World Series trophies resided at Fenway Park.
“Just open the door, drama queen.” Tennyson sounded like Ronan was riding his last nerve.
“Yes, my liege.” Ronan bowed dramatically and hurried to the door. The absolute last people he expected to see standing there, with the possible exception of the ghosts of Yogi Berra and Lou Gehrig, were Lyric Vaughn, Madam Aurora, and several other women who were complete strangers. “Lyric, is everything okay?”
“Ronan, my friends and I need to speak with you. May we come in?” For the first time in the years Ronan had known the DNA analyst, Lyric looked nervous.
“Yes. Please come in, ladies.” Ronan held the door open wide. He counted seven women including Lyric and Aurora.
“Tennyson, how nice to see you again,” Madam Aurora greeted.
Tennyson hugged his former arch-nemesis.
Ronan’s eyes bugged out of his head momentarily. When Tennyson moved to Salem at eighteen years of age, after being kicked out of his home in Kansas for being gay and psychic, he’d gone to Madam Aurora looking for a job at her psychic shop across town. She’d turned him down flat fearing that one day, his own talents would far surpass her own.
Last year when Tennyson had somehow managed to shut down his gifts completely, it had been Madam Aurora who’d helped Tennyson discover the key to opening them back up. She’d also helped him cultivate the ability to shut them down and reopen them at will, allowing him to have downtime without spirits constantly interrupting his alone time with Ronan.
“Allow me to introduce my sisters,” Lyric began. “This is Andromeda, Mina, Gia, Corazon, and Hazel.” Each woman raised her hand as Lyric called out her name.
“Please have a seat, ladies.” Ronan indicated the sofa and the accent chairs scattered around the living room. “How can we help, Lyric?”
“We’re being hunted and killed one by one,” she said simply.
Ronan sucked in a harsh breath. This couldn’t be a coincidence. Last night he had a dream about Tennyson being burned as a witch and now seven members of the Salem Witch community were sitting in his living room claiming there was a modern-day witch hunt afoot.
Looking over at Tennyson, he could see his husband was wearing a skeptical look. This was a role reversal to be sure. Walking into the hallway, Ronan grabbed his flip pad and opened it to a blank page. “Tell me the story from the beginning,” he urged.
Lyric nodded and took a few breaths as if she needed a minute to put her thoughts in order. “Last year, Jessa McIntyre died in a house fire. A few months after that Athena Mathieu was killed in a car accident. Two months after that Kendra Watts died in a ‘domestic accident.’” Lyric made finger quotes over “domestic accident.”
“In the year before that, three other members of our coven died in seemingly ordinary ways,” Madam Aurora said.
“What seemingly ordinary ways were those?” Tennyson asked.
“Drowning, drug overdose, and suicide,” the raven-haired beauty named Andromeda said.
Ronan looked up from his notepad to study the women. “What did you mean by domestic accident, Lyric?”
“Kendra was hanging a plant from a hook in the ceiling and slipped off the stool. She hit her head on the tile floor and died from a fractured skull. Her husband found her their hours later.” Lyric swiped tears from her eyes.
“These all seem like normal deaths to me, aside from the fact that these women all died far too soon. What makes you think this is all part of a witch hunt?” Tennyson asked.
“You mean aside from the fact that we’re all witches?” Redheaded Hazel asked. Her green eyes glowed with indignation.
This really wasn’t like Tennyson at all. If someone asked who’d be the true believer and who would be the skeptic here, Ronan would have voted himself the skeptic. “What are you getting with your gift, Ten?”
“The women all believe in what they’re telling you,” he said. “I’m not getting any feeling of malice and none of the dead women are here to speak for themselves.”
Madam Aurora arched an elegant brow. “Do you really think we’re here for your help, Tennyson? If it were possible to talk to the spirits of our dead sisters, I would have done that myself.”
“Wait a minute. What do you mean you can’t talk to the spirits of your sisters? Six women are dead and you can’t talk to any of them? Why?” Ronan thought that was curious too. Almost more curious than the fact that these six women had died under mysterious circumstances.
“We don’t know,” Corazon said. “We should be able to get through to at least one of our sisters.” She twirled her dark hair around a finger. Her anxiety was obvious.
“Is it possible something or someone is keeping their souls from you?” Ronan asked.
“I told you he wasn’t just a pretty face.” Lyric smirked at Gia, who rolled her eyes.
“It’s possible,” Aurora agreed, “but we didn’t want to go there yet. We wanted to see if you could dig anything up first.”
“Fine! If you don’t want to help us! We’ll do it ourselves.” Gia was halfway out of her seat and heading toward the door when Mina grabbed her arm. She whispered gently to the younger woman, who reluctantly sat back down.
“I didn’t say I didn’t want to help. I was just thinking that it would be complicated on two fronts.” Boy would it ever be complicated. Ronan felt a headache coming on.
“What do you mean, Ronan?” Andromeda asked.
“First of all, I’m a member of the Boston Police Department. Unless your sisters died in Boston, it will be harder to dig into their deaths because they would be out of my jurisdiction.”
“Don’t you have a friend who’s a private investigator?” Lyric asked.
“Yeah, that’s where things get really complicated.” Ronan felt another world-weary sigh coming on and tried to hold it back. “Jude is a P.I., but he’s not exactly what you’d call a friend to the Wiccan Community.”
“So, he’s a fucking bigot?” Corazon half-screeched.
“Now, I didn’t say that. Without going into too much detail, Jude had a very personal dealing with a member of a witch community that didn’t go so well.” Ronan shook his head.
“What the hell does that even mean?” Gia asked.
“A witch killed his father,” Madam Aurora supplied. “A rather nasty affair too.”
“Jesus Christ,” Ronan muttered under his breath. “So much for keeping things private.”
“His father’s killer was not a member of our community, Ronan. She wasn’t even Wiccan.” Aurora directed a pointed stare at him.
Ronan had no idea that not all witches weren’t practitioners of Wicca. “Somehow, I don’t think that’s going to make a difference, Aurora. Right or wrong, I think he’s still in a phase where he’s painting you all with the same brush. I’ll talk to him, though.”
Lyric stood. The other women stood with her. “I came to you, Ronan because I knew I could trust you to help us. My sisters weren’t sure you were the right person to turn to.”
“How do you all feel now?” Ronan looked over the collection of women standing in his living room. If the unimpressed looks on their faces were any indication, he hadn’t passed the test.
“You haven’t done anything yet to earn our trust,” Andromeda said, turning her pixie nose up at him. “Blessed be, Ronan. Tennyson.”
As one, the women turned to leave. Lyric lingered in the living room. “Thank you both for welcoming us into your home. I’m sure you weren’t expecting seven witches to show up on your doorstep unexpectedly.”
Ronan took Lyric’s arm and walked her to the door. “I don’t know what’s going on here, Lyric, but make sure you and Katie are taking all necessary precautions. If anything happened to either of you or baby Astrid…”
“We’ve had an alarm installed on the house and Katie keeps her gun within reach at night. I’ve blessed the house and have asked my spirit guides for added protection.” Lyric straightened her shoulders. “I’m scared, Ronan. My sisters are too. This has been building for a long time now. I can’t help but feel like something is coming. Something sinister and vile. If we’re not careful it could get us all.” With that, Lyric pecked Ronan on the cheek and walked out the door.
Ten was in the kitchen making two cups of tea when he heard Ronan shut the front door and arm the alarm. He’d headed for the kitchen knowing there was going to be a storm brewing between them the minute they were alone again. He planned to diffuse the situation with chamomile and cookies.
“What the hell was that?” Ronan boomed from the living room.
At least his husband was predictable. “I’m in the kitchen, Snookums!” Ten set the tea and cookies down on the table and took a seat.
“What is wrong with you treating those women like that? They came to us for help and you…” Ronan stopped in his tracks. “Oh, cookies.” He took a seat and reached for an oatmeal raisin and took a bite. “Wait a minute, you did this so I wouldn’t be able to yell and stuff my face at the same time, right?”
