Rachel sat there in silence, her mind filled with too many thoughts. They had to be bordering on insane, all eight of them to go to a third gathering--knowing the killer was going to be there again. Although unlike the Beltane murders, one had survived the attempt at Solstice. She felt sick to her stomach thinking of how Rhonda was faring after barely surviving the attack. Would she be able to go through something like that and still have the strength to go on? She didn’t think so. How Rhonda could live with the scars that covered her and know that her friend had died beside her from some psycho was something she couldn’t quite grasp.
Cora nudged Rachel’s arm and showed her the text message on her phone.
Keep in touch. Would be there to help if I could--blow their minds. Rhonda
Rachel snorted. “Easy for her to say, she won’t be there.” Remembering the men in the front seat she grimaced at Cora. “I think it’s so wonderful, a double handfast at New Year’s. I’m so jealous.” She pouted. “I hope they start making babies soon so I can be Aunt Rach and spoil them rotten.”
Dade glanced at her in the mirror. “Most people like to wait until after they’re actually wed before they make those babies--Aunt Rach.”
Steven turned around and leered at her. “I have no problems with children before marriage. Just let me know if you want one of your own, sexy witch. I’ll be happy to help in any way I can.”
Dade snorted beside him. “It amazes me you aren’t black and blue from using those lines, Doc.”
Rachel leaned forward. “I actually could use your help, Steven,” she said seriously.
Steven’s eyebrows shot up. Both men looked at each other and then he turned back toward her. She kept her voice quiet. “My little foster guy isn’t doing all that well, would you be willing to do a consult when we get back?”
Steven tapped the side of his head and grinned. “You had me dreaming for a second, angel,” he smirked. “I’d be happy to.”
Rachel smiled. “Wonderful! It’s just so sad most days. To be six and not have the energy to run breaks my heart. The clinic has run a few tests but nothing shows up. He just keeps getting thinner and weaker. I don’t think they’re really looking.” She rubbed her hands together and studied them for a moment before looking back up at him. “He had a really bad case of the flu last fall and he’s never really been the same since. You know how crowded the ward homes are. His caregivers have been trying everything.” She glanced to see a sympathetic look on Cora’s face. “I almost didn’t come this weekend, but Ricky told me to go and celebrate for him.” She sniffed and reached into her purse.
Dade gave her a wide-eyed look in the mirror before he glared over at Doc.
~ * ~
Steven turned sideways in the seat to face her. Does she know how much I want to hold her? “Do you know anything about his medical or family history?”
Rachel nodded as she played with the edge of her skirt. “His mother was a drug addict and she didn’t want him.”
Steven sighed and unbuckled his seat belt. He knew what the child of a Drug addict usually meant. Improper eating, no prenatal care and the list of illnesses the children suffered from were longer than he wanted to admit. He pushed between the two front seats trying to kneel in front of her but didn’t fit and had to settle for an awkward squat in front of her. “You get him in to see me. Don’t worry about an appointment, just show up whenever it’s good for you.” He caressed her cheek gently. “You know I’ll do anything, human or otherwise, possible for him don’t you?” For you, he added inside his head.
Rachel gave him a shaky smile. “Thank you. I just worry.”
He leaned up and kissed her softly on the lips. “That’s a good trait in a mother, angel, foster or otherwise.” He kissed her again and turned before he pushed his luck too far.
~ * ~
Dade looked at him and let out a breath. He glanced in the mirror at the women again.
Cora looked over at Rachel, who had turned to look out the window, then peered into the back of the van. “Dade, did you bring your base djembi along?”
Dade’s eyes met hers in the mirror. “That and a couple others, honey. Why do you ask?”
Coralee gave him a sweet smile. The kind of smile he usually had to work really hard to get. “I think I’ll want to hear that one at the Saturday night revel fire.”
He grinned and winked at her. “I would love to play it for you to dance, it makes my mouth water.” She smiled again but didn’t reply. What are they up to?
~ * ~
Rachel sat with her head turned towards the window. Steven had given her some hope at least. Between worrying about Ricky and quivering nerves over the plan she and the other women had, this was going to be one very long weekend.
She watched the fields go by, the crops of corn and beans were deep green and ripening with each day. Lammas, the celebration of the first harvest.
Smiling, she looked up at the tall trees scattered along the road here and there. They were full, green and looked so alive. The last thought sobered her again. Glancing at Steven she smiled, if anyone could help Ricky it would be him. Does he know how much his always being there when I need him means to me? Probably not. Steven had been her shoulder to cry on since she was a silly teen and she hoped she would always have him.
~ * ~
Steven turned to see Rachel again. The short skirt she wore rode up with her legs crossed and he’d almost dropped a kiss on the witch tattooed there. He turned back to look out the window. He couldn’t even look at her now without thinking of it; or worse every time she licked her lips all he pictured was that tongue ring and what she could do with that! Where were all the fairy godmothers when you needed one? He had only one wish and she was in the back seat.
