Book 1: Beginnings
Chapter 1: Environmentally Friendly Burgers
Lily Singer wished she could simply say her date was going badly and leave it at that. But such a gross understatement was against her nature. To be accurate, she would have to admit it was in the top five worst, if not in the top three. This wasn’t totally unexpected. Most—actually, all—of her dates were men she’d met online who, inevitably, weren’t as cute as their profile pictures suggested. Awkward and bookish, she found it much easier to start virtual, as opposed to real, conversations. Speed dating and blind dates were out of the question due to her abysmal social skills. Well, that, and the fact that she was a wizard.
No, not a witch. A wizard.
“Soo…when you said you had diet restrictions, what you meant was you could only eat burgers?” Lily asked, trying to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. Though she suspected the only way her date would notice sarcasm was if it was dressed up like a cheeseburger.
“Huh?” Jerry Slate, a good hundred pounds larger and ten years older than his profile picture suggested, looked up from his second burger to stare, confused, at her face.
“When we were setting up the date, you asked if you could pick the restaurant because you said you had diet restrictions,” Lily reminded him.
“Oh, yeah. I have a sensitive stomach. I can only eat 100% pure beef burgers, and they have to be grass-fed. Free-range, you know? None of that GMO stuff. This place uses the best ingredients out there.”
Lily resisted the urge to roll her eyes, consoling herself with the thought that it was better to be taken to a gourmet, environmentally friendly burger restaurant than, heaven forbid, a normal burger restaurant.
Looking to the side, she gazed longingly through the restaurant’s front windows to the sunlit street, busy with lunchtime traffic. If only she knew how to teleport, she could escape this awkward situation with minimal embarrassment.
“So…” she tried again. “How’s your gaming campaign going?”
“Oh, it’s fantastic,” Jerry enthused past a mouthful of half-chewed but—let’s not forget—grass-fed burger. Not slowing his consumption of burger, fries, and a handmade root beer float, he launched into a detailed description of his gaming group’s latest campaign against…someone. Lily couldn’t remember who.
It was a topic she could safely rely on to keep him talking for a good while, though it bored her almost to tears. Boredom was preferable, however, to the awkward silence interspersed with chewing sounds she’d suffered through for the first half of their date.
Funny, she’d thought that, in person, Jerry would be more inquisitive. That was before she’d been aware of his burger obsession. As she absentmindedly separated the carrot coins from the rest of her salad and stacked them into a tiny, walled fortress between her and her droning date, she realized he hadn’t asked her a single question beyond the perfunctory “How are you?” since they’d met outside some twenty minutes before. From the time they’d entered the restaurant, his entire attention had been devoted to ordering and eating, though he had, at least, disengaged a few brain cells long enough to inform her of the best items on the menu.
Come to think of it, he hadn’t been very inquisitive online, either. But Lily was good at asking questions through virtual chat. It was like doing research in a search engine. Type in a question, then browse through the resultant dump of information to find your answer.
When asked a question, especially if said question had anything to do with himself, Jerry was obligingly verbose. He went into great detail, as long as that detail involved the hundred different titles in his grunge rock music collection, or his daring feats in the latest sneak attack against his group’s unsuspecting, now-no-longer allies.
It wasn’t as if she’d had soaring expectations. She’d just hoped for some intelligent conversation about, oh, say, books. Or history. Or philosophy. Or anything that mattered, really.
Some people improved upon face-to-face acquaintance. Jerry was not one of them. Neither was she, come to think of it. But she, at least, didn’t bore anyone with loving descriptions of each book in her expansive personal library unless she knew, for a fact, that the person was a bibliophile.
Excerpt from Chapter 3: Virtuous Thieves
“So…what do we do now?” she said into the silence. “Can’t we just wait until the fall?”
“No,” Sebastian said, slouched low in his seat, arms crossed. “The owner gave me a time limit. After that, the deal’s off, and he’ll find a ‘real’ professional. So, no magic books for you, and no money for me.”
They relapsed into silence.
“You know…” Sebastian said after a while, “there is something we could do.”
“Is it legal?” Lily asked suspiciously. She recognized that tone of voice. Sebastian adopted it right before he suggested something wild and dangerous that usually got them into trouble.