Ten shrugged a shoulder. Of course, Ronan was right, but he wasn’t going to say that out loud. “I get that they came to you, Ronan, and that you feel a responsibility to help, but there’s nothing going on to help them with. Just a random series of unfortunate coincidences.”
Ronan was in the process of reaching for his second cookie when Tennyson made his pronouncement. His hand stopped cold. “A random series of coincidences? Who are you? You don’t believe in coincidences. Ever. Why now?” Ronan sat back in his chair. His full attention was on Tennyson.
Reaching for his steaming mug of tea, Ten took a sip. Ronan had a point. He never believed in coincidences. “Like I said earlier, I don’t feel anything off in this. The women think that there is something going on, but we’ve never heard about any of these deaths in the news or read about them in the Salem paper. Don’t you think we would have?”
Raising an eyebrow, Ronan shook his head. “No, I don’t.”
“What do you mean, that this is some kind of massive cover up? Come on, Ronan, there isn’t a conspiracy theory at the root of everything.”
“I’m not saying this is a conspiracy theory. If there is something going on here, it’s well crafted. Like Aurora said, the deaths all look commonplace. Tragic, but run of the mill, until you consider the fact that the victims have one common bond that links them.”
“They’re members of the Salem Witch Community,” Tennyson said.
Ronan nodded. “Would you have given the story more credence if the women had all been Salem schoolteachers? Nurses from Northshore Medical Center? How about stay-at-home moms?”
Ten sighed. “Are you trying to say I have something against the witches?”
“Do you?” Ronan challenged.
“Of course not!” Tennyson rolled his eyes. “I went into this interview like I do with any other that we conduct for the Boston Police Department. I opened my gift wide and asked my spirit guides for help. I didn’t hear one word from the spirits of the six dead women. I didn’t hear anything from my spirit guides about the situation. Lastly, I wasn’t getting any psychic urges that this was a bad situation. I don’t mean to sound like a dick here, Ronan, but you know that old saying, ‘Where there’s smoke, there’s fire?’”
“There aren’t even matches or kindling here.” Ten reached across the table to set his hand on Ronan’s. “Look, I know you want to help Lyric. I just don’t think you’re going to find anything.”
His eyes narrowing, Ronan seemed to be studying his husband. “What do you think got them all riled up and scared enough to come to me?”
“What do you mean?” Ten asked.
“Aurora said herself that they didn’t come here looking for your help, Ten. The women came here hoping that I could help them. Lyric said the last woman died two months ago. Why not come to me then? Why today?”
Tennyson hadn’t considered that. There had to have been some sort of catalyst that made the women decide that it was time to seek outside help. “Do you think there was some piece of evidence they were holding back from you?”
Ronan laughed. “That’s usually your forte, isn’t it, Nostradamus?”
“Yeah, it usually is, but I wasn’t getting anything from them.”
“Do you think they were employing those blocking exercises you used to talk to Carson and Cole about?”
Ten shook his head. He’d originally met Carson and Cole Craig after they’d begun to develop their psychic powers. Tennyson had been brought into West Side Magick as their mentor, to help them learn how to use and harness their new-found powers and abilities. Ten had been teaching them blocking exercises so they weren’t always hearing peoples’ thoughts or seeing spirits everywhere they went. “No, I was getting other things from them loud and clear. Corazon and Gia each wanted to kill you on a few separate occasions and Andromeda was fascinated by my gifts and our relationship.”
“Well, that aside,” Ronan rolled his eyes. “Do you remember the Justin Wilson case?”
“How could I ever forget it? A serial killer was targeting teenaged street kids. Are you feeling okay, Ronan?” Tennyson shot his husband a concerned look.
“I’m fine. The point I was trying to make was that the killer was at work for a long time without being detected. Do you remember why?” Ronan reached for another cookie.
Where Ronan was going with his line of thought all made sense now. “The bodies were all being dumped in different towns. Different jurisdictions. No one thought to connect the dots until we put the pieces together.”
Ronan nodded. “Just like Lyric and her friends did. There might not be anything to this, Ten, just a random set of awful coincidences, just like you said. But if it’s something more than that, if someone is deliberately targeting these women and I sit on my hands and do nothing and someone else is hurt or worse…” He stared up at his husband with a pleading look in his blue eyes.
Tennyson knew he was a goner when Ronan looked at him with those eyes. Those were the puppy-dog eyes that would get him a hundred babies, a new Mustang, and yes, free rein to investigate a possible modern-day witch hunt. “Where do we start?”
“There’s the Starsky to my Hutch!” Ronan leaned across the table to plant a wet kiss on Tennyson’s cheek. “I’ll call Lyric in the morning and get the names and death dates of her six friends, then I’ll pull the police reports. There might not be anything probative in there, but at least I’ll have all the facts.”
Tennyson nodded. “Ronan, why is this so important to you?”
“Do you remember when we were out at The Black Cat Inn with Niall and Tobin?” Ronan’s voice had taken on a somber tone.
“The day we met the spirit of Mariah Goode and nine of the other women who were killed during the Salem Witch Trials?” Ten asked.
“Right,” Ronan agreed. “I didn’t want to be there that day. I thought the women were ridiculous for still being angry and bitter over what happened to them three hundred years ago. I was bitchy to Lyric and she called me out, accused me of being hateful like Jude, remember?”
Ten did remember. It had been out of character for Ronan to act like that, especially when it came to protecting people who were weaker than he was and unable to defend themselves.
“I took a good, hard look at myself after that day. Mariah’s story was heartbreaking. What the people of Salem put her through because she was a single woman trying to survive by any means possible. What Gideon Black put her through in the name of religion, when he was just as guilty as the other men darkening her doorstep under the cover of darkness…” Ronan trailed off. “Why couldn’t Salem have come together to help her, Ten? Would I have been just as harsh on her? Calling her names and then calling her out as a witch because she sold her body to put a roof over her head?”
“It was an ugly time, Ronan. People did what they had to do to survive. That’s what Mariah was doing. Then, when the witch hysteria started, that survival instinct ramped up to a whole other level. Some people accused neighbors from sheer jealousy, others to get rid of rivals, others to deflect suspicion from themselves. I like to think you wouldn’t have shamed her or called her out, Ronan, but in those times, it was eat or be eaten.”
“Survival of the fittest,” Ronan muttered. “We know what it’s like to be discriminated against our whole lives. So do the witches. No one understands what Wicca is all about. Hell, most people think it’s pointy hats and spells whispered over boiling cauldrons. Midnight flights with broomsticks and black cats, you know, all that Halloween bullshit Salem uses to sell itself to tourists.”
“You’re right,” Ten agreed.
“If someone is coming after the Witches of Salem, they’re going to have to come through me,” Ronan vowed.
A full-body shiver tore through Tennyson. He knew Ronan meant every word he was saying. He could only hope this time around, it was the witches suffering from mass hysteria and there wasn’t something deeper going on here.
Monday morning found Ronan at his desk in the South Boston Headquarters of the Boston Police Department. His expensive cup of coffee sat to his right, steam escaping through the little vent, while his computer booted up.
Ignoring the dozens of cases in his Work In Progress file, Ronan pulled up the email he’d gotten earlier in the morning from Lyric Vaughn and printed it out. He’d sent her a text message at zero-dark-thirty asking for the names of all of the women who’d died and in which towns their deaths had occurred.
He fast-walked to the printer to grab the two-page document hoping that none of his co-workers would waylay him before he could get there. In his experience, there was no one nosier that cops. Well, unless it was psychics. Thankfully, all the cops around him had their heads down too. It was a rainy spring Monday in Boston. Everyone looked like they could use another couple of days off to recover from the weekend.
Walking back to his desk, Ronan saw the one person who could derail his plans to research the witch deaths before it even got off the ground: his boss, Kevin Fitzgibbon. Kevin was striding toward his desk looking like he hadn’t had his morning coffee yet. Fucking great… “Good morning, Cap.”
“Don’t you good morning me, Ronan!” Fitzgibbon looked like he was ready to kill someone.
His brain on rewind, Ronan tried to figure out what the hell he could have possibly done to piss off his boss this badly only five minutes after the new work week had begun. He plastered on a fake smile knowing full well Fitzgibbon would enlighten him without Ronan having to ask what crawled up his ass and died.
