The flames rose higher from the palm of his hand and he casually set a piece of paper on fire to prove the flames were real. Then, with a majestic gesture and clap, he made the fire disappear. With a practiced smile, he displayed his unmarred palms to the vacant seats.
The sound of a single person clapping echoed in the massive theater and Brand finally allowed himself to focus on her. "Hello, Rose."
She moved out of the darkness of the wings into the stage lights. "Impressive. No wonder they call you the best magician in the world."
She looked much as he remembered her--slender, deep blue eyes filled with mischief and secrets and full lips curved in a teasing smile. Her dark hair was different--short now in a tousled cut that made her appear as if she'd just rolled out of bed.
Brand's gut knotted. Don't go there.
She wore a short simple dress that hugged her curves and revealed miles of her to-die-for legs. A brief memory surfaced of those legs swinging before him on a hot summer evening as Rose sat on a porch railing while he stood before her. They'd both been almost thirteen then and he'd been hopelessly enamored of her.
He shook away that traitorous vision to concentrate on the here and now. "Long time, no see."
Her brilliant smile held the power of shooting stars. "I'm surprised you recognized me. It's been over ten years."
"You haven't changed." If anything, the years since graduation had added a maturity to her features that made her even more appealing.
"I cut my hair." She ran her hand carelessly through it. "Do you like it?"
Brand examined the sassy, sexy cut with grudging acceptance. "I liked it long better." Her hair had once fallen half-way down her back, shimmering like a silken waterfall when she moved.
Rose shook her head. "It's easier to take care of this way."
"I didn't know that was a problem for you." He didn't bother to keep the dryness from his voice. Nothing had been a problem for Rose--not since she'd hit puberty and blossomed...in so many ways.
A brief glitter in her eyes indicated he'd hit his target, but she didn't respond to his barb. Instead she walked to the middle of the stage and surveyed the empty seats. "I understand you have a big show in a few weeks."
"I do." Sudden suspicion crept in and he stalked over to her to whirl her around. "What are you doing here, Rose?"
She didn't try to be coy or evade his question--something he'd always admired in her. But when she worried her bottom lip in a familiar gesture, he knew.
Disgusted, he folded his arms across his chest. "I wondered when you'd get to me."
"You've done exposés on all the other illusionists. I figured it was only a matter of time."
He hadn't seen her over the past decade, but that hadn't stopped him from keeping track of her.
Graduating from college with a journalism degree, she'd started small, but rose to prominence with her in-depth features on the top magicians and how they performed their most intricate illusions. Heresy.
Had she chosen this line of work because he'd become an illusionist? Another way to torment him?
"I don't want to write about you," she said. "You're my friend."
When he didn't respond, she grimaced. "Or you used to be."
"Then don't do it," he snapped. She could ruin everything he'd worked so hard to obtain.
"I have to." She held out her hands in a supplicating gesture. "You're the only one left and you're the greatest, the best, eclipsing even David Copperfield."
"You don't have to." Nobody made Rose do anything she didn't want to do. "You just want the glory of revealing all my secrets."
"No, I don't." Her anguish sounded real. "But it's my job. I don't want to lose it."
"Right." Brand dropped his arms as he paced away from her, then he whirled back to face her, his fists clenched, his nerves pulled tight. "Why now, Rose? When I'm about to perform the biggest illusion of my career?"
"Bad timing?" She gave him a tentative smile.
"Bullshit!" She'd waited until he'd achieved some success, until he was on the brink of performing an illusion he'd spent a year preparing for. Good publicity for her. The possible end of a career for him.
Fresh sparks flared to life in her eyes. "Look, I came to tell you I was doing this, which is more than I've done for anyone else."
"Doesn't matter. You're not welcome here. You're not about to do an exposé on me."
"I'm doing this--with or without your cooperation."
He recognized the stubborn tilt to her chin. Damn, she probably would. The other magicians hadn't even known she was there in their audiences, stealing their hard-won secrets until her story appeared in Uncovered magazine.
He squeezed his fist so tight that he inadvertently ignited the fire from his last illusion and flames shot out over his palms. Before he could even react to stop them, the flames disappeared and he glared at Rose as she lowered her hand from over his.
"I could have taken care of it." He'd been practicing illusions for years. Did she think he hadn't dealt with mistakes before?
"I didn't want you to get burned." She offered him an apologetic smile, but he didn't return it.
"Or you just wanted to flaunt your power." To remind him he would never have what she had.
Rose released an exasperated sound. "That's what this is all about, isn't it? You still resent me for having real magic."
"Why shouldn't I? You have what I've always wanted and you treat it like it's nothing."
Her gaze hardened. "I didn't ask for this. Is it my fault my mother was a faery?"
"My father was a faery." Something Brand hadn't learned until that fateful thirteenth summer that had changed everything. "And I sure didn't get any magic."
"The circumstances were different, Brand. You know that. I inherited my mother's magic when she gave birth to me. Your father gave up his long before you were even conceived."