He rubbed his hand over his brow. Would she hold it against him if her little buddy were as ill as he imagined? Warning bells had gone off as soon as she’d told him that he’d never bounced back from the flu.
Catching Dade glancing at him he sighed. Hopefully it was something simple like nutrition deficiency, not uncommon for children of addicts. Their bodies had complications like that all the time. Shaking out of doctor mode he grinned back at the women. “So, are we going to need bibs to stop the drool with Leena’s latest designs?”
Cora grinned at him. “I think that’s the only reason you come along with us, Steven. To see what Leena’s created each time.”
He bobbed his head in agreement. “That, and I love looking back around the fire and watching every male there watching the four of you walk away with us. Does wonders for a man’s ego.”
Dade was chuckling quietly. “Wouldn’t do much if they knew the truth.”
“Yeah, well, that’s privileged information that they don’t need to know,” Steven mumbled.
Rachel smiled. “It’s half truth now, if it makes you feel any better. Owen and Chris get to be with some of us.”
Steven playfully patted his heart and grinned at her. “You are a nasty witch, angel. Stomping on a man’s dreams like that.” Hearing her laugh made his burden lighter.
Dade leaned forward. “Somewhere on this road between fields, there is a lane we need to be turning down. Call out if you spot anything that looks like one.”
~ * ~
Climbing out of the van Rachel stretched up, then dropped down to her to touch her toes. Long nights of sitting in chairs watching Ricky had her sore and stiff. Riding in the not so comfortable van didn’t help. She bolted back up at the whistle behind her.
“You make me glad I’m a man, Rach.”
She turned to grin at Steven and let her eyes appraise his stocky build up and down slowly. “You most certainly are a man, Doctor O’Reily.” She stepped over and ran her hand over his large bicep. “How does a Doctor have time to make a body like this?”
He looked down at her hand briefly before he looked back at her. She watched his eyes follow her tongue running across her lower lip. “I work out whenever I’m not working. Let me know if you need to see more--I’d be happy to show you, angel.”
Dade walked up. “Quit before you make her mad.”
Rachel ran her hand down his arm again before stepping away. “Oh, Dade, I don’t know, I might have to take him up on that offer someday.” She flicked her tongue making her piercing stick out before grinning and walking toward the others.
~ * ~
“I want to fall to my knees and beg every time I see that damn stud in her tongue,” Steven whispered when she was far enough away.
Dade nodded. “They do it on purpose to drive men crazy.”
Chris stopped as Kasey went over to the women. “Do what to drive men crazy?” he asked quietly.
“Get things pierced,” Steven muttered.
Chris grinned. “Works fine too. I can’t think every time Kase has hers showing.”
Dade grunted. “Well, at least you get to appreciate it closely. The rest of us just stand back and dream.”
Chris put an arm around each man’s shoulder as they turned towards everyone. “When it comes to Kasey’s piercing, that’s all you’d better ever think about doing is dream.”
Kasey turned and sent him a look. “Christopher, play nice.”
“Always, sweetheart.” Chris winked at Steven as he hugged her from behind, his hand possessively resting over the little fairy in her belly button.
Rachel looked from Chris to Steven. “Did I miss something? Chris is all puffed out and you two look like you left your favorite toys at home.”
Steven winked and put an arm around Rachel, slowly pulling her up against him. “I’d smile again if you’d help me forget my lost toy.” He leaned down and nuzzled his face against her neck. She smelled so good.
Rachel laughed and hugged him. “I’ll give it some thought.” She leaned back and looked up at him. “What is up with you today? Normally you sleep the whole time in the car, unless you’re driving, and then sometimes that’s questionable and you’re being a bigger hound dog than usual.”
He ran his hands up and down her sides gently. “I can’t help it. You look so good today, angel.”
Owen cleared his throat. “Would you hurry up and strike out so we can register and go find the cottage.”
Everyone laughed and patted Steven on the back walking past him towards the small building. Stretching up against him Rachel ran her tongue up his neck and then smiled and followed the others.
“Nasty witch,” he whispered as she walked away.
~ * ~
Justin and Gwen stopped what they were doing as they came through the door. Gwen went around the table to hug everyone. “I’m so happy to see you all!” It was easy to see the stress had weighed on them in the past few months. How they still found the positive energy to organize the gatherings, Chris would never know.
Chris lifted Kasey’s hand and held it out towards Gwen. “Look what I caught.” Kasey leaned back against him.
“Oh, isn’t that wonderful!” She walked quickly over to them and hugging Kasey she smiled. “I expect you’re able to keep him in line, dear.”