“Dog shit!” Fitzgibbon shouted.
“Uh, dog shit, Cap?” Ronan was totally confounded now.
“Yes, Ronan,” Fitzgibbon’s voice was full of snark. “You know your little princess eats her Kibbles and Bits and then her tummy goes grumble, grumble and oopsie it’s time for her to make poopsies.”
Ronan’s mouth hung open. He wasn’t sure if he should laugh or call 911. Knowing either option could get him fired or punched in the jaw, he kept his lips zipped.
“What? No clever comeback? You’re a criminal, Ronan!” Fitzgibbon accused in a harsh tone.
Ronan shook his head no. Ten would kill him if he came home with the contents of his desk in a box. Not to mention having to kiss his pension good-bye.
“Your dog is shitting on my sidewalk!” Fitzgibbon growled. “This is the third time in three days I’ve had to scoop your fucking dog’s poop! You are in violation of Salem City Ordinance Section 8-36! I should arrest your ass right now!”
“No, she isn’t!” Ronan shot right back. “Dixie shits in our back yard. I should know, I’m the one who has to go around with the bags scooping it up while Ten cuddles the furry little shit factory. It squishes in my hand and some of it is still warm.” Ronan dry heaved. It was like he could actually feel the consistency now, sitting in his office. “For a tiny dog, her shit smells so bad I have to wear nose plugs like those Olympic swimmers.” Ronan rolled his eyes. “Arrest my ass? Aren’t you out of your jurisdiction, captain?” And out of your mind? Ronan added to himself.
“It would be a citizen’s arrest then!” Fitzgibbon crowed before frowning. “Well, who’s poop am I scooping then?”
Ronan raised an eyebrow. “Uh, how about your own dog’s? Lola is Dixie’s sister, remember? They’re the same size and they eat the same food. I would assume their shit looks the same too. Maybe Greeley isn’t walking her properly and is blaming her mess on my sweet little princess.”
“Sweet little princess?” Fitzgibbon squawked. “Five minutes ago, you were calling her a furry little shit factory!”
“Yeah, well, that was when I was thinking about having to clean up after her. Now, you’re besmirching her good name. Greeley’s been a bit different since he finished his first semester at Salem State. Or have you been too busy playing Sherlock Holmes over the dog shit on your sidewalk to notice?”
Fitzgibbon’s mood instantly sobered. He slumped into the chair in front of Ronan’s desk, the one Tennyson always sat in when he was in the office. “I’m worried about him, Ronan. He’s been quiet and withdrawn. I wondered for a minute if he was back on the drugs.”
Ronan’s brows drew together. Greeley Hanks, now Fitzgibbon, had been through a lot in his eighteen short years on this planet. Put into the foster care system at an early age, he was turned out of his adoptive home when he came out to his parents. He turned to hooking as a way to survive and then to drugs when he was raped and nearly made the first victim of a serial killer.
When Ronan met the boy for the first time, it was while Greeley had been in rehab getting himself clean and sober. The kid had never looked back, becoming an instant member of their family. Never in Ronan’s wildest dreams would he ever consider Greeley turning back to drugs.
“What about his grades or boy trouble, Cap? It has to be something else. Have you tried talking to him?”
Kevin sighed. “Grades aren’t out yet and he won’t talk to me about anything right now. He just shuts himself in his room with Lola. I’m not even sure if he’s going back to work for Cassie over the summer.”
“I’ll tell you what, tonight’s Ten’s late night at the Magick Shop. I’ll send Greeley a text offering to take him out to Lobster Charlie’s. That’s his favorite place. He won’t say no to dinner there. I’ll see what’s going on with him.”
“Lobster Charlie’s is my favorite place too,” Kevin sulked.
“Yeah, well bad boys who come into the middle of the precinct and accuse me of being a criminal and threaten to effect a citizen’s arrest do not get to go to Lobster Charlie’s. Now, if you will excuse me, captain, I have very important work to do.” Ronan turned from his boss and typed Jess McIntyre’s name into the search box of the database.
Fitzgibbon didn’t need to know that the very important work he had to do this morning didn’t have anything to do with cold cases or the Boston Police Department.
Since it was Tennyson’s late night at West Side Magick, he had Dixie with him. The little dog walked around the place with her ears perked up, her head held high, like she owned the place. Ten kept a pink princess dog bed for her in the new part of the shop where Tobin Woods had built him and Cole their own reading rooms. Carson kept the original room in the store where his mother, Bertha, used to conduct her readings.
“Speak of the devil and she shall appear, Tenny!” Bertha Craig cackled.
Dixie gave a friendly bark and hightailed it over to Bertha’s spirit.
“Hello, peaches. How are you today?” Bertha got down on her haunches and gave the dog’s ears a scratch.
“That’s not funny, you know,” Tennyson grumped.
“What, calling your baby, peaches? I figured it was better than kumquat.” Bertha burst out laughing.
“No,” Ten whined. “I meant calling yourself the devil. You talk like that and you’ll end up manifesting something you won’t like and we might not be able to deal with by ourselves.”
“Lighten up, Tennyson.” Bertha stood up and walked over to Ten who was watching her with a cautious eye. “Who peed in your Cheerios?”
“Come with me. I don’t want anyone to overhear us.” Ten headed for his reading room.
“We’re in a psychic shop with other psychics who can read your thoughts, and I’m dead. Who are you afraid is going to hear us?” Sighing, Bertha followed along behind Tennyson.
Dixie gave a sharp bark and followed on Bertha’s heels.
When the door was shut firmly behind him, Ten walked to the table and took a seat. He loved this new space. Right now, it had a large bronze statue of Buddha in one corner, but he hadn’t figured out how he wanted to decorate the rest of the room. He had his eye on a Tibetan gong. Ten took a deep breath to center himself.
“Whatever this is, it looks like it’s serious.” Bertha’s usual snarky tone was gone.
“Witches,” Ten said softly.
“Again? I thought they all went into the light that day out at the Black Cat Inn?”
Ten shook his head. “These aren’t the same witches and those women were victims of the Salem Witch Trials, Bertha. They weren’t actual witches. You know that.”
Bertha nodded. “So, if it isn’t those women making a return engagement, who are you talking about?”
“Jesus, Bertha, they aren’t the Rockettes.” Ten rolled his dark eyes. “One night only…”
“I’m sorry, Tennyson. I should be treating this matter with more reverence. Which witches are you talking about?”
“Members of the Salem Witch Community. Living members. Seven of them showed up at our house last night.” Just remembering them parading through his living room was enough to give him the beginnings of a migraine.
“What did they think you could do for them?” Bertha sounded confused.
“They didn’t come to see me. They came to see Ronan.” Ten could hear the snark creeping into his voice.
Bertha frowned. “Handsome? What the hell can he do for them that you can’t?”
“Investigate their deaths,” Ten said with a shrug.
“Deaths?” Bertha shook her head. “I thought you said living members of the witch community came to see you. Did one of them have a premonition that they were all going to die?”
“They are alive. No one had a premonition, at least not that they told me. No one was psychically leaking that information either.” Now that he thought about it, no one was leaking anything psychically. Usually, in a group that size, there was one weak link, but he’d gotten nothing from any of them aside from a general feeling of unease and suspicion.
“Then I don’t understand.” Bertha’s brows drew together as if she were trying to puzzle this out for herself.
“It seems that six witches have died over the two years or so, under what sounded to me like tragic, but unremarkable circumstances.” Ten shook his head.
“Explain what you mean by unremarkable?”
“One died in a car accident, another in a slip and fall accident, a third one died as a result of suicide.” Tennyson felt awful about these deaths, but he just didn’t see what there was for him or Ronan to investigate.
“And the women think their sisters were murdered?” Bertha asked.
Ten nodded. “Right, and they’re hoping Ronan can help figure out by whom and why before someone else gets hurt. They actually think they’re being hunted.” Ten’s voice was barely above a whisper. It scared him just saying that word out loud.