“Weeell, depends on how you look at it. We wouldn’t be hurting anything, if that’s what you mean.”
Lily glared. “No, that’s not what I mean. I mean exactly what I say. Is it legal?”
“No,” Sebastian admitted, and there was a pregnant pause.
The seconds stretched into a minute as Lily glared, and Sebastian maintained a carefully casual expression.
“Alright, fine,” she finally said. “What is it?”
“We could sneak in after dark and steal it,” Sebastian suggested, studying his nails.
“No! I will not commit a robbery.”
“We’d give it back when we were done! How else do you suggest we get ahold of it? Would you rather sit there for hours reading and risk getting caught?”
“No, of course…wait a minute…” Lily’s eyes lost focus as she considered a sudden idea. “If I could physically hold the book for about fifteen minutes, I could make a copy.”
“Really?” Sebastian was intrigued.
“Yes. It’s a relatively straightforward spell, it just requires extended concentration for the duration of the process. I use it sometimes to make copies of fragile documents that can’t be safely handled without risking damage.”
“So, what’s the holdup then?” Sebastian asked, excited once more. “We sneak in, you do your little bit of hocus pocus, and voila! We have a copy of the book. No harm done. Nobody will even know we were there.”
“No, no. This is insane,” she insisted. “Forget I suggested it. Breaking in is illegal, too. I’m an upstanding citizen. I will not break the law!”
“I can’t believe I’m breaking the law,” Lily whispered, still agonizing over the moral quandary even as she crouched in the shadows of a dumpster behind the Shorter Mansion, Sebastian at her side…
Episode 2, Chapter 1: The Uses of Moldy Pizza
Though not the most aesthetically pleasing or comfortable place to read, the Basement was nonetheless Lily Singer’s favorite. Hidden beneath the McCain Library of Agnes Scott College, this secret archive of wizardry and occult books lacked beams of sunlight to bask in, warm, fuzzy cats to pet, and a kitchen in which to make scones and tea—all delightful things, but distracting nonetheless. The Basement was silent as a grave and blessedly cool in the heat of the Atlanta summer. This peace and quiet, not to mention the plethora of magical wards, made it an ideal location for reading, studying, and practicing magic undisturbed.
She’d filled it with the comforts of home, of course. Being the archives manager of the library above and curator of the Basement’s secrets, she had exclusive authority over its interior decoration. When her predecessor, Madam Barrington, had been its keeper, it had contained minimal decoration and only a few hardwood chairs—a reflection of her mentor’s austere nature. Nothing had changed when Madam Barrington took on Lily as a student to teach her wizardry. That had been seven years ago during Lily’s freshman year at Agnes Scott. It wasn’t until her mentor had retired last year and left the Basement in her care that Lily took steps to make it a bit more welcoming.
First, she’d brightened the place up by renewing the light spells on the dozen dimmu-engraved glass balls hanging from the ceiling. No outlets or electrical wiring graced the Basement, since the whole thing had been magically created from a broom closet during the original 1936 construction of McCain Library—known then as the Carnegie Library. It had the advantage of being accessible only to wizards, and only to those who knew the access spell. Not that the Basement was much of a secret. Madam Barrington had said the Basement was frequented by numerous wizards at one point in time. But that must have been long ago, since Lily had only ever seen one other person there besides herself and her mentor. It seemed the Basement was protected by simple virtue of being forgotten.
With that in mind, she doubted anyone would ever see, or care, about her improvements, from hanging art on the walls to enchanting the dull ceiling to resemble the rib-vaulted heights of the library above. She’d added several small tables to display various magical knickknacks previously hidden away in drawers. There were items like a delicate antique engraver made entirely of spun lead except for its diamond tip, used to carve magical runes of power—dimmu runes—into any surface. Then there were the all-speak glasses, enchanted to translate any text into English for whoever was wearing them. Though quite useful, their creator must have had coprolalia, because the glasses had an annoying tendency to add random swear words to the translation.
