Where was that blasted cat now? Stephanie silently steamed as she searched the entire house over and over again. You’d think that a witch’s familiar would actually stay by her side? But, nooo, Steve had always liked to run off the first chance he got! If the front door was opened even the smallest of cracks … POOF! Out the door Steve would go! And the little gremlins, as Stephanie referred to the odd and unusual things that would happen in her circa 1600’s Massachusetts home, absolutely LOVED opening the front door and letting Steve go wondering off. He would come home eventually, especially if he was hungry. But that could be days from now and Stephanie needed the little pest to be present at her welcoming ceremony. The rite had to be done tonight if she wanted to participate in the Mabon ritual three days from now. She desperately needed him to get home right now!
“Darn you, Steve! I swear to the Goddess that if you don’t show yourself right now there will be nooo tuna snacks for a month! A month, you hear?!” Stephanie shouted through the house just in case the frustrating animal was anywhere near her voice.
She listened for a moment but heard nothing beyond a few little scratching noises in the walls caused by the mince that Steve insisted on ignoring.
Stephanie sighed and growled inwardly. Maybe she could convince the High Priestess that her familiar was not needed for the ceremony? After all… plenty of witches throughout the world didn’t have one! Then again, plenty of witches around the world were a bit more apt at the smallest spells. Whereas Stephanie, herself, had only ever been able to produce one spell… the one that summoned the embodiment of aggravation that she was searching for right now.
Grabbing her coat and throwing it over her bright flowing dress. The air was already starting to get the autumn chill in the air, but Stephanie refused to give up on summer just yet. It was time to try and search the woods that her back yard butted up against. It really was a fruitless search with how big the area was, but she had to try otherwise there was no way they would let her into the coven.
Tonight was supposed to be the big welcoming ceremony that would make her a full official member of the coven. It was an ancient gathering of witches that went back almost as far as the famous town of Salem, Mass. Stonewood, as her town was called, was said to be one of the first havens for the coven sisters and brothers. Other witches, as well as her own ancestors, moved to small places like this after the purge from Salem and other towns like it.
Nowadays, people are no longer drowned or burned at the stake for practicing magic, but it’s still looked on as a joke or devil worship. Especially in towns that were settled long ago, some of the older folks remember the stories their grandparents used to tell them about evil, wicked witches that would prey on the innocent.
“Idiots,” Stephanie said softly thinking back on it.
She had almost made it completely through the beginning of the forest when she saw a flash of black out of the corner of her eye just as it hopped over the fence and into the neighbor’s yard. Her head jerked towards it and she growled in irritation.
“Steve!” she hissed hurrying towards the fence.
There weren’t many neighbors in this area of town. It used to be a massive farm that spread from one end of the town almost to the other and as the families grew smaller it was slowly sold off to others that either wanted to farm or just to be close to nature like her.
Now, Stephanie lived at the end of a large cul-de-sac that held her house and two others that all sat flush against the forests. Beautiful, old houses that were used to house extended families or the help for the farm.
Thankfully, for her purposes with a roaming, nosey, cat both houses stood empty at this point.
Without wasting another moment, Stephanie hurried towards the fleeing feline that was purposely ignoring the sounds of her calling it and promising him everything from a million chin scratches to all the tuna he could consume if he would just come home.
The back gate stood open as if someone had just walked through it moments before, however, Stephanie had not seen a single person there for months. She thought for a moment that it was odd but assumed that Steve had actually somehow managed to bump it open during his expeditions. She pushed on and searched the small yard singing her sweetest kitty, kitty, kitty to no avail. She made her way back towards the back gate assuming that Steve had probably sneaked back out the way he came. Counting the exact amount of fur she was going to have to pluck before she made kitty stew, she caught just the tip of his tail again shooting out of the open back door.
“Are you kidding me?” she asked the animal out loud. “Sneaking into the back yard is one thing but sneaking into a house is something completely different!”
When Steve didn’t come strutting back at her outburst Stephanie knew that she really didn’t have a choice. Stephanie groaned and slowly pushed the back door open enough to allow her to slip in without much effort.
“Steve!” she hissed quietly irrationally worrying about someone overhearing her. “Steve! Get your furry butt back here!”
Steve stopped briefly at the stairwell to the second floor and looked back at her, blinking nonchalantly.
“No! Steve! Don’t you dare!” Stephanie threatened. “Steve! Steve!”
Steve just flicked his tail in a saucy tone only cats could pull off and headed up the stairs towards the second floor as if he owned the place.
Stephanie bit back a nasty word and hurried after him. The second floor held several large rooms with large walk-in closets. Each of them had a lot of shelves, cubbies, and nice little hiding places for an extremely annoying kitty to hide. She thoroughly searched high and low all the while getting more and more aggravated when he was nowhere in sight. Finally making it to the last room she felt a bit more triumphant knowing that Steve was running out of places to hide.
“Whatcha gonna do now, Steve?” Stephanie asked with a bit of an insane giggle.
She threw the closet door open and began searching through the cubbies just knowing she was going to win! Steve could not torment her anymore today! She was gonna grab him, hurry home, give him a bath because she knew he hated them, and get ready for her welcoming ceremony! Nothing could stop her now!
A large shadow suddenly blocked the natural light that was coming in from the open windows and she felt her heart stop as she slowly realized that the shadow was way too big to belong to her animal.