“What was it your beefcake friend Tobin said about history? That if we don’t understand it then we’re doomed to repeat it.” Bertha seemed to be silently studying Tennyson.
Leave it to Bertha to bring up all 6’6” of Tobin Woods. The man looked like he could play linebacker for the New England Patriots. He was all muscle and even though he was thirty-two years old, could still pass for twenty-five.
“For your information, Tenny, I wasn’t thinking about sliding down that delicious boy like a fireman’s pole.” Bertha shot him a so-there look. “I was thinking about the way people come into our lives for a reason. Something about that particular line stuck with me and I remember Ronan repeating it at some point too, so that means it stuck with him as well.”
“What are you saying? That Carson, Cole, and I chose Tobin to be our general contractor on this expansion here at the shop so that he could say those very words to us three months later?” Ten shook his head. “That seems like a bit of a stretch.”
“If you don’t want my help, what am I doing here? I could be spending quality time with my grandbabies. Those kids are running now and driving Truman to drink. They do this thing where they see him coming and they break formation into three different directions so he can only catch one of them at a time. It’s genius to watch. Like those veloci-thingys from Jurassic Park.”
“You mean Velociraptors?” Ten asked, chuckling. He’d seen Brian, Stephanie, and Bertha do the same thing and it seemed to him like they’d coordinated the maneuver between them.
“Whatever.” Bertha waved a distracted hand at Tennyson. “The point I am trying to make is that people come into our lives for all kinds of reasons. What was Handsome’s response to the Witches of Salem wanting his help?”
“He was ready to dive right in.” Ten sighed. He was really sounding like a total queen about this whole thing.
“Oh.” Bertha’s mouth formed a perfect “O.” “I get it now. You don’t want him working on this.” She sounded stunned by her realization. “Why, Tennyson? This isn’t like you at all.”
“I can’t put a finger on it. Something in this just isn’t right. There are members of the coven who are psychic. Madam Aurora for one. She can’t reach any of the women’s spirits. I couldn’t either.”
“Good Lord, not that grey-haired menace again.” Bertha rolled her eyes.
“She loves Ronan. Aurora was practically purring like a cat drunk on too much milk when he spoke to her.”
“Jealously doesn’t become you, Tenny.” Bertha bit her bottom lip.
“That’s what I mean, Bertha. I’m not a jealous man. Ronan doesn’t like women that way. None of these six dead women can be reached. Something isn’t right here and I haven’t even told you about Ronan’s nightmare yet.”
“What nightmare?” Bertha was instantly in Mama Bear mode.
“He had a dream that he had to accuse me as a witch or face a noose of his own. Then the dream ended with me being burned at the stake.” Ten hated recounting the dream for her.
“Jesus, Tenny. That sounds terrifying.” Bertha shivered, odd, since she was dead and didn’t get cold.
“The worst part was that all of our friends were there too, Carson and Tru, Cole and Cassie, Kevin and Greeley. Even Jude was there. The last of the onlookers was Preacher Gideon Black.”
“The bastard from the actual Salem Witch Trials. I remember the name.”
“Then Ronan said in the middle of the dream he had a flashback to a scene where I was telling him to accuse me as a witch if it meant saving his life because we would be reunited someday.”
“That changes everything,” Bertha said carefully.
“I know.” Tennyson hadn’t wanted to say too much about his suspicions, but it was obvious now Bertha was on the same page with him.
“Have you mentioned this to Ronan?” The look in her eyes clearly indicated she already knew the answer to that question.
Ten shook his head no. “I could be wrong. It could have just been a bizarre, very detailed dream. We had hot wings for dinner that night and spicy foods affect him differently…”
“Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.” Bertha shook her head.
“I’ll keep an eye on him. If anything else happens, I’ll tell him. I promise, Bertha.” It was a promise Tennyson would keep, come hell or highwater.
Bertha opened her mouth to respond when there was a knock on the door.
“Come in, Carson!” Ten called.
“Oh, hey, Mom!” Carson smiled at his mother. “I wish I could stay and talk, but we’ve got a situation. Ten, you need to come now.”
Whatever was going on, Ten couldn’t read it in Carson. Damn those blocking exercises.
Lobster Charlie’s was hopping for a Wednesday night before Memorial Day. Every stool at the bar was taken and there had been a line of diners crowded into the lobby of the restaurant waiting for a table when Ronan and Greeley arrived. Ronan was glad he’d called ahead and made reservations. The teenager was sulky enough as it was. Ronan knew having to wait for a table would only have made his mood worse.
Once they were sitting at a table by the windows, Ronan took the time Greeley was using to read the menu to study the teenager. There was definitely something different about the boy over the last few months. The problem was that Ronan had been so busy working, spending time with Tennyson, and getting ready for Emilyn’s impending pregnancy, that he hadn’t spent any time with Greeley either.
After the waitress took their order, king-sized lobster roll and fries for Ronan and a baked-stuffed lobster and shrimp combo for Greeley, Ronan knew the time had come to get down to business. “How did the end of your first semester finish up?”
Greeley shrugged and took a sip of his Coke.
Ronan frowned and tried again, “Are you registered for the summer session?”
Similar shrug only no sip of soda this time.
“Boy trouble?” Ronan asked. “It sure as hell isn’t girl trouble.”
Greeley raised an eyebrow, but stayed silent.
This wasn’t like the kid at all. Greeley had been through his struggles, but for him to sit here, almost defiant in his attitude, was blowing Ronan’s mind. “Listen, your father is worried that you’re back on drugs.”
Greeley’s mouth hung open. He took a deep breath as if he were about to start a fight in the middle of the restaurant.
Ronan held up a hand to stop him. “Just give me a minute before you blow your top, okay?” He didn’t wait for a response before pushing on. “You haven’t been the same happy guy we all know and love. Everyone’s noticed it and your father was brave enough to come to me about it after he tried to talk to you about what’s going on. Tried unsuccessfully to talk to you, according to the Cap.” Ronan raised an eyebrow. “Now you can respond, but if you get us kicked out before I can sink my teeth into that lobster roll, there could be hell to pay.”
A ghost of a smile quirked Greeley’s lips. It was there and gone in an instant. If Ronan hadn’t been watching him so closely, he would have missed it completely.
“You know you can tell me anything. No matter what it is, we’ll figure it out together.” It killed Ronan seeing Greeley like this, a shell of his former self.
Greeley nodded. He looked like he was thinking over what Ronan had said. “Do you remember last fall when we went to Kansas and I helped out on the Shannon Bradley case?”
Ronan nodded, but stayed silent.
“Then, when we were on the cruise ship and I got to interview the passengers who’d been at the murder mystery night. I really enjoyed that, Uncle Ronan. I did well at school. I know I’ve earned all A’s, but…” Greeley sighed as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders.
“But, what?” Ronan kept his tone curious, rather than accusatory like he’d do with a suspect in an initial interview.
“What if I don’t want to be a drug and alcohol counsellor? What if I want to be a cop like you and Dad?” Greeley’s green eyes looked up to lock with Ronan’s.
“You’re not on drugs?” Ronan’s face split into a smile. “No little purple-haired turd broke your heart? You didn’t fail out of Salem State? You don’t have a raging case of VD?” Ronan felt like laughing out loud.
Greeley snorted. “No, Uncle Ronan. I can honestly say no to all of those things, except the purple-haired guy. All he wanted was to fool around, but I wasn’t having any of that. He wasn’t even that cute.” He rolled his eyes.
“I’m confused then. If all you’re wanting to do is maybe change your major, then why are you acting like someone died? Jesus, kid we all thought something was seriously wrong with you.” Ronan felt relief coursing through his body. All of the worst-case-scenarios that had been playing through his head all day seemed to be for naught.
“I kind of think law enforcement is my destiny, but there’s no way Dad will let me go to the academy.” The sad look was back in Greeley’s eyes again. “There have been so many officer deaths in the news lately and every time there’s a new story that breaks, Dad gets all upset and will say, ‘See kid, this is why I don’t want you to be a cop.’ I’ve been biting my tongue, but I don’t think I can anymore. The deadline for registering for summer session is in two weeks. I need to shit or get off the pot as Bertha would say.”