Kasey blushed. “I have a hard time keeping him in line from time to time, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.” Chris pulled her back against him and kissed the top of her head grinning down at Gwen.
Gwen turned and gave everyone an inquiring look. “Any other engagements?”
A shocked expression crossed Cora’s face. “Is it contagious?”
Gwen smiled and hugged her. “I spoke with Rhonda this morning, she sends her best.” Her look sobered for a moment.
Cora nodded. “Thank you.” She glanced at Rachel and Kasey briefly.
Leena stepped away from Owen. “Is Patrick going to be here this weekend?”
Justin nodded. “He’ll be here in a few hours. He had to wait for someone to come and replace him.”
Chris studied the women and hadn’t missed the looks that passed between them. “So will we be able to see the attendance list later tonight?” Chris asked quietly.
Justin nodded. “I’ll bring it down to the cabin before the opening circle.” He smiled over at his wife. “Gwen has the cabin all ready for you. I’ll take you over to see if when you’re finished up here.” Justin kissed Gwen on the cheek and went out the door.
“Sweetheart, could you sign us in? I need a word with Justin before he gets too busy,” Chris asked Kasey.
She nodded. “Sure.”
~ * ~
Chris walked outside and stood beside Justin. “Your lovely wife has been acting funny too, Justin?”
The older man nodded. “Yes, sir. They’re up to something and I’ve tried everything I know to find out.”
Chris put his hands in his pockets. “Well, if you catch wind of anything please pass it on, we’ll do the same.” He glanced at the door and then back. “They’re taking bigger chances and try as we might, we can never seem to stop them.”
Justin slapped him lightly on the shoulder. “Wish I had some couples wisdom for you, but I’m still working it out myself.”
Chris laughed. “That’s not comforting.” He paused. “We almost lost Kase a few weeks back, she tried to do an astral search and connect to him. I don’t know what they’re planning but I’m pretty sure we’re not going to like it.”
Justin just nodded as Kasey came out.
“We’re ready for you to lead the way, Justin.”
~ * ~
Steven stood back shaking his head.
“It’s so cute.” Kasey giggled.
“It’s pink,” Dade stated loudly.
“I think it was probably at one time more of a rust or red tinge.” Chris smiled at Dade. “Going to offend your manly nature to stay in a pink cottage?”
Dade shook his head. “As long as I don’t see it in the sunlight, I’ll be fine.”
Owen was still standing there with a smirk on his face when Leena pulled on his arm. “Let’s go have a look. Gwen said there were only four beds so they added a few cots.” She smiled up at him. “It should be interesting.”
Steven was happy when he stepped inside to see the interior was a normal white and not some faded, mutated shade. There was a little kitchen and table with chairs along by one window.
“We’re moving up in the world this time,” he said after peeking into the bathroom. “We have a bathroom and a kitchen.” He glanced around the mismatched couch and single chair. “And almost a sitting area.”
Kasey ran up the stairs. “Three rooms up here two with double beds one with two cots,” she called out as she flew back down the stairs and looked in the two rooms on either side of the kitchen. “A double bed in each.”
Steven went over and put his arm around Rachel. “Don’t suppose you’d feel sorry for my back and share one of those double beds with me?” She gave him an amused look. “The idea of sharing one with Dade and you ladies sharing one didn’t sound nearly as appealing.”
Rachel smiled up at him. “I’d love to wander in and see you and Dade spooning.”
“Which room are the cots in, Kase?” Steven dropped his arm and put his hands in his pockets.
“Let’s go get our stuff,” Dade mumbled.
~ * ~
After the four men left Kasey paced around the sitting room. “If they find out, we are going to be in so much trouble.”
Leena leaned back in the chair. “Owen is going to flip. Well, actually, we’ll be lucky if all of them don’t turn into those chest beating, overbearing men we know and love.
Cora leaned against the door watching out it. “I’m not looking forward to Dade’s reaction.”
Rachel sat in the middle of the floor. She knew the others were as nervous as she was. “Just remember to bat those eyelashes and pout, it seems to work well.” She laughed. “I don’t think fainting will get us out of the trouble we’re going to be in.”
Leena nodded. “Tomorrow night then?”
“They’re back.” Cora straightened from the door and opened it.
~ * ~
“Are you ladies planning on your little cleansing ritual?” Chris asked as he walked in carrying bags.
Steven held his breath, wondering if Chris had found a way to figure out what the women were planning.
“Yes,” Kasey said excitedly. “I love to start a gathering that way.”
“Mind if I add something this time?” Chris stopped in front of her.
Kasey smiled. “No. Anything you add would be great.” She stretched up and kissed him.
“Good.” He held her to him and looked over at Steven.
Ha, Steven thought, he has a plan. We’ll find out one way or another.
Dade set up the little table the women carried along with them and then stood back to watch.
