Scene with Roman

  • Chapter One

    The fire danced in the pit, orange sparks crackling and floating around like a nimbus of fireflies.

    Three months without her.

    I didn’t expect to be such a wreck.

    Her file sat on my lap. Thicker than most other magic users, Ryan’s attention to detail was at times enlightening, and at other times quite disturbing.

    The breeze tonight was minimal, keeping the fire’s smoke at bay. I sat in the garden, a few feet away from the bench Kathleen had claimed in her time here. She thought I never saw her speaking to the occasional projection, but I almost always had my eye on her.

    Perhaps I could understand Ryan’s attention to detail when it came to her.

    In keeping with my job duties, I’d read her file thoroughly, even when I wanted to close it and pretend I’d never delved so far into her life.

    A full moon blazed overhead, casting a silvery glow over the land. The pond sparkled, and every so often, a small splash signaled the activity of the creatures below the depths.

    A glass of wine sat on a small portable table next to me, a dish of cheese and crackers long forgotten beside it. Food didn’t taste the same without her.

    Sighing, I toyed with the edge of the file, debating my next move.

    As the Director of The Magical Bureau of Affairs, I should have stayed far away from Kathleen Grimshaw. She was a problem for the local office, though she shouldn’t have ever been a problem—not once she received the training she should have years ago. Ryan had made her that way, seeing an interesting puzzle and doggedly pursuing the solution, no matter how it might harm her in the future.

    The problem was, Kathleen was a puzzle that could never be solved. Life was always a puzzle without a solution. But in Ryan’s tunnel vision, he created a problem that never should have existed, complicating my life more than it had ever been before.

    The house felt lonely without her. My assistant, Lori, was gone, imprisoned at the Bureau with no hope of freedom for the foreseeable future. Her betrayal still stung, but the reasons for it hurt even worse. Kathleen opened my eyes up to a lot of things during her time here, one being the blinders I wore with my own staff. After she left, Ross pulled me to the side and suggested a few other personnel changes.

    I now had an entirely new maid staff, two new kitchen assistants, but Shepherd stayed on, and I promoted Anne to Head Maid. Things were better, and that underlying tension in the air I barely noticed had disappeared right along with the rest of my staff.

    Ross never said much about Kathleen, but he liked her, and the man liked almost no one. She was the only one who ever dared call him Jeeves, something he and I occasionally laughed about. He never told me how foolish I was or that I should have followed her. Kathleen wouldn’t want me to follow her. She needed to figure things out in her own time.

    I hoped the book I sent her helped her decide. It was marked delivered a few days ago, way too soon for any response to make it back here. I should have left her my email address.

    I should have done a lot of things differently.

    The sound of footsteps in the grass stilled my raging thoughts. I sent a small thread of magic behind me.

    “Ryan,” I said, not pleased he’d shown up at my home after all this. His last assignment concluded right before she’d confronted me about the knife in my room. A smile curved my lips as I thought about her spying on me. I knew the manor had tunnels. I’d just never found all of them until her arrival.

    “Roman,” Ryan said. He walked around my chair and settled in one opposite me, crossing one ankle over his knee.

    “To what do I owe the pleasure of this unexpected visit?” No one made it onto my property without the knowledge of Ross, so Ryan must have used his power to charm my staff, something I’d take into consideration when reinforcing the wards around the property.

    “Kate is gone?” He made it sound like a question, but his face told me he already knew the answer.

    I took a sip of my wine and stared. Ryan was one of my better agents, but my goodness did he fumble with Kathleen. As I watched a host of emotions play over his face, I sat a little straighter, realization striking me like a bolt of lightning.

    “You’re in love with her.” The statement fell from my lips unbidden, but I knew as soon as his eyes flickered that I’d hit the bullseye. “You idiot.” A laugh bubbled from me. Of all the insane ways to show how you feel, Ryan had chosen possibly the worst.

    “She was safe here.” His jaw clenched as he dropped his gaze.

    This poor sap truly believed Kate might forgive him. I counted to ten in my head. “The most important thing you can do when you love someone is keep them safe. We are in agreement on that point.”

    Ryan tilted his head.

    “But you manipulated her emotions, forced her into captivity by trying to dupe me as well, then refused to keep her informed of anything you were doing. Not only that, you also made the choice for her. She didn’t want a protector, Ryan. She wanted you.”

    “She still wants me,” he ground out.

    I didn’t bother refuting his point, but I didn’t agree with him there. Kathleen needed time to heal. I planned to give that to her. If she still wanted Ryan then, I would let her go. Even though we didn’t know each other well, I felt like I knew some of the darker corners of her heart. We were alike in our secrecy.

    “You truly believe that?” I asked calmly.

    He blew out a breath and tilted his chair up. “I do. She was in love with me not so long ago. Why would it have changed?”

    He had no idea. Had he ever truly known her at all? “It’s been months. You haven’t seen her since your confrontation in my hallway.”

    Ryan shrugged, his jaw set in a mulish manner. “Kate won’t change her mind.”

    How little he knew her. If he’d shown her faith and confided in her from the beginning, she wouldn’t have. But he’d shown her what he thought of her with his actions. “You changed her mind already. The moment you took her freedom away and showed her your position was more important than her.”

    He looked away, guilt and anger flickering over his face. “I had no choice.”

    It sounded like he believed himself as much as I believed him. A bark of laughter escaped me. “You had every choice. I instructed you multiple times not to pursue this, and yet, you kept after her. If I had half a mind, I’d slap you with a written warning for using your powers on her.”

    Anger rolled over his eyes. “It was the only way.”