Ronan burst out laughing. That sounded exactly like something Bertha Craig would say. He had to admit though, Kevin had a point. It seemed like now, more than ever, members of the law enforcement community had extra-large targets on their backs. In recent months, two members of the Massachusetts law enforcement community had been killed in the line of duty.
“Are there any Criminal Justice classes you could take during the summer session that would fill a graduation requirement?”
Greeley nodded. “They offer Fundamentals of Law Enforcement. It’s a freshman level class.”
It seemed to Ronan like that might be a good place to start.
“Will you talk to him for me, Uncle Ronan? I know the reason we’re here is that he sent you on a fact-finding mission. Could you report this back to him? That way if he blows up at you, maybe he’ll listen to me when he gets home.”
Ronan had to admit it was a good plan. He didn’t mind if Fitzgibbon lost his mind yelling at him, but that kind of angry dad tantrum was the last thing Greeley needed to be a part of. “I will, kid, but there’s something I need you to think about too, okay?”
“Anything. Lay it on me.” Greeley’s full attention was on Ronan.
“In the last two years, I’ve been shot four times, your Dad’s been shot once. Ten’s been kidnapped. You’ve been kidnapped. Then there’s what happened to Mark Abruzzi…” Ronan trailed off. He spent a minute saying a silent prayer for the teenager and trying to get that last image of the boy out of his head. “Please tell me you understand why your desire to go into this profession could upset Kevin.”
Greeley’s eyes turned serious. “I met a lot of parents this semester. Don’t tell Dad, but I compared them all to him. Were they strict like he was? Did they hand out money like water? Did they spoil their kids or not care at all?”
“What conclusions did you come to?” Ronan was interested to see what Greeley had seen through his own eyes.
“Dad is pretty strict, but it comes from a place of having seen what’s out there. God, Uncle Ronan, there’s a lot of drugs on that campus. Not that I want to narc on anyone, but that shit was everywhere. I’m glad we moved to Salem so I could live at home. A lot of the parents gave their kids money for drugs. Others bought booze.” Greeley shook his head. “I didn’t want to hang out with those guys.”
Ronan knew Fitzgibbon would be so proud of his son for making those decisions.
“Dad’s always talking about the guys he went through the academy with. It’s like they’re brothers.” Greeley’s eyes got a little misty. “I want that. I’ll never have brothers of my own. It’s like you and Uncle Ten say about how it takes more than DNA to make a family. I want to build my own, but the guys at college are kids and I’m…” Greeley looked up at Ronan as if he were hoping Ronan could supply the next word.
“You’re a man.” Ronan sighed. He knew this conversation with Fitzgibbon was not going to go well. “You had to grow up fast with being in the foster care system and then being out on the street. You might only be eighteen years old courtesy of the date on your birth certificate, but you’re more like twenty-five or maybe closer to thirty thanks to all of the life experiences you’ve lived through and have overcome.”
Greeley nibbled his bottom lip. “Do you think that’s why I had a hard time making friends? Why I didn’t really feel like I fit in?”
Ronan nodded. “I think that’s it exactly. If you were with a group of young men and women who were at the same place in their life as you, ready for responsibility and to buckle down and to get on with a career, I don’t think you’d have any of those problems again. It’s why you get along so well with all of us.”
Greeley chuckled. “You’re my family. You have to like me.”
“Not true. Being family means we have to love you. Liking you is a function of your personality and how you treat us.”
“I haven’t been so good at that lately,” Greeley’s eyes turned down.
“The good news is that tomorrow’s a great time to fix that. Starting with your father.”
Greeley’s eyes grew misty. “He’s been so good to me and I’ve been nothing but a little shit these last few weeks.”
“That’s the best thing about our family, we’re really good at forgiving each other.” Ronan was about to elaborate on his point when the waitress arrived, setting down a huge plate in front of Greeley before placing his own in front of him.
“I might need a little more forgiveness here, Uncle Ronan.” Greeley nibbled on his bottom lip.
“I might have ordered the most expensive thing on the menu on purpose.” Greeley wore a guilty look on his face.
“You picked up the fine art of passive-aggression from your Dad, I see.” Ronan shook his head.
Greeley burst out laughing. “He’s one hell of a role model. So are you, which is why I want to follow in your footsteps.”
Ronan nodded, feeling humbled by the young man’s heartfelt words. “You know Kevin is going to say there are other ways to help people without having to strap on a gun and carry a badge, right?”
“I know and I don’t have a counter-argument for that. This is what I feel like I’m being called to do. It doesn’t have to be in Boston. I could work here in Salem or for a university police department.
Ronan shivered in his seat, his thoughts casting back to Officer Sean Collier, a member of the MIT Campus police force, who’d been killed by the Boston Marathon bombers. “A cop is a cop, Greeley. No matter what uniform you put on, we’re all at risk when we leave the house.”
“I understand, Uncle Ronan.”
Ronan didn’t need to be psychic to see that the young man sitting before him truly did understand. “I’ll talk to your father, but I can’t make any promises as to how he’ll take that news.”
“Thanks. I appreciate it.” Greeley forked up an enormous baked stuffed shrimp and set it on Ronan’s empty bread plate.
“What’s this?” Ronan grinned, not wanting to look a gift shrimp in the mouth.
“I figure I owe you at least one, since you’re paying for this meal.” Greeley smirked happily.
Ronan burst out laughing.
He was about to come back with some corny joke about having forgotten his wallet at home when his ass vibrated with an incoming text message. “Hold that thought.” Digging his phone out of the back pocket of his jeans, Ronan saw the message was from Tennyson. [Magick Shop 911]
“Eat up, kid. We need to get to the store. Ten needs us.” Shooting a quick message back to his husband, Ronan couldn’t help but wonder what had Tennyson sending up such a mysterious distress signal.
Tennyson felt bad about sending Ronan such a cryptic message. He didn’t want to deliver this kind of news over text. It would be much better coming in person. Every minute it took Ronan to get to West Side Magick seemed to take an eternity to pass. He knew his husband was only across town having dinner with Greeley, but it seemed to be taking longer than it should have for them to have gotten here.
The tinkling of the shop bell sent Tennyson’s stomach plunging to the floor. He looked up to see Ronan striding into the store. His blue eyes roamed over everything and everyone standing there. It was easy to see Ronan was in cop-mode.
“Ronan!” Corazon cried, running to him and burying her face in his chest.
The burly detective wrapped his arms around the sobbing witch and held her tight. His eyes sought out Tennyson’s. The unspoken question, “What happened?” was telegraphed in his blue orbs.
“Gia is dead,” Lyric Vaughn whispered from behind him.
Tennyson watched as all of the witches who’d been guests in their living room last night gathered around Ronan and Corazon. Greeley walked over to him.
“What’s going on, Uncle Ten?” Greeley’s voice was a near-whisper.
“These women are members of the Salem Witch community. They came to Ronan last night because they think they’re being hunted. I didn’t believe them because the members of the coven who’ve died have done so under accidental circumstances. Earlier this evening, one of the women who came to see Ronan last night was found dead.
“What happened, Ten?” Ronan asked. His eyes were glassy and his voice was thick with emotion. He was still holding Corazon.
“I was in the reading room talking to Bertha when Carson came to get me. He’d been in the bakery when breaking news came on the television about a jogger being found dead on a running trail in Salem. He asked me if the name Gia Hernandez meant anything to me and I knew instantly that it was one of the women who’d been at our house last night. Soon after the news broke, Lyric and the others came here to see you. That’s when I sent you the text.”
Ronan nodded and set Corazon away from him. He quickly made the sign of the cross. “Have you been able to speak with her spirit, Aurora?”
“No. It’s just like with our other sisters. I’m not getting anything.” Aurora sounded more angry than disappointed.
“What about the rest of you? Ten? Carson? Cole?” Ronan spun around looking at each of the other psychics as he called out their names.
“I’m not connecting with anyone,” Carson said. “which is odd because there is usually someone around wanting to chat with me or who enjoys the positive energy of the shop. “I haven’t seen Mom in an hour or so. What about you, Cole?”
