Another short movement and something plopped into the water.
Not a coin. Stone. He knew it like he knew exactly what kind of fae she was. The echo of stone rippled through him, clanging like a bell, the call of like to like.
Did she know what she’d done? Just because she was lapidus fae