Brand knew that, but he didn't have to like it. Even before he'd known of his father's heritage, he'd been obsessed with magic, starting with card tricks at age six. To survive around a man as charming as Robin Goodfellow, Brand had needed that extra edge to be noticed at all. That his father had given up everything--his magic, his immortality--to be with his mother irritated the hell out of him.
His father had been a fool--a fool in love--a curse Brand planned to avoid at all costs. What a waste of power, of a gift unlike any other.
"So you use your power to reveal all the secrets of those of us who have to work for our mortal magic." Since she'd begun her series of features, attendance had dropped significantly at shows. Why come and marvel if you knew how the trick was done?
She winced. "I only use my magic if I have to."
"Ha." He'd seen her use it throughout high school--missing assignments that suddenly appeared, delicious lunches replacing the cafeteria slop, changing outfits in the middle of the day. "You couldn't survive a day without your magic."
"That's not true." Her heated denial came quickly, but he caught the swift flicker of doubt on her face.
"Isn't it?" He hesitated only a moment before rushing ahead. She planned to do the exposé anyhow. Why not make it on his terms? After all, she'd never been able to refuse a dare. He moved closer, forcing her to look up to meet his gaze. "I'll make you a deal, Rose."
She narrowed her eyes. "What kind of deal?"
"I'll allow you into my theater, my tour, provided you don't use your powers on any occasion--personal or professional. If you can figure out my secrets like an ordinary mortal, you're welcome to them."
"No magic at all?" Her voice held a barely disguised tremor and Brand bit back a smile.
"None. Not even if I'm on fire." He met her gaze, daring her to refuse. She wouldn't be able to, not if she was the Rose Thayer he once knew. She thought she lived like an ordinary person but he knew differently. "If you use your magic, even once, you have to go away and give up writing your exposés."
"And why would I agree to that?" Her expression had hardened.
"Oh, you probably won't." She wouldn't be able to make it. Within a matter of days she'd slip and he'd be free of her and the magicians would be safe from further intrusion. Brand gave her a harsh smile. "You can't handle not using your magic, can you?"
"I can survive without it just fine." She extended her hand, her blue eyes gleaming. "Deal."
He took her slender fingers in his, unprepared for the unnerving awareness of her closeness. "Deal."
He dropped her hand, abruptly. "I start work at eight a.m. and leave on a ten-city tour on Wednesday." Of course, by then she would have failed to keep her part of the deal so it was a moot point. When she slipped up, she'd keep to their bargain. He trusted her to keep her word even if he couldn't trust her.
"I'll be here." She pivoted and left without even a backward glance.
But Brand watched her every step of the way until the door closed after her. Even then the tightness in his chest didn't ease.
He was asking for trouble by inviting her into his life like this where she could mentally and physically torment him. He still wanted her, had longed for her since he'd first realized what that ache in his groin meant.
And he'd never have her. Never.
That hot July day of seventeen years ago returned with startling clarity. He'd rushed home after stealing his first kiss from Rose and informed his parents that he intended to marry her when he grew up.
Now the significant glance his mom and dad had exchanged made sense. They shouldn't have been surprised. His family had been friends with the Thayers forever. They'd sat him down and explained that Rose was different, that once she reached her mid-twenties she'd quit aging, that soon she'd discover the power within her.
He'd refused to believe them at first, but his father had explained that both he and Rose's mother were Fae and had been forced into the mortal world by Titania, Queen of the Fae. If Brand wouldn't believe him, then he could talk to Ariel, Rose's mother.
But soon after that, Rose's powers had erupted, resulting in broken windows, lightning bolts inside the house and the sudden appearance of roses until she'd learned to control her magic.
Brand had never forgotten the betrayal of that summer. He'd lost both respect for his father and adoration for his best friend. Nothing had been the same from that moment on. He'd avoided Rose as much as possible and rebelled against his father, leaving home immediately after graduation from high school.
Only in his illusions had he found solace. Only in his illusions did people notice him. Only there did he emerge from his father's large shadow. That summer had been when he'd vowed to become the best magician in the world. And he'd achieved that goal through dedication and hard work.
He would show Rose, he would show his father that he could be just as good as them.
Now Rose was a part of his life again--even if only for a short time. He shook his head, fighting a surge of unwanted anticipation.
All of a sudden, he had the horrible feeling he'd made a big mistake.
The shrill ringing of the alarm clock jarred Rose from her romantic dream. With a moan of disappointment, she extended her hand to shut it off magically. Abruptly, she jerked her hand back and bolted upright as she recalled her previous day's promise. No magic.
She could do that. Rose slapped the alarm into silence. After all, she'd lived in the mortal world all her life as one of them. How hard could it be to not use her magic?
She hadn't even known she had magical powers until she was nearly thirteen. And she'd managed fine until then. If Brand thought he could stop her with this stupid deal, he had another think coming.
After a quick shower, she combed her hair with her fingers, grateful for the easy, short style. No fuss, no muss. Perfect for the journalist on the go.
