TATTOOS AND PORTENTS–17

Chapter 17

Brie   (Birch)

I slept in. There was no school this week. Raven still drove into town to work with Brown at his office, and both men were going to show the two guest witches the houses that remained empty. Since the two women would be with us a while, I’d asked their names. I didn’t want to keep calling them Drago’s witch and the third witch. The powerful witch was Astra and the younger witch, Lucia. Well, young in witch years. She was a century old.

Yule Eve was Thursday, and I’d already made most of the cookies I’d serve, so I was working on batches of cashew brittle when Aengus called. He and Afric were driving into Muddy River later in the day to check on Lir and make plans for when he was strong enough to return home. We’d met at Derek’s bar enough, so I invited them to have supper at our house.

“I’ll invite Lir and Birch, too,” I told him.

“Perfect.” We set up a time. When Aengus disconnected the call, I finished the brittle, then looked in the refrigerator. It was packed with food for Yule, but nothing for a quick supper tonight. I headed for my winter coat. “Claws! I’m driving into town. Want to come?”

My ocelot could stay home if he wanted to. No enemies could enter Muddy River, so he didn’t have to accompany me, but he enjoyed seeing other familiars as much as I enjoyed seeing my friends. He ran from the living room and jumped into my SUV. It was a short drive to Main Street, and I stopped at Birch’s boutique first. Claws saw two cats waiting patiently for their witches in front of Syn’s lingerie shop and went to join them. I gave him a quick wave.

“I won’t be long.”

Birch looked up when I entered the boutique and smiled. “What brings you here? Do you need a new outfit for Yule Eve?”

I grimaced. I probably did, but that would have to wait. I heard footsteps coming down from the storage area upstairs, and Lir came to greet us. He was carrying a stack of dresses draped over his arm. He laid them on the counter near Birch, then walked to a stool behind the counter and sat down.

Birch frowned at him. “You’re overdoing again.”

He grinned, and mischief sparkled in his green eyes. “I need to earn my keep.”

“That’s silly, and you know it.” But her tone was indulgent.

I smiled, listening to the two. They’d been good for each other. “I actually came to invite you for supper tonight.” I explained about Aengus and Afric coming. When I mentioned that Aengus wanted to talk about when and how to bring Lir home, Birch’s happy glow faded.

“He misses me.” Lir sounded smug.

“He’s awfully fond of you.” I’d noticed how many times the Druid priest had invited his young friend to his home when I stopped for visits.

Lir grew serious. “Our big festivities are coming up. It’s a sacred time for our settlement. He knows I’ll want to be there for them. I’m strong enough to travel now.”

“You tire quickly and easily,” Birch reminded him. “And I’m still making you drink Hester’s potion four times a day.”

His lips curled as she lectured him. “Yes, Mother.”

She shot him a look. Her eyes were green like his, but an unusual moss green. She wore her fine, white-blond hair in a loose bun. “You don’t take your illness seriously enough.”

He raised his palms in surrender. “If Hester is kind enough to give me more, I can take it with me and drink it at home.”

Birch heaved a sigh. “If you remember.”

Laughing, Lir placed a hand over his heart. “I pledge, I’ll set an alarm clock.”

Birch still wasn’t happy, so I decided to bypass the question. “Can you both make it for supper at my house?”

They nodded in unison, Lir eager to come, Birch looking resigned. My witch didn’t like the idea of not seeing the copper-haired Druid. I started to the door. “I’ll see you at six then.”

Claws was running to join me when Raven’s Lamborghini pulled to the curb. He rolled down his passenger window to ask, “What are you doing in town?”

“Aengus and Afric are driving here tonight, so I invited them to supper. I just asked Birch and Lir to come, too. Now I’m going to Faiza’s store to find something to cook for them.”

“Then I’m in luck. Brown and I got both witches settled, and there’s nothing else we have to do today. I can come with you.”

“Good, I’m tired of getting dirty looks from Faiza for coming without you. The girl needs her eye candy fix.”

“I should have worn a snugger shirt then.” Raven motioned for me to hop into his car and waited for Claws to settle on the backseat. Then he drove to the grocery store Faiza and her parents owned. Someday, and it couldn’t happen soon enough, the young Fae would find a mate. Until then, she fantasized about my demon. I considered buying her a drool bib once, but thought that might be too snarky.

When we walked through the door, she looked up and lit up like a Chinese lantern. “Welcome, enforcer.”

I grimaced. She didn’t even bother to greet me.

Raven smiled at her. “How’s it going, Fae girl?”

She swelled with happiness that he had a personal nickname for her. “I’m fine. Hester has enough potions and spells to protect you from the undead and voodoo, doesn’t she?”

I rolled my eyes. I obviously only existed to keep Raven safe.

He put a hand under my elbow to steer me deeper into the store. “She takes good care of me,” he told her. “I’m a lucky man.”

She darted me a look but didn’t comment as Raven took a shopping cart and we wandered to the back of the store. “Do you have something in mind for tonight?” he asked.

“Aengus has a fondness for salmon and queenies.”

“Queenies?”

“Scallops with bacon and onions, white wine and lemon.”