As for other furniture, she’d left the large oak worktable, but the hardwood chairs had been relegated to stepping stools and replaced by several tastefully upholstered chintz chairs. How she’d managed to single-handedly maneuver those things down the archive steps, through the broom closet, and into the Basement, she had no idea. But she’d done it. Overall, the room’s ambiance was much improved. It had become an island of peace in a world annoyingly full of people who, oddly enough, wanted to interact with her.
Thus it was quite shocking when her cell phone rang that Saturday afternoon. She was ensconced in a chintz chair, studying one of the books Sebastian had given her from Francis Jackson’s estate. Not only was she underground—her cell barely got signal in the archive room next door—but the magical nature of the Basement completely scrambled electronic signals of any kind. After the first few seconds of shock wore off, she recognized the jaunty jingle of the 1960s theme song from Bewitched.
Lily rolled her eyes and sighed. If anyone could manage to call her underground in a signal blackout zone, it would be Sebastian. Leave it to him to disturb her peace. Being a witch, and a good one at that, he usually found a way.
Excerpts from Book 2: Revelations
Chapter 1: Unexpected Conversations
Lily woke Wednesday morning, not to the sound of her alarm clock, but to the soothing vibrations of a purring cat. She had an uncomfortable feeling she’d overslept, but was distracted from it by the warm, heavy ball of fur settled comfortably on her chest.
Groaning, she tried to push him off. “Kip, you better not have turned off my alarm again.”
Sir Kipling, however, didn’t want to move. He dug his claws into the sheets and resisted her groggy attempt to dislodge him. “Well, if it weren’t so loud and annoying, I wouldn’t have to take matters into my own paws,” he protested.
“It’s supposed to be loud and annoying to wake me—”
She froze, going cross-eyed in an attempt to see the feline perched atop her. Her muddled, half-asleep brain tried, and failed, to make sense of what she’d just heard. It’d sounded like meowing, but also like words. She stared at her cat and he stared back, eyes half-lidded.
“Did you…?” She paused, giving her head a shake to dislodge the cobwebs in her brain. “I thought I heard…good grief, I’m imagining a conversation with my cat. I need a hot shower.” She sat up for real this time, her movement threatening to spill Sir Kipling onto the bedcovers.
Twisting with cat-like agility, he launched off her chest and landed on the edge of the bed in a dignity-preserving move, then turned to lick his mussed fur into submission. “A hot shower won’t fix your problems,” he commented between licks.
Lily stared, speechless, no longer sure of her own sanity.
Sir Kipling paused his ministrations to look at her. “If you insist on sitting there being shocked, you might as well make yourself useful and pet me.”
“I—” She stopped, then tried again. “You…talk?”
A smug look was all the reply she got.
“Wait, that’s not—since when?” Lily was still shocked, but her brain at least had started working again. She’d adopted Sir Kipling as a stray kitten during her last year of college and had never gotten the slightest inkling he was anything but a normal cat.
“Since now,” he stated matter-of-factly.
“Don’t be silly. Cats don’t randomly start—” she paused, suddenly suspicious. “Was it that fragment of tablet? Wonderful. Just splendid. What did you do?”
He sniffed archly. “You’d think you weren’t happy to talk to me. Well, good morning to you, too. I’m just fine, thanks for asking.”
Lily rolled her eyes. He was perfectly healthy but probably wouldn’t cooperate unless she mollified him. Typical cat.
“I trust you’re well this morning? Did whatever you got up to last night damage anything vital?” She couldn’t resist a bit of sarcasm, but he ignored it.
“Now that you mention it, there is this place on my back that’s been itching all night—”
“Sir Edgar Allan Kipling,” she interrupted in a voice that brooked no nonsense. “To the point, please.”
“Well, if you insist,” he said, taking his time to stretch and yawn before continuing. “I did nothing at all. I was just minding my own business when that piece of dirt you’ve been staring at—”
“You mean the clay fragment?”
Sir Kipling stopped, ears tilted back in annoyance. Lily closed her mouth. After a deliberate pause, he continued. “Yes, the piece of dirt. It started glowing and then…well, let’s just say interesting times are coming, and someone thought you could use a little help.”
“What? What’s that supposed to mean? What’s coming? Who are you talking about?”