Cole’s attention focused on the bell over the shop door. His blue eyes went fuzzy for a few seconds. “I’m not getting anything either. There are no spirits in the shop and I’m not getting any information about what happened to Gia. It’s as if…” Cole trailed off, shooting Carson a confused look.
“It’s as if what, Cole?” Ten asked. He was curious to know if his friend was getting the same kind of feeling about what was going on as he was getting himself.
“I feel like my gift is bumping up against a wall that I can’t get through.” Cole looked more confused saying the words out loud.
“That’s exactly what I was getting too,” Ten agreed. “It reminded me of Superman not being able to use his X-ray vision because the room he was trying to see into was lead-lined.” Tennyson didn’t like this at all. It meant that his initial feeling about this situation with the witches being nothing to worry about was all wrong. There was also a second, more disturbing thing at play here.
“We’re being blocked by a power far greater than our own,” Madam Aurora said.
“Blocked?” Ronan looked around the room, his eyes lingering the longest on the psychics. “What do you mean blocked? Like those exercises Ten is always cautioning Carson to use so he can’t see that the mailman is having an affair with the crazy cat lady who lives next door to us?”
Ten nodded. “It’s that but on a much bigger level.”
“Why am I getting a bad feeling about this?” Ronan’s brows knit together. “Define ‘much bigger level.’”
“Think cup of ice water versus the Pacific Ocean.” Madam Aurora raised an eyebrow at Tennyson.
Ronan wore a look in his eyes like his head was spinning. “So, along with restricting the flow of information, whoever is doing this is keeping the spirits of the dead women from speaking with you too?”
“That’s what I’m beginning to suspect,” Ten admitted. The kind of power it would take to do that and keep itself hidden was staggering. Terrifying too if it was being used for evil intent.
“Jesus,” Ronan muttered under his breath. “As much as I hate to say this, I think I know someone who might be able to shed some light on this.”
Tennyson knew exactly who Ronan was talking about: Jude Byrne. They’d met the wise-cracking, oversexed P.I. during the course of the Tank Hutchins case. He’d become a friend and part of the family over the last six months. Back in March, he’d been instrumental in helping to save the life of Niall Gallagher who’d been having a bit of trouble with the spirits of several of the victims of the Salem Witch Trials. He’d used some kind of Navajo weapon-word to get the accused witches to stop their attack on Niall.
“Ah, Ronan? May I have a word with you in private?” Without bothering to wait for an answer, Tennyson walked toward Carson’s reading room. He knew the talents in the room would be able to listen in on this conversation, but it wasn’t them he was worried about. It was the witches.
“I know what you’re going to say.” Ronan offered him a somber look.
“You do? So, you’re the psychic now?” Ten raised an eyebrow.
“Jude hates witches. We have a roomful of witches. Therefore, Jude will not want to help the witches.” Ronan reached out for Tennyson’s hand. “Am I close? Is that what you were going to say?”
“More or less,” Ten agreed.
“The only other time that you’ve ever come up against anything remotely close to this same situation with being blocked is with Jude. Maybe if you ask him about it, or how to defeat it, he might shed some light on it for you.”
“For me?” Ten asked. “He’s your bro from another ho? Remember?”
Ronan shrugged. “Face it, Ten, people like you better than me. I’m the grumpy bastard while you’re all rainbows and unicorns.”
A smile ghosted across Tennyson’s face.
“A young woman who was just starting out her life is dead. Maybe it was just a freak accident, but maybe it is part of a larger, more sinister, conspiracy. I get that a witch killed Jude’s father, but right now, my responsibility is to the living. His should be too. If there is a way to break the block or a way to circumvent it, then we need to know about it now before another young woman pays with her life.” Ronan was all business.
Ten nodded. He knew Ronan was right. “I’ll call him in the morning and see if he’ll meet me for lunch.”
“Thank you. If he gives you any trouble, just threaten to sic me on him.” Ronan’s lips quirked into a brief smile.
“I’m sure that will have him quaking in his boots.” Ten shook his head. “Ronan, just keep one thing in mind here.”
“What’s that?” Ronan asked.
“Whatever protection Jude has in place is there for a reason. He might not be so anxious to give anyone the key to break it. Not even to his friends and not even for the greater good. He’s keeping something close to the vest.”
“I know he’s hiding something from his past. I’ve been hoping that he’d get to a point where he knew he was safe with us and would open up, but that hasn’t happened yet.”
“It doesn’t mean that it won’t, but asking him about this thing in order to help the Salem coven isn’t going to earn us any bonus points as friends here either.” Ten had a feeling this conversation was going to do more harm than good.
“If nothing else, he’ll know you’re coming to him out of a place of love. You’re not being a busybody here, you’re trying to help people.” Ronan pulled his husband close.
Ten allowed himself a minute to relax into Ronan’s warm embrace. The mounting anxiety he was feeling melted away. He knew it would be back.
Ronan might not have been blessed with Tennyson’s gifts, but he knew his husband well enough to know he was frightened about what was going on with the witches. He might not have lent much credence to their story last night, but he definitely believed there was something going on now. Ronan knew that as well as he knew his own name.
After he’d been able to peel his husband off his chest, he’d asked him to get everyone into the reading room. While Ten was doing that, Ronan flipped the “Closed” sign on the shop and headed over to West Side Sweets to grab some provisions. Cassie, Cole’s pregnant wife, took his order and was working to fill it quickly.
Ronan startled and spun around to see Greeley standing behind him. “Damn kid, you scared the life out of me. This old cat only has about five lives left in him to begin with.”
Greeley rubbed his hands against his arms as if he were cold. “This whole thing is giving me a hinky vibe.”
“Me too. Once all of the psychics agreed that they couldn’t read anything and that there were no spirits in the shop, even I could feel the energy in the place change. It reminded me of when a weather front moves in and you can actually feel the pressure change.” Ronan didn’t like this at all. He couldn’t imagine what it was like for Ten and the others who were more sensitive to these kinds of changes.
“I felt that too,” Greeley agreed. “How do I help?”
Ronan turned around to study the teenager. He was wearing a throwback Aerosmith tee and a pair of faded jeans. His hands were shoved deep in the front pockets. His hair was cut short, with the bangs spiked up. He looked so young and innocent standing here like this. Christ, if Ronan didn’t know better, he’d think Greeley was a fresh-faced sixteen-year-old boy who’d never known a minute of adversity in his life, when the truth of the matter was, up until he’d met Fitzgibbon last year, all he’d known was adversity. He had more empathy in his right little finger than most people had in their entire body. “Use your empathy to keep the tempers in the room from getting frayed. I don’t have a lot of information to pass along.”
“That’s why you’re bringing the food?” Greeley grinned and reached for the bags Cassie was setting on the counter.
“You’re a fast learner, kid.” Ronan went to reach for the coffee fixings, but Greeley beat him to it. “How much longer do you have to go with my baby nephew, Cass?”
“You mean with the newest member of the New England Revolution? All this little man does is kick me twenty-four/seven. I’ve got eight weeks to go until this little guy makes his debut.”
“What if he isn’t a soccer player? What if he thinks your insides are his MMA octagon?” Greeley laughed.
“God help us all then.” Cassie rolled her eyes. “Are you going to be available to work here before classes start back up?”
Greeley nodded. “I was just going to ask you when you needed me.”
“Now!” Cassie laughed. “But 5am tomorrow morning will have to do.”
“You got it, Cassie. See you then!”
Ronan grabbed the stack of cups and the carafe of coffee. If only the situation in the reading room could be solved as easily as Greeley’s summer job.
When Ronan opened the door to the reading room, he could sense instantly that the energy had changed. Again. He had a feeling it had to do with the stranger standing at the back of the room. He was instantly back in cop-mode assessing the man who looked to be about 6’3”. He had sandy blond hair tied back in a pony tail, but his vivid blue eyes were the show-stopper. He was dressed in perfectly creased black suit pants in a black cashmere sweater that Ronan was sure cost more than an entire week’s salary. “Who’s Mr. GQ?” Ronan asked as he set the coffee on the table.