“Works for me. And the salmon?”

“You add it to the pan with scallops, add a little heavy cream, then shredded Cheddar to make a sauce.”

Raven raised his dark brows. “Our Druid has expensive tastes.”

I shook my head. “He’s pretty fond of Cornish pasties, too, but they’re more work.”

“Does he have a favorite dessert?”

“He’s getting whatever my demon chooses from Noira and Sugi’s shop.”

His tawny eyes gleamed. “Then he wants an apple pie.”

“He’s probably yearning for one. And ale. We have to have ale.”

Half an hour later, loaded with everything we needed, Raven drove me to my SUV, and I followed him home. Or at least, I tried to follow him. There’s no way I’d keep up with his speed on Banks Road. An hour later, our friends walked into our kitchen, and we all sat down to enjoy our meal.

When I placed the huge platter of scallops and queenies on the table, Aengus stood and crunched me in a hug. Crunched is the right word. The man was so big, I didn’t know if I’d survive his show of affection.

“You remembered,” he said.

“I remember how many you can eat, too. We have plenty of them.”

We made small talk while we ate. Somehow, we got on the subject of Druid and witches’ gardens. Birch listened to what Aengus’s settlement grew, wide-eyed and interested. “I’d like to add some of your plants to the garden in my backyard,” she said.

Lir chuckled. “You call that a garden? Most mortals grow more than you do.”

She stared at him. “What does that mean?”

“You have herbs and vegetables, but nothing to make spells and potions. You’re going to lead a new coven. You need to teach them what to dry and mix while they chant. I could help you plant what you need.”

“Is that so?” She lifted her chin. “I hate to tell you, but you’re not a witch.”

He nodded toward me. “Ask Hester. Druids and witches grow a lot of the same things, but don’t worry. You’ll learn what you need eventually.”

“Hester taught us all of those things in witches’ school.”

“But have you practiced them?”

She frowned. “I know them. I just haven’t done it yet.”

He shrugged. “You’ll learn.”

She stared at him. “Are you trying to aggravate me?”

“Why would I do that?” He tried to look innocent but failed.

Aengus watched them both closely, then caught my gaze. He smiled, amused. They were pretty entertaining.

“Okay, Mr. Know It All, you might know gardens, but have you ever run a business before?”

He smirked. “I help run the Druid export business at our settlement.”

“Then why were you asking so many questions in my store?”

“I don’t know the first thing about fashion.”

She looked him up and down. “I can tell.”

I bit my lip to keep from laughing, but her comment didn’t deter Lir at all.

“No girl has turned me down because she doesn’t like my jeans and T-shirts.” He was lanky and luscious and knew it.

Aengus cocked a brow at him. “No girl has turned you down, but not one of them has caught your interest either. Maybe you’re too picky.”

Lir wrinkled his nose in distaste. “I’ve known every single one of them too long.”

Aengus shrugged. “Maybe you’ll stay a bachelor then, but for now, Muddy River’s been so kind to you and to us that we should return the favor. Why don’t the four of you drive to our house for supper tomorrow night? I don’t think Birch knows much about us. Some Celtic practices are frowned on these days, but Afric’s especially good at reading entrails to find answers to difficult questions.”

Entrails. I didn’t know exactly what to say, but Raven nodded. Birch looked surprised and looked to me for guidance. I smiled. “We’d love to come. Our communities are close, not only in proximity but in practices. We’ll pick up Birch and Lir on our way.”

Birch worded her question carefully. “Should Hester bring extra healing potion so that Lir can take it at home four times a day like he does here?”

Aengus studied him and shook his head. “My young apprentice has a brilliant mind, but he’s careless about his own health. I’d feel better if you watched after him a while longer.”

I stared at my friend in surprise. Lir was healthy enough to return home, so why was Aengus having him stay? I glanced at Afric, expecting her to contradict her husband, but she looked pleased. I was missing something, and I glanced at Raven, confused.

My fire demon’s amber eyes gleamed with amusement. He understood whatever was going on. I’d ask him about it later.

After we finished the apple pie and coffee, Aengus and Afric rose to leave. Aengus wrapped me another hug. My friend was in an especially good mood tonight. Birch and Lir followed them out to their vehicles and when they drove away, I turned to Raven.

“Why did Aengus almost demand Lir stay in Muddy River longer?”

He ruffled my hair. “Your friend is even more devious than I thought. Lir obviously isn’t interested in any Druid girls in their settlement. If he wants to mate, he’d have to look elsewhere. And who’s closer to Aengus than we are?

I couldn’t hide my surprise. “He’s trying to set Lir up with Birch.”

Raven shrugged. “If they mated, Lir could live here and still drive to the Druid settlement every morning to work with Aengus on exports. Lots better than if he moved to Drago’s territory to find a mate.”

Smiling, I leaned into Raven. “I like it. They’re good with each other, don’t you think?”

Raven’s chuckle rumbled in my ear. “Birch will never get bored, that’s for sure.”

I pursed my lips, trying to decide if that was a good thing. And then I realized that since I’d mated with Raven, I hadn’t had one boring moment either. That had its pros and cons, but mostly, I wouldn’t change it for anything.

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