    This conversation exhausted me. Kathleen had a way of worming herself inside of your heart. A small part of me felt some empathy for him, but if he wanted to keep her heart, he never would have done the things he did to her. Even if I kept her safe, he still violated the core of who she is. And even I, her jailer, had come to see the error of my ways far before she ever took me to task for it. Toward the end of her captivity, I knew I’d let her go, but I couldn’t make myself do it because I wanted her with me. It was only when she found herself in grave danger that I found

    I’d always feel immense guilt for this misjudgment.

    Shaking away those thoughts, I studied Ryan. His tense posture told me there was more to this than met the eye. “You are not here to talk about Kate, I presume?”

    He blew out a short breath. “Not exactly. It affects Hallow Hills.”

    My attention was rapt. “Tell me.”

    Ryan laid out his case, the potential ramifications of it, and how Kate might be involved. When he finished, I sat back and stared, waiting for him to hammer the final nail in his coffin. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t have to wait long.

    “I’d like to return there as a full agent of the Bureau.” His eyes met mine, and I saw far more in them than I ever wanted to see. He’d made mistakes, but so had I. Still, he’d continually chosen the wrong path even knowing how it might end up.

    I wasn’t surprised by his request. Ever since she’d left, I suspected I’d see Ryan again coming to me with a request to return.

    “You’ve lost the respect of the town,” I said slowly. “They’ve filled your position. Months ago, in fact.”

    Ryan’s jaw clenched. “I’m aware. I don’t want to go back as a police officer. I want to return as an agent.”

    “No.” His secret might be out in Hallow Hills, but I didn’t want him near Kate. Not that I worried about whether she’d choose him. It would break my heart if she did, but I’d always suspect Ryan forced the issue. His power got him closer to her in the beginning, and he never hesitated to use it on a case for his own gain.

    Ryan’s brow furrowed. “No?”

    I nodded. “Absolutely not. You won’t go within fifty miles of Kathleen Grimshaw, especially not after your relationship with her. You are banned from any cases in Hallow Hills now and in the future.”

    His fists clenched. “You can’t do that!”

    I gestured a hand at myself and the manor. “Are you sure?”

    Ryan’s eyes widened. He sat back in his chair, rubbing a hand over his jaw, until he finally let out a short laugh. “I wondered.” His eyes narrowed. “She got to you. The invincible, frozen Roman Carr. How did she manage it?”

    My smile thinned. He spoke of her like she was a succubus, as if she had some magical power designed to lure men to their sides. “My personal life is none of your business. Whether I admire Kathleen or not will never concern you. I can assure you, I haven’t spoken to her since she left here three months ago.” With little ceremony, I stood, taking my wine glass with me. “I will have the local bureau reach out with a new assignment. Your time in Hallow Hills is done. If you haven’t sold your house already, you should. Hire an agent to do it.” I smiled thinly. “Your time here is done as well. I trust you’ll see yourself out?”

    Without another word, I turned and left him sitting alone. I passed Ross on the way back inside, his grim expression turning feral when he saw who I left behind. “Sorry, Roman,” he grumbled.

    I flicked a hand. “Not a big deal. We will need to take further precautions against his kind in the future.” I sent a whisper of power through my hands and touched his collar. It would keep Ryan’s influence from affecting him again, at least temporarily. “Please see our friend off the premises. As soon as it’s done, please notify me. I need to adjust the wards.”

    Ross nodded and headed out to the garden.

    I let a satisfied smile curve my lips as I made my way inside. Ross was none too pleased to realized what happened. Ryan’s escort out would be far from gentle.

    Chapter Two

    A plain, Kraft paper wrapped package arrived in the mail a month later. I still had no assistant, but Anne had taken on some of the duties. Surprisingly, unlike Leah, she left my mail unmolested. I never realized how much I might appreciate that until I was able to open letters and packages on my own.

    There was no full return address, but the post office stamp said Tennessee, and my fingers trembled when I realized who it might be from. Getting my hopes up felt foolish, but I knew no one else from the state, and the mission there hadn’t yet started.

    I would know. I’d volunteered myself for it.

    A letter fell from the wrapping as I pulled out a small, dark green leatherbound journal. It had been painstakingly carved in an intricate forest pattern. On the back, toward the very bottom, the artist had burned my name, disguising it inside of the foliage of the main artwork. My breath caught at the gift, even as my heart felt like it would burst from my chest.

    I flipped open the journal to see a hand scrawled note. “So you can have the forest with you all the time.”

    She signed it, Kathleen.

    Hope bloomed inside me, full and painful. With shaking fingers, I opened the note.


    Spring in Hallow Hills steals my heart every time I walk outside. The flowers are in heavy bloom, drooping with buds and blooms. I can hardly clip them fast enough before new ones take their place.  The greenhouse is bursting with new life, and I have more tomatoes than I know what to do with. Gardening here is different than Texas. I can stand to be outside here, sitting in my garden drinking tea and reading a book.

    Your gift kept me entertained for days, though I know it must have pained you to ask him for it. Thank you so much for sending it my way.

    Things are different, Roman. Everything is different. I am different.

    I find myself thinking about you often, hoping you are well.

    Maybe we will see each other sooner rather than later?


    I read her note at least five times before a hopeful smile bloomed over my face. As I picked up the package to toss the wrapping, something else fell out.

    I picked it up to see a selfie of her, holding a handful of gorgeous peonies that half obscured her face. A huge smile crinkled the edges of her eyes, and the final piece of stone around my heart cracked at seeing her again.

    Careful not to smudge the edges, I put the photograph on one of my bookshelves and picked up the phone.
    “Anne?” I said when she answered. “Can you run and get me a 5×7 silver picture frame?”

    When we hung up, I pulled a sheet of parchment from a file folder and set pen to paper.

    My Dearest Kathleen…