“In the name of the Goddess, you are a caveman.” Andromeda shook her head and reached a dainty hand out for a cookie. “Ronan, this is Callum Churchill.”
“Oh! Nobody’s Witch!” Ronan grinned. Callum Churchill had written a book about his ancestor, Abigail Churchill, who had been a victim of the Salem Witch Trials. Ronan had been lucky enough to meet her spirit at The Black Cat Inn when he and Tennyson had been helping out Niall Gallagher and Tobin Woods. “Abigail is just lovely.”
“You mean the way I portrayed her in my novel?” Callum’s blue eyes sparkled with Ronan’s compliment.
“No, when I met her in person back in March.” Ronan grinned, setting a cup of coffee in front of Tennyson. Abigail had been an ally to Niall and Tobin, and as far as he knew, was still watching over the young couple.
“Oh, you mean my Great Aunt Abigail. She’s my mother’s aunt.” Callum smiled indulgently at Ronan as if he thought the man was simpleminded.
“No, I most definitely did not meet your great aunt.” Ronan laughed. “I met Abigail Churchill at the Witch Hill Road house out on Gallows Hill right after our friend, Niall Gallagher, bought it. There were some spirits haunting the house that were giving Niall and Tobin Woods some trouble out there. Abigail was kind enough to warn Niall of the danger. I met her when she appeared to us one day.”
“You met my great-great grandmother ten times removed?” Callum laughed. “The one who’s been dead since 1692? That Abigail Churchill?” Callum looked as if he was certain Ronan was somehow touched in the head.
It was Ronan’s turn to shoot Callum a look like he was a few eggs short of a dozen. “You realize that you’re in a room with four psychic mediums and other sensitives, right? My husband can see and speak to dead people, but Abigail appeared to us all that day as clearly as I see you now.” To prove his point, Ronan walked up to the snotty author and poked his shoulder with his index finger.
“Take your hand off me!” Callum demanded.
“It was a finger and you’re lucky it wasn’t a different one.” Ronan smirked before turning to Tennyson. “Why is he here?”
“As Salem’s resident warlock I thought it wise that we bring Callum up to speed on the situation,” Madam Aurora answered, raising an elegant brow. “I believe you have information for us all, Ronan.”
Ronan hated it when Aurora read his mind. He’d gotten used to Tennyson doing that over time. It didn’t feel like such an invasion of privacy when his husband poked around inside his head, but a total stranger? It gave him the creeps. “I do have some information, but not much that we can use to open an actual investigation.”
“Then precisely what good are you, Ronan?” Callum Churchill asked.
If one of the women who’d come to him last night asking for his help weren’t lying in the Essex County Morgue right now, Ronan would have shown the preppy SOB, with his five-hundred-dollar sweater, exactly what good he was, but Gia deserved better than him acting like a macho asshole. “The problem I ran into with my preliminary investigation is that all of deaths were deemed accidents, with the exception of the suicide. The police reports aren’t as detailed in these kinds of situations. I didn’t find any kind of evidence in the existing files that would allow for an investigation to be opened should the town of record choose to open one.”
“Whatever do you mean, choose to open one? These policemen work for us. We pay their salaries!” Callum folded his arms over his chest. An offended look was plastered on his face.
Ronan could feel his temper rising with every perfectly pronounced word out of Churchill’s mouth. He took a deep breath, trying to keep his temper at bay. “We may be paid by taxpayer money, but we have to operate by the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. If I can’t show that a crime was committed then I can’t bring a charge. More to the point, I only have jurisdiction to arrest someone in the City of Boston. I could certainly go to the Salem Police if I had evidence of a crime committed here, but that doesn’t mean they have to investigate. It doesn’t mean they have to open a case and look for suspects.”
Callum made a disgusted noise and looked away from Ronan.
“What about Martha’s suicide?” Aurora asked.
That had been the hardest of the deaths for Ronan to deal with. It brought back memories he wasn’t ready to deal with yet. He might never be ready to deal with those memories. “From everything I read, it was a straightforward suicide.”
“Whatever is straightforward about suicide, Mr. O’Mara?” Callum’s words dripped with annoyance.
What the hell was wrong with this guy? The snotty attitude he could take, but not the disrespect. “It’s Detective O’Mara, Mr. Churchill. Everyone in this room has been through enough tonight with the death of Gia without me going into detail about Martha and her death scene and autopsy photos. “Whatever happened to her was good enough to convince a trained medical examiner that she had willingly taken her own life. In my fourteen years on the force, I’ve seen staged suicides, this looked nothing like those.”
“So, you’re saying our precious girl killed herself?” Callum’s voice had taken on an incredulous tone.
“No, I’m saying that if someone else did this, that someone was an expert. Maybe even a doctor. Which brings me back to Gia.” Ronan turned to Tennyson. “What information is the news releasing about her death at this time?”
“Just that she was found on a jogging path, but they didn’t say if there were signs of foul play.” Ten wore a grim look on his face.
“Ladies, did she go running alone or was this out of the norm for Gia?” Ronan had a feeling he knew the answer. Whoever was behind this was a predator and would have been good at identifying routines and picking out the weakest witches in the group.
“She always ran alone after Sophia was picked up for kindergarten,” Corazon wept.
“Sophia?” Ronan felt his heart sink. He’d had no idea Gia was a mother.
“That child was the light of her life,” Callum said, sounding human for the first time all evening.
“Okay, so if someone was looking to harm her it would have been easy for them to have learned her routine,” Ronan said more to himself than the others. “All we can do now is wait for the police report and autopsy.”
“So, you sit and do nothing while we are hunted down and killed like rabid dogs?” Callum’s voice was full of venom.
Ronan sighed heavily. “Tell me what you’d do in my place, Mr. Churchill? Go rogue? Wear a green hood and have me call myself The Arrow? What? You tell me. I’m all ears.” Ronan held his hands out to the author knowing full well that he wasn’t going to have an idea worthy of using.
“It seems to me we’ve come to a crossroads, doesn’t it, detective? You know full well what needs to be done here in order to get justice. It is the precise reason the women sought you out. They needed a champion who would color outside the lines. You failed them. Gia is dead.” Callum moved from his place near the back wall and walked toward the door.
“Now hold on just a minute-” Ronan started.
Callum held his hand up to indicate he wasn’t finished. “Good night, Mr. O’Mara. Pray we all survive to see the rising sun.” The warlock walked toward the door of the reading room. All of the witches followed behind him. Lyric Vaughn shot Ronan a sympathetic look, but she walked out the door after him.
“Well, shit.” Carson shut the door behind them. “The only way that could have gone worse was if they burned you at the stake, pal.”
Ronan had been thinking the same thing.
Something smacking against Tennyson’s naked back woke him from a dead sleep. Cracking an eyeball open he could see the time on the digital alarm clock read 3:24am. Before he could register what had hit him the last time, Ronan kicked him.
“No!” Ronan shouted, thrashing out with his arms this time.
Nightmare, Tennyson thought. He rolled over and shook Ronan’s right shoulder. “Ronan? Ronan, wake up!” He shook harder.
“Ten?” Ronan’s voice was thick with sleep. “Tennyson is it really you?”
Flipping on the light, Ten turned back to Ronan who was looking shell-shocked. “It’s me. See?” Ten reached for his hands which were shaking. “I’m right here.”
Ronan blinked a few times before he grabbed Tennyson and pulled him into his arms. “You were dead. They burned you. I had to watch. You made me turn you in again.” He gasped for air. “Why did you make me do that?”
All Tennyson could do was hold on tight while Ronan cried and mumbled the same questions over and over. What stuck out to him was that Ronan used the word “again.” “What do you mean I made you turn me in again?” Ten asked when Ronan had calmed down a bit more.
“We weren’t in Salem, but everyone was there. Carson and Truman and Cole and Jude. Preacher Black too.” Ronan shivered.
“Do you know where we were?” Ten was afraid to ask the question. To be honest, he was more afraid of the answer. “Or when?”
“I’m not sure, but I heard the word ‘inquisition’ and I could speak and understand Spanish. You called me mi amor.”