Owen stood beside him. He glanced at Steven, making him smile. The look on Owen’s face said he was hoping whatever Chris was up to it was would be obvious; otherwise someone would have to explain one more thing to him.
Cora came over and let out a deep breath. She held a bag up to her forehead before she set it on the table. “A bag of protection for us all.” She grinned at Kasey. “I won’t tell you the ingredients.” Kasey grimaced.
Rachel set a large violet candle on the table and snapped her fingers to bring the flame. “For health and peace to us all.” She smirked at Kasey. Obviously little Kasey was teaching Rachel a few new tricks. That may be bad for me later on, he silently mused.
“Impressive.” Kasey grinned at Rachel before stepping to the table. Opening her empty hands over the table she closed her eyes while slowly closing her fingers. When she opened them a stone sat in each. Setting them on the table she whispered. “Sardonyx, to protect us all.” She took her place beside Dade.
Chris grinned at her. “Amazing.” He walked over and held out his hands with a large stone hovering over them. “Okenite, for truth and love.” Lowering it to his palm he set it on the table before backing up and standing beside Kasey.
Leena raised a brow at Chris. Walking to the table she rubbed her palms together and smoke came out of them, surrounding the table. “To cleanse and protect.” She opened empty palms and wiggled her fingers. The smoke swirled through the cottage and around each person in it before hovering over the table.
Steven inhaled deeply and then moved to join the rest of them. He chanted inside his head and knew when a feeling of unity reached them. A few gasps confirmed they all felt the connection to each other when they joined hands. “To the first harvest,” he said quietly.
Dade shook his head walking over to the couch. “It’s like show and tell now around you guys.”
Cora laughed. “Jealous, Dade Jones, because you can’t do all of that?”
He leaned towards her. “Go get my drum, honey. I’ll show you exactly what I can do.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “I thought so.” He looked around at everyone. “I wasn’t saying it in a bad way. It’s actually getting cooler by the day with all of you outdoing each other.”
Kasey laughed. “I found so many cool spells in Chris’s room. I plan to try a new one a day.”
Dade swung around to look at Chris. “Good luck with that.”
Kasey walked up and put her arms around Chris. “Why okenite, Chris? With all your knowledge you could have picked one stone and charmed it to make the killer walk to our door and give himself up.”
Steven stood back and continued to observe, waiting to see what exactly Chris had done.
Chris kissed the end of Kasey’s nose. “And do exactly what I told you I’d never do.” He shrugged. “I thought truth and love were the strongest, purest emotions, so maybe it will do some good.” He rested his head on hers and sent Steven a knowing look.
Dade leaned back. “I don’t need to have huge powers to know you ladies are up to something, so are you going to tell us about the ritual or spell you’re keeping from us?”
Cora sat down beside Dade and studied him for a moment. “We are not planning any sort of spell or ritual. Why would the four of us try that when we could have your help and have eight?”
Dade looked at her for a moment and then gave Steven a defeated look. “Okay, I guess we were mistaken.”
Leena hugged Owen and looked over at Dade. “You’re probably just picking up on nerves, Dade. The last few gatherings haven’t been the easiest.”
Chris sighed. “That’s true and it’s possible that’s all we’ve been sensing. Oh, before I forget, are we sticking to the same rotation for the watches at night?” He was answered with shrugs and nods.
Kasey stretched up and pulled his head down. Biting his bottom lip she smiled. “Come help me unpack.”
Chris looked down at her, not looking anywhere except at her. “We’ll be down later.”
Leena reached and took Owen’s hand. “Come help me.”
“Anything you want, baby,” Owen said with a grin following her up the stairs.
Steven groaned into his hands. “You couples need to give up poor single people a break... all this kissing and touching and suggestive looks...”
Rachel walked over and bent down, leaning over him. His heart raced when her lips touched his. Opening her mouth she made sure he felt the ring from her tongue rub over his. She pulled away and straightened up. “Better?”
Steven nodded as she walked to the room she’d chosen. He shook his head to clear it and then turned to Dade.
Dade was looking over at Cora with puppy dog eyes. She laughed at him and walked to her room. Turning to Steven he groaned. “I need beer, lots of beer!”
Steven nodded. “Yeah, well, what I need just walked in there...” He pointed after Rachel. “But beer would work I’m thinking. Then dinner, opening circle and more beer before our watch.”
Dade nodded as he walked to the cooler and pulled out two. “I’ll be fitting a nap in there too. I was so tired after Solstice it took a week to feel rested.”
Steven laughed as he accepted the bottle. “I live on broken sleep so I’m one up on you there.”
~ * ~
The time was finally here again.
He had to make sure he didn’t fail again.
He watched, waiting to see if the same woman returned.
The tall lawyer that found her did return.
But he knew not to interfere this time. He knew.