“The real estate agent said the house came with an amazing view, just thought she was talking about the woods,” an amused drawl echoed off the wall and seemed to hit her ears several times over before finally sinking into her melted brain.
Slowly, Stephanie looked over her shoulder to see the giant form blocking the light was standing no more than a foot away from her.
“I-I” was all she could say as she tried to scramble to her feet with knees that suddenly felt like jello.
She was done. Finished! She had no idea who this person was, but her gut screamed that she was in trouble. The butterflies suddenly burst open and shot to every nerve ending making her feel like she could no longer function properly.
A meow drew the attention of the shadow away from her and down to his feet. The traitorous cat was purring like a perfectly tuned motor and rubbing itself around and around the man’s ankles in absolute adoration.
“Hello, there pretty kitty,” the man purred.
At the sound of his rumbling timber, Stephanie found herself melting in a completely different way. Heat rushed through her and she had the silly sensation of wanting to wind herself around this man just to hear that purring tone directed at her.
“What’s your name, sweetie?” the man crooned.
“Stephanie,” she breathed out enthralled.
“A cat named Stephanie?” the man asked with a chuckle.
“Huh?” she responded thoroughly confused.
“Your cat? You named it Stephanie?”
His words sunk in finally and she shook her head trying to clear it a bit. “No, his name is Steve. My name is Stephanie.”
The shadow cocked it’s head and Stephanie could have sworn despite the darkness he had a cocky grin on his face as if he knew exactly how he was making her feel. Even in the shadow, she could feel the intense pull of his eyes on her.
Stephanie took a step forward drawn to him like a moth to a flame, unable to ignore the warmth that was radiating from him. She was caught in his thrall, completely under his spell. Unexpectedly, he stepped back allowing the light to shine in once more and breaking whatever odd magic she was under.
He was tall, not giant tall, but certainly taller than her. His brown hair sat in tussled waves across his head obviously subjected to regular stylings from his hands. But, it was his eyes that drew her entire attention. They were the lightest green she had ever seen, so green that they seem to sparkle with a light all their own. Stephanie knew she was staring like a complete idiot, but she couldn’t stop herself from staring at him.
Her eyes slowly perused his body unabashedly taking in his t-shirt that was stretched perfectly over his broad chest. He was obviously a man that was used to hard labor. The dirty, ripped, worn blue jeans that were molded to his legs only stopped at the scuffed work boats on his feet. Stephanie drooled for a moment thinking that he probably had strong, sexy feet.
Mentally, she slapped herself. Get a grip, Steph! Since when did you fantasize about a man’s feet?
“Hello, Stephanie,” he said with the cocky grin that did nothing to cool her jets
“Hi,” she breathed out.
“I presume that you are looking for this furry burglar?” he asked with a chuckle as Steve meowed at him.
The man knelt down and rubbed underneath Steve’s chin causing the cat to purr so loud it could be heard around the room. It was truly pitiful, she thought to herself. She was jealous of her cat getting this man’s entire attention.
Get a grip, Steph! She shouted at herself again. Clearing her throat, she tried to speak once more without sounding like a fool.
“Yes, thank you. I am so sorry. I thought this house was empty. I had no idea the Wilsons had finally sold it,” Stephanie explained.
“We just bought it from them last month. The papers are barely through, but I needed to get down here to jump-start the renovation process. I’m hoping to have buyers by the end of the year,” he explained.
The Wilson’s had moved out almost a year ago very unexpectedly and quietly. They had stopped in periodically to pick up a few things here and there, but since they had still been in the process of moving in when they had left there hadn’t been much in the house to start. That was the way with the few houses at the end of this block, people would move in then back out within a matter of months. Stephanie had been the longest tenant having lived here for several years. But she suspected the high turnover had to do with the gremlins that lived in her house. Having grown up around such things they never bothered her. Actually, they had helped her feel more at home when she first moved in. As long as she left out regular offerings of milk and honey or other sweets, they didn’t break things or hide things on her.
“Well… umm nice to meet you, Mr..?” she greeted him holding her hand out to him.
“Daniels, Troy Daniels,” he introduced himself taking her hand in his.
The world tilted just a bit at his touch and for years after she would swear lightning struck them as soon as their skin met. The lights in the room flickered above their heads and Stephanie felt her cheeks flush as she felt the buzz down her back that settled and began simmering in her lower stomach. The confused look in his expression as he glanced up at the lights could almost be classified as comical.
“Guess I had better check out the electrical wiring first thing,” he commented to himself.
Stephanie giggled awkwardly but didn’t correct him not wanting to make him think she was odd. Or rather, even odder since he’d found her rummaging through one of his closets cursing her cat and laughing maniacally.
“Well… I’ll just get my cat and get out of your hair. Sorry once more for breaking in,” she said with a wide grin reaching for Steve.
Steve growled in irritation at being taken away from his new friend that he was trying his hardest to claim.
“Shush,” she hissed quietly.
He laughed softly. “No worries. It was by far a better greeting from any of the neighbors than I expected.”
Troy gave Stephanie a wink and a pointed look at her backside letting her know exactly what he was talking about. Her cheeks flushed once more, this time for an entirely different reason, and stuttered a good-bye. She raced out of the room listening to the sounds of his incredibly sexy chuckle following her. Even knowing it was pointed at her, Stephanie loved the sound.