“I remember enough Spanish from high school to know that means my love.” Christ, the Spanish Inquisition? Was that really where Ronan’s Magical Mystery Tour had taken them this time?
Ronan nodded. “What the hell is going on here, Ten? These dreams are a little too real to be just dreams. Is something else going on? Something you’re not telling me about?”
Ten hated keeping things from Ronan. With everything that was going on with the witches visiting and then Gia dying, he hadn’t had the chance to talk to Madam Aurora about what he thought was going on with Ronan. “I do think there’s something going on here. I’m not an expert, but I think what you might be experiencing are past lives resurfacing.”
Ronan’s brows knit together, but he didn’t say a word.
It was fascinating to watch his husband’s mind work. Ten could see Ronan was thinking over what he’d just said. His skeptical husband had come a long way in the last sixteen months. The Ronan O’Mara who’d walked through the doors of West Side Magick over a year ago would not have responded to the ideas of past lives in this calm manner. That Ronan would have responded with choice words and probably a slamming door.
“Past lives? As in plural?” Ronan’s voice was filled with wonder.
“You said the first dream took place in Salem, but this one did not, right? Do you think we were backward in time from the Salem dream or was it more modern?”
“It seemed earlier to me. I’m no historian, but I know I heard the crowd murmuring about the Inquisition. Were witches hunted and killed during that time? By the church?” Ronan sounded like he had no idea if such a thing were possible.
Ten nodded. “Everyone was hunted in that time, but the Catholic Church didn’t like to be associated with witch hunts so it was done on the down low.” Ten took a shaky breath. “Was I only being accused of witchcraft?”
Ronan shook his head. His blue eyes filled with tears. “No, there was another charge.” Tears dripped from his eyes.
Ten swiped at them with the pads of his thumbs. “Homosexuality, right?”
Nodding, Ronan buried his face against the side of Tennyson’s neck. “You made me promise I’d tell them about you.”
“See, that was something the church could kill you for back then. That way the witchcraft didn’t have to come up at all.” Ten wiped away more of Ronan’s tears.
“Dirty fuckers,” Ronan muttered against his neck. “Using religion as a torch to light your pyre.”
“Shit, they barbequed me again?” Ten chuckled against Ronan’s soft, dirty-blond hair.
“Not funny,” Ronan squawked.
“You’re right, it isn’t,” Ten agreed. “How many of us died over the centuries like this?”
Ronan held on tighter. “How many men like me sent their lovers to the flames? I was your Judas, Ten. How did I live with myself? How did you find it in your heart to forgive me?”
Tennyson’s heart clenched in his chest. It seemed they’d been destined to be star-crossed lovers throughout time. “Well, I think that knowing you lived was probably enough for me. That, and knowing we’d meet again.”
“You said that in this dream, just like you did in the first one. You told me we’d be reunited. Shit!” Ronan pulled back from Tennyson. He swiped angrily at the tears still falling from his eyes. “We were reunited. In Salem, and I was your executioner there too. Jesus Christ, Ten! How many other times did this happen? How many more times did I betray you? Is it going to happen again now? Here?” Ronan gasped for breath.
“It’s okay. Breathe.” Ten set a hand against his husband’s pounding heart. “I don’t know that much about this. I was hoping the first dream was just a dream.”
“What do you mean?” Ronan’s eyes narrowed.
“There were elements of that dream that led me to think this could be a past life resurfacing, but then I told myself I was just being over-sensitive. That it was just a dream. I promised myself I’d take action if it happened again.” Ten wore a guilty look on his face. If he’d asked Aurora about this sooner, they might have been able to avoid Ronan having another nightmare.
“What kind of action are we talking about? Are you gonna douse me with holy water?” Ronan shivered.
Ten snorted. “No, we’re going to have to go seen an expert on this.”
“Please tell me it’s not that Churchill dick. I had just about all of him I could take in the fifteen minutes I was with him tonight.”
“No, it’s not Callum Churchill. I didn’t even know he was involved in the Salem Witch Community until he walked into the shop tonight. You showed remarkable restraint. I thought he said at least three different things that should have earned him a fat lip.” Tennyson pressed a kiss to the side of Ronan’s head. “The expert in all matters past life is Madam Aurora.”
“Of fucking course, it’s her. Your arch-enemy to the rescue again.” Ronan rolled his now dry eyes.
“She isn’t my arch-enemy anymore and what’s more, she was never yours. Aurora likes you.”
“Everyone likes me.” Ronan’s shit-eating grin was back in full-force.
“Oh, please! Earlier tonight you said I was all rainbows and unicorns and that you were a grumpy bastard.” Ronan never gave himself enough credit. People might have thought he was irritable, but they trusted him to keep them safe. In Tennyson’s mind, that would be the more important thing.
“Yeah, that was just so you’d talk to Jude about his psychic-blocking magic.” Ronan managed a smile.
“Are you saying you were buttering me up?” The hand sitting against Ronan’s heart couldn’t feel it pounding so hard anymore. At least this banter was calming him down.
“Yes! I’m so good at it you didn’t even know I was doing it!” Ronan crowed.
“Just like I’m so good at cheering you up that you didn’t even notice I was doing it?”
“Huh. Oh yeah, I guess I am feeling better. Very tricky.” Ronan reached over to shut the light off. He pulled Ten down to lie on his chest. “Why now, Ten? Why are these past lives coming back now?”
“I’m not sure, babe.” Ten pressed a kiss against Ronan’s heart. He had an idea, he just needed more information before he told Ronan his theory.
Meeting with Kevin Fitzgibbon about Greeley wanting to drop out of college to join the police academy was about the last thing Ronan wanted to do. The only thing worse, in his mind, anyway, was trying to talk to Jude Byrne about his deal with the witches and how to crack his own personal Da Vinci Code in order to help keep said witches safe.
Just because he wasn’t looking forward to the task at hand didn’t mean he wasn’t prepared for it. He’d stopped at West Side Sweets before making the hour-long trip into Boston. He’d grabbed Kevin’s favorites: passionfruit muffins and mint chocolate chip cookies. There was no sense taking any chances with something this important to discuss. A little bribe could go a long way.
The captain was sitting at his desk, squinting at the computer screen when Ronan knocked on his door. His heart was knocking so hard against his ribcage that he could feel the beats in his toes. He was more nervous about this conversation than he was about chasing down gun-wielding murderers.
“Oh, good. I was wondering when you’d stroll in.” Now that Greeley was out of school for the summer and Jace Lincoln was out of his life, Fitzgibbon had gone back to his old habits. He was in the office before the sun rose into the sky and his lips rarely formed a smile anymore.
Ronan knew it was only 7:45am or so. Not that he was required to punch a timeclock or anything, but this was the “new” Fitzgibbon. Constantly in a pissy mood and spoiling for a fight. “Good morning to you too, princess.” Ronan set down the two bakery bags along with the coffee he’d picked up from the expensive place across the street, before digging through the stack of paperwork on the captain’s desk to find Fitzgibbon’s reading glasses, which he set in front of his boss. Cocking an eyebrow, Ronan grabbed his own coffee and sat down in front of him.
“What did Greeley say last night?” Fitzgibbon wasted no time breaking apart a muffing and tearing into it.
After Ronan’s trip to the past last night, he hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep. What he had gotten had come in the form of mostly catnaps, leaving him tired and feeling pretty pissy himself this morning. “Look, I get that you’re going through a bit of a rough patch here with Greeley acting like a normal teenager for the first time since you’ve known him and with your love life in the shitter, but Jesus Christ, snap out of it. You’ve been a bear to deal with since Valentine’s Day.”
“Oh, have I now?” Kevin’s voice was dangerously quiet. His green eyes glittered coldly.
Ronan knew he was treading into dangerous territory. “Yes! Tennyson told me what you needed to do to get Jace back and you haven’t done any of it. So far as I can see, you’ve gone back to all of your old habits here, while Jace on the other hand-” Ronan snapped his mouth shut. He wasn’t supposed to tell Kevin anything about Jace Lincoln. According to his marching orders from Tennyson, he wasn’t even supposed to bring the other man up in conversation.