Pulling open the closet door, Rose frowned. Okay, this was going to be a problem. She usually only carried a handful of clothes with her, preferring to use her magic to create whatever style she needed for the occasion. All she had with her was a slinky party dress and a one-piece blue jumpsuit.
Damn and blast. She'd have to buy some clothing. Brand's resentment of her magic was going to cost her some serious money.
Naturally the jumpsuit was wrinkled. Great. She hadn't ironed anything in ages. Well, it wasn't like she'd forgotten how. The hotel kept an ironing board and iron in the closet and she set them up and went to work.
Ironing wasn't difficult--just time-consuming...and boring, which left her mind free to wander.
Her deal with Brand defied explanation. Why had she agreed? Probably to prove to Brand that she was as normal as he was. She didn't need magic to get her story. She didn't need magic to live. To admit otherwise meant accepting she was fully Fae--something too distasteful to consider.
After learning of how the Fae had treated Brand's father and her mother--forcing them out of the magical realm--she wanted nothing to do with that world, especially if it meant meeting Titania, the wicked Queen of the Fae.
The odor of something burning jerked her mind back to her task. "Dammit." She yanked the iron up, but it was too late. The leg of her jumpsuit now displayed an iron imprint.
She could fix it in a heartbeat. No. No, she'd made a deal. Rose sighed. With luck the scorch wouldn't show after she put the jumpsuit on.
She dressed and examined her reflection critically. The scorch barely showed.
She met her gaze. What did Brand see when he looked at her? What did he feel? When he'd first looked at her, a brief flare of emotion had lit his eyes only to be quickly shuttered away like usual.
Surprisingly, his resentment and withdrawal still hurt even after all these years, though this pain didn't begin to compare to the devastation she'd suffered at thirteen.
She had adored Brand. He'd been her best friend, the one person with whom she could talk for hours. In her naiveté, she'd been unable to imagine a future without him.
Then her magic had arrived along with her changing hormones, throwing her entire life into chaos. At first, she'd been unable to control her powers, never knowing if a sneeze would produce a tiger, a bouquet of flowers or transport her across town.
Losing Brand's support, his friendship, had cut deep. She hadn't asked for this. It wasn't her fault.
But he'd distanced himself, refusing to see her, to talk to her, not even acknowledging her tentative smile in the school hallways. And she'd been miserable.
Still, she'd tried to avoid doing this feature on him. She'd covered every other magician until only he was left and her editor at the magazine had insisted she get the goods on Brand Goodfellow or find another job. She'd stalled long enough.
Rose glanced at the clock and gasped. Where had the time gone? This actually getting dressed--and ironing--took up valuable minutes. Grabbing her notebook, she raced from the room.
No time for breakfast. She usually conjured up something in her room. Rose grimaced. Magic definitely made life easier.
At the front of the hotel, she paused. Without being able to transport magically, she needed a ride.
"May I call you a cab, miss?" the porter asked.
"Yes, please." She waited several impatient minutes until he hailed a taxi. Before she could step forward, a man burst through the hotel doors and jumped inside.
"I'm late," he called, then slammed the door.
"Hey." Rose ran toward the vehicle. "So am I."
The cab sped away and she turned her angry gaze on the porter, who gave her an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry, miss." He raised his arm to stop another taxi, but several whizzed by before one paused before the hotel.
Rose leapt inside before the vehicle completely stopped and snapped out the theater's address. Great, she was going to be late for her first day with Brand. He'd love it. She knew he expected her to wimp out of their deal, but she wasn't about to give him the satisfaction.
Okay, so maybe she had used her magic more than she'd realized. She was also determined. Brand Goodfellow wasn't going to defeat her that easily. She'd uncover his secrets through regular investigation...without any magic.
When the taxi stopped before the theater, Rose tossed money at the driver, then rushed outside. As she crossed the threshold, her heel caught and she stumbled forward, nearly tumbling to the floor.
She caught herself, then examined the offending shoe. The heel had come off. Of course. What else could go wrong?
She grimaced. Don't ask.
With shoe in hand, she lurched into the stage area. Brand stood beneath the lights, surrounded by several members of his crew.
Damn, why did he still have to be so handsome? She'd followed his rapidly rising career over the past ten years, but the photos hadn't done him justice. He wore his black wavy hair shorter than she remembered, but the style only added to his magnetism. He'd always been good-looking with his brilliant green eyes and slender build, but the years had added muscles to his frame and a sense of mystique to his persona.
He focused on her as she approached the stage. "You're late."
"So?" She hobbled forward. "I don't work for you." She glared at him. "I ran into some problems."
I-told-you-so amusement danced in Brand's eyes. The fiend. He knew it had been a horrible morning so far. "If you're not here when we leave tomorrow, you're on your own," he added.
Rose swallowed her retort. This not using her magic was going to be more difficult than she'd expected, but not impossible. She met Brand's steady gaze. Surely, not impossible.
A horrible suspicion crept into her mind and refused to leave. This can't be...it isn't...surely I haven't made the biggest mistake of my life.
This site designed by NovelTalk.