“Well, I could answer your questions, but then you’d be late for your meeting.”
Glancing at her alarm clock she yelped and jumped out of bed, heading for the shower. She had barely thirty minutes to do what normally took an hour, and she would have to skip breakfast.
Hand on the bathroom door, she turned and glared at her cat who’d settled comfortably onto the warm spot she’d just vacated. His eyes had closed, as if in sleep, and all four paws were tucked under him, making him look like a fluffy loaf of bread—a catloaf.
“This isn’t over, Sir. You and I will be having a very long conversation when I get home.”
She didn’t wait for his reply as she rushed into the bathroom to get ready.
Interlude (Sebastian’s POV)
The elevator dinged as it passed each floor, moving so slowly Sebastian had time to rock back and forth on the balls of his feet three times in between floors. Hospitals made him nervous. They were where you went when things weren’t right, when people got hurt. Or were dying. He usually avoided them like the plague. Even driving past one brought back memories of the night when his parents died.
But that had been a long time ago, and today he was going to see someone very pretty and not at all dead. Even more exciting, she was a witch—the first one he’d met who wasn’t trying to kill him, curse him, steal his clients, or turn him into a small, furry animal. Well, there had been that poltergeist she’d sicked on him, but that had been a misunderstanding.
Having finally reached the fourth floor, the elevator emitted one last ding and slowly opened its doors. Sebastian held back, letting the Sunday afternoon press of visitors exit first to ensure he wouldn’t be jostled, thus endangering the vase of flowers he carried. He had no idea if Tina was a flowers kind of girl, but it seemed a safer bet than a stuffed bear or chocolate. To throw in his own flair, he’d put a bit of fae glamour on them so they would slowly change color, like one of those fancy lava lamps.
Exiting the elevator and seeking out her room, he reflected on how much Tina reminded him of himself. Last night when he’d accompanied her to the hospital, he’d overheard one of the nurses asking for an emergency contact. Tina had just shaken her head. She was probably very independent and would be reluctant to accept help. But he had to try. Finding the correct room, he took a deep breath and knocked on the open door. “Flower delivery service. Anyone home?” He poked his head in the door, giving a grin and a wave to the petite girl sitting upright in the room’s hospital bed.
Tina gave him a disapproving scowl which did nothing to hide the twinkle in her eye. “Seriously? Flowers? You totally should have brought me a burger. This hospital food is complete crap.”
“Well, I didn’t just bring flowers. I also picked up some old clothes that should fit, since they threw away your other ones. I mean, hey, you look great in a hospital gown, but I doubt you want to wear it home.” He winked, stepping into the room and positioning the flowers carefully on a bedside table where their vibrant, changing colors couldn’t be missed. “I also might be persuaded to smuggle in real food. For a price, of course.”
Tina crossed her arms. “A price, huh?”
“Yup. A date. Once you’re better, of course,” he added hastily. Though his smile was confident, he had to resist the urge to wipe his sweating hands on a pants leg.
“Mm-hmm,” Tina responded, mouth pursed and eyebrow raised as she considered his demands. “Well, you didn’t rat me out to the police, and you did save me from a demon—” she paused, brow furrowing as she stared at the blue flowers. “Weren’t those yellow when you brought them in?”
Sebastian grinned like a Cheshire cat.
“How did you do that?” Tina asked.
“I’m a witch,” he said airily. “Mystery is sexy, so excuse me if I decline to explain.”
Tina laughed. “You wish. And yes, we can hang out as soon as I escape this hellhole.”
“Hey,” Sebastian said, expression growing concerned, “don’t go running off before they discharge you. You’ve got to give yourself a chance to heal. If I recall correctly, you bruised three ribs, had a minor concussion, and got stitches. If I catch you sneaking out I will turn you in with a completely clear conscience.”
Excerpts from Book 3: Allies
Chapter 1: Thicker than Blood
It was fully dark before Lily finally groped her way down the loft ladder and headed back to the house.
Once outside the barn she could see a little better—the stars were bright above and patches of light spilled out from the farmhouse windows. She was just crossing the barnyard, contemplating the evening’s events, when a dark streak shot out from some bushes and charged straight at her. A cry of surprise was halfway to her lips before she realized the streak was Sir Kipling, the white tip of his fluffy tail bobbing with every stride. He skidded to a halt by her feet, back arched and fur standing on end as he gazed toward the house, ignoring her presence.
“Sir Edgar Allan Kipling, you are an absolute terror! Don’t scare me like that.” Lily scolded.
“What? Oh, sorry. I was just, you know, practicing.” He sat down, now completely at ease, and started cleaning himself.
Lily sighed but couldn’t help smiling. She’d read somewhere that a house cat’s habit of randomly racing from room to room was how they exercised and practiced hunting. It made sense, then, that Sir Kipling would need practice. Before his transformation to a talking cat, the largest thing he’d ever hunted was a moth.
With an inward grin at the picture, she bent down and picked up her ferocious hunter.
“Unhand me, woman!” he yowled, struggling.
“Kip,” Lily said, a warning growl in her throat. “If you scratch me you will not live to regret it. I’m taking you inside. The dogs will make less of a fuss if I’m carrying you. Now sit still. Or else.”
He quieted, though not without protest. “Humph! I’m not worried about the mongrels. They’ve been shown their place. It’s the simple indignity of it. As if I couldn’t walk on my own four legs.”
Lily rolled her eyes. “I’m sure you’ll recover. Wait, what do you mean they’ve been shown their place? What did you do to them?” They had been unusually quiet.
“Nothing permanent,” Sir Kipling said airily.
Apprehensive, Lily looked for the dogs as they approached the house. She could see their ropes still tied to the railing, but the dogs were nowhere in sight. Following the line of the ropes in the semi-dark, she saw that they curled around the edge of the porch, low to the ground, and then disappeared…
“Kip, why are the dogs hiding under the porch?” she asked accusingly as she mounted the steps.
“How should I know? Am I their keeper?” Her cat took no pains to hide his smug look, even as he protested his innocence.
Shaking her head, Lily entered the house. “It’s a good thing we’re only staying one night.”
Interlude (Sebastian’s POV)
While it certainly wasn’t beyond his ability, being still had never been one of Sebastian’s favorite things to do. He was a man of action—well, words, at least, but even those required movement. Of course, he could have picked a more concealed spot further out and just used binoculars. Then he could have shifted around as much as he liked. But watching Lily through binoculars would have felt…wrong. Well, more wrong than he already felt, anyway.
Sitting with his back against the brick wall of the apartment building adjoining hers, he had to keep still for his fae glamour to work. Not being a fae himself, simply using gifted power, there was a definite limit to how effective it was. He could not turn invisible, nor completely transform his features. He could create a sort of shimmer that copied the pattern and color of an object behind him—a brick wall for instance—thus camouflaging his outline. If he sat still.
At least he was in the shade, or would be for another hour. He hadn’t expected to be there this long. Lily was traveling today to reunite with her family in Alabama, and he’d expected her to leave sometime that morning. Well, it was two o’clock and he was only just seeing signs of life, Lily having emerged a few minutes earlier to load her car. He wondered if she was delaying on purpose, and the thought made his lips twitch in a grin. He certainly didn’t blame her. If he was supposed to go see his brother, he would “lose” his watch, then drive around in circles until he ran out of gas as far away from a gas station as possible.
His grin faded, however, as he remembered what going to see her family entailed: leaving Atlanta. Which meant he could no longer keep an eye on her. It wasn’t stalking, he told himself, it was counter-stalking. A man like John Faust—powerful, obsessive, controlling—wouldn’t just shrug and give up if his prey escaped. Sebastian was sure he was having his daughter followed, probably using that creepy raven thing during the day and who knew what at night.
While he had no way to drive off John Faust’s spies—and his suggestion that she go into hiding had been summarily rejected—at least keeping an eye on her from afar kept him from worrying himself to death. And ensured he was on hand should Mr. Fancypants decide to show up.
Not that Lily knew he was there. If she ever found out, she would curse him halfway to next week. But her curses scared him far less than the possibility of losing her. He’d been lax once before, and look where it got him: she’d almost died. And that scared him more than anything ever had. His heart rate picked up and his muscles tensed in readiness at the mere thought of her being in danger. Suffice it to say, he hadn’t been getting a lot of sleep lately.
“Merrrow murph meow meow?”
Sebastian almost jumped out of his skin. As it was he fell to the side, away from the sound, and scrambled to his feet. If anyone had been looking it would have appeared that a human-shaped section of the brick wall had just detached and started flailing.
“I swear, Kip, if you scare me like that one more time…” Sebastian glared down at the entirely unrepentant feline sitting primly next to where he’d been reclining, lost in thought.
Sir Kipling just blinked at him.
Episode 2, Chapter 3: The Advantages of Being Crazy
To say that she dreaded this phone call would be putting it mildly. Sitting on her couch, staring at the cell phone in her lap, she procrastinated by thinking of a sufficiently colorful comparison for how she felt about the situation.
She would rather drink bottled green tea than call Richard Grant.
She would rather admit she’d had a crush on her ninth-grade English teacher, whose rendition of Shakespeare’s 116th sonnet had always made her swoon, than call Richard Grant.
She would rather be seen walking the streets in a neon-orange vinyl jumpsuit with a feathered mullet than call Richard Grant.
She would rather burn a book…well, alright, perhaps that was going a bit too far.
The point was, he had hurt her. What was worse, he’d probably done it in an effort to protect her, darn drat his overdeveloped sense of chivalry. And, therefore, the worst part of all: she felt guilty for yelling at him. Not that he hadn’t deserved it, but it had been terribly impolite, not at all like her. At least, not like the person she tried to be. She was beginning to realize the two were more different than she cared to admit.
Sir Kipling, who was cat-loafing on the floor by the bookcase and watching her with half-lidded eyes, gave a yawn. “Coward.”
“Oh hush,” she retorted. “You have no idea, so don’t even pretend. Have you ever had your heart broken by a lady cat? Hm? Have you ever even talked to a lady cat?”
“I’ll have you know I’m all the rage among the local dames,” he informed her, whiskered nose in the air.
“Uh-huh. I’m sure.”
He gave an indignant huff and shifted, uncurling a paw, which he licked with deliberate care, proving his utter disdain for her unbelief.
Excerpts from Book 4: Legends
Chapter 1: A Hop Across the Pond
Though it was embarrassing to admit, Lily had never been to an airport before, much less flown on a plane. She’d never needed to. While she’d dreamed of traveling the world, it was done from the comfort and safety of her living room sofa with a nice cup of tea close at hand. As tempting as all those exciting new experiences were, they had the misfortune of being exciting, new, and experiences. All the things Lily tried to avoid. She didn’t have anything against excitement or new things, just as long as they kept their distance. She was a creature of habit, and excitement was generally disruptive to her routine. There was a fiery adventurer buried down deep inside of her somewhere, she was sure, but as of yet she hadn’t found it.
Thus it was with great trepidation and not a little bit of stress that she followed Sebastian through the doors of the largest and busiest airport in the world—Atlanta International. Behind her she pulled a gigantic suitcase packed with every item she might possibly need—and quite a few she wouldn’t but wanted with her just in case. In the other hand she hefted a cat carrier containing one extremely unhappy feline.
Sir Kipling had complained long and loudly at the idea of being separated from his mistress and trapped in a small crate for over nine hours. After all, he’d been able to slip in and out of no-pets-allowed areas before. Why couldn’t he simply sneak onto the plane? Lily didn’t even bother arguing. She was taking no chances, not when it involved hurtling through the air in a metal tube thousands of feet above a vast ocean.
Now, as she struggled to get her oversized suitcase up to the check-in desk, she tried not to think about how many things could possibly go wrong with said metal tube hurtling through the air thousands of feet above a vast ocean. The fact that—statistically—it was much deadlier to drive a car than to fly on a plane didn’t comfort her in the least.
Unsurprisingly, Lily looked around at her fellow travelers with bleary eyes and a frown of general discontent, brain frazzled from too little sleep and too much worry. The fact that Sebastian was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, bouncing on the balls of his feet in excitement, did not improve her mood.
“You are disgusting,” she grumbled, giving her friend’s cheery look a sideways glare.
“Come, now, Lily. Where’s your sense of adventure?”
“At home. In bed. Asleep.”
Sebastian chuckled, drawing odd looks from those around them who, like Lily, knew it was impolite to be happy this early in the morning.
“Why are you so chipper, anyway?” she asked. “You hate getting up early and usually do your best impression of a zombie until at least eleven o’clock.”
Sebastian shrugged, giving her a silly grin. “Just excited, I suppose. I mean, come on, we’re having an adventure. Anything could happen! Daring escapes from dastardly villains, life-and-death struggles with monstrous creatures, intrepid explorations of wild landscapes never before seen by the eyes of men—”
“You do realize we’re going to England, right?” Lily asked dryly, smiling in spite of herself. “England, where the biggest native animal is a deer, and the average mountain is so short they’re technically considered hills? This isn’t Africa we’re talking about, Dr. Jones.”
“Shush, you’re ruining it.” He flapped a hand at her, eyes closed as if to keep his adventure fantasy fixed in his mind. “Just because you’re a stick-in-the-mud doesn’t mean we all have to be.”
Chapter 2: The Most Honorable House of Barrington
By the time she had collected her things into a sensible leather handbag, it was almost two o’clock. And they hadn’t even had breakfast yet. She went to the next room over and knocked on Sebastian’s door. Waiting for an answer, she stared morosely at her leather bag, wishing she had her much larger carpetbag instead. As it was she’d had to fit her eduba, personal effects, and a few casting supplies into something half its size.
The door opened with a click and Lily looked up, expecting to see Sebastian’s face. But there was no one there.
“He’s just finishing up, you can come in,” came a voice at her feet.
Looking down, she saw Sir Kipling sitting in the doorway, looking quite proud of himself.
“What—how did you—” she spluttered. Finally she just threw up her hands and stepped into the room, thoroughly convinced her cat was using magic to open locked doors. That had to be it. There was no other way. Was there?
She was so preoccupied with her cat’s mysterious ways that she didn’t notice the sound of the bathroom door opening. She looked up just in time to avoid colliding with a dripping Sebastian, clad only in a towel around the waist as he exited the bathroom.
They exclaimed in unison, a shocked Sebastian almost losing his grip on the towel as Lily spun away, covering her eyes and blushing beet-red. Mumbling apologies and not waiting for him to speak, she shuffled sideways, eyes tightly shut as she felt for the door handle. Upon finding it, she fled, making a quick escape to her own room where she collapsed on the bed.
That. Bad. Cat. There would be no milk, salmon, or clotted cream for that devious little reprobate anytime soon.
Lying on her back and feeling the heat radiating off her cheeks, she could just hear Sebastian’s voice in the other room, no doubt having a talk with her mischievous feline. Whether he was angry or amused, however, she couldn’t tell.
“Uuuggg…” she groaned to herself, covering her eyes again. She’d never been so embarrassed in her life. What made it even worse was that, for the split second before she spun around, she’d enjoyed the view…
Desperate for a distraction, she jumped back up and carefully peeked out of the room. With no sign of Sebastian, she hurried down the hall and to the elevators, heading for the hotel restaurant to find some breakfast. Well, lunch, actually.
She was halfway through her Eggs Benedict when Sebastian found her. Sir Kipling was nowhere in sight, no doubt sneaking around since, as far as the hotel was concerned, all pets were supposed to be on a leash or in a carrier.
Unable to meet Sebastian’s eyes without blushing furiously, Lily kept her attention on her food. He sat down across from her and a waiter took his order. They sat in silence for several minutes before he finally spoke.
“So, what’s the plan for today?”
Relief filled her from crown to toe. If he wasn’t going to mention their little, ahem, encounter, neither was she.
Lily breathed deeply as she walked, happily drawing in the snappy English air as she examined the buildings along the street. It seemed that Oxford was very much a stone city. Nearly everything was made of it: stone walls, stone buildings, cobblestone streets. Most of it was pale grey, but some of it had a yellowish tinge. She vaguely remembered reading somewhere that after the Great Fire of London in 1666, building regulations were changed to ban the use of anything but brick and stone to erect buildings. Perhaps that was why so much of Oxford was made of that cold, durable, majestic material. And majestic it was. Beautifully jointed stone walls broken up by ornate carvings rose into the blue sky on either side of the street, and what little of the skyline she could see was dotted with ornamented spires. Gargoyles carved into the shape of angels, demons, and even a bishop here and there stuck out from the edges of roofs. Tiles were the standard roofing material, some of them mottled with age and speckled with ancient lichen and moss.
Everything she saw around her had a feeling of incredible age. Well, not everything, exactly. There were more modern buildings here and there, and they stuck out like sore thumbs with their concrete and metal façades. To be fair, though, it wasn’t just the modern architecture that confused the eye. In fact, she spotted a wide range of architectural styles sitting right next to each other. The Ashmolean museum with its massive columns and clean lines was made in the classic Greek and Roman style. But right across the corner was a memorial to a group of martyred bishops, which, though erected about the same time, was built in a neo-gothic style. Its elaborate scrolling and stone filigree made it look like a massive confectioner’s cone. The dichotomy was almost comical, giving the whole city an air of eccentricity.
Even with its wide range of styles, however, the city had a feeling of heavy, solemn age. Not decrepit, like some abandoned places in Atlanta. No, everything was incredibly well maintained, with old buildings carefully restored and repurposed into shops and houses. It just looked as if the buildings had settled down and weren’t entirely straight anymore. Not crooked, just…organic. She could tell life in Oxford was built around a space that had been in use for thousands of years. It was tremendously odd where some of the streets and shops were, popping up and twisting around in a strange labyrinth of stone and history. She supposed it was because they were built around ancient buildings and ancient lives. The awkwardness made her lips quirk. She liked it. The English seemed not to shape the space around them to suit their needs—as Americans did—but rather shaped their needs to fit the space around them.hapter 2 Lily breathed deeply as she walked, happily drawing in the snappy English air as she examined the buildings along the street. It seemed that Oxford was very much a stone city. Nearly everything was made of it: stone walls, stone buildings, cobblestone streets. Most of it was pale grey, but some of it had a yellowish tinge. She vaguely remembered reading somewhere that after the Great Fire of London in 1666, building regulations were changed to ban the use of anything but brick and stone to erect buildings. Perhaps that was why so much of Oxford was made of that cold, durable, majestic material. And majestic it was. Beautifully jointed stone walls broken up by ornate carvings rose into the blue sky on either side of the street, and what little of the skyline she could see was dotted with ornamented spires. Gargoyles carved into the shape of angels, demons, and even a bishop here and there stuck out from the edges of roofs. Tiles were the standard roofing material, some of them mottled with age and speckled with ancient lichen and moss. Everything she saw around her had a feeling of incredible age. Well, not everything, exactly. There were more modern buildings here and there, and they stuck out like sore thumbs with their concrete and metal façades. To be fair, though, it wasn’t just the modern architecture that confused the eye. In fact, she spotted a wide range of architectural styles sitting right next to each other. The Ashmolean museum with its massive columns and clean lines was made in the classic Greek and Roman style. But right across the corner was a memorial to a group of martyred bishops, which, though erected about the same time, was built in a neo-gothic style. Its elaborate scrolling and stone filigree made it look like a massive confectioner’s cone. The dichotomy was almost comical, giving the whole city an air of eccentricity. Even with its wide range of styles, however, the city had a feeling of heavy, solemn age. Not decrepit, like some abandoned places in Atlanta. No, everything was incredibly well maintained, with old buildings carefully restored and repurposed into shops and houses. It just looked as if the buildings had settled down and weren’t entirely straight anymore. Not crooked, just…organic. She could tell life in Oxford was built around a space that had been in use for thousands of years. It was tremendously odd where some of the streets and shops were, popping up and twisting around in a strange labyrinth of stone and history. She supposed it was because they were built around ancient buildings and ancient lives. The awkwardness made her lips quirk. She liked it. The English seemed not to shape the space around them to suit their needs—as Americans did—but rather shaped their needs to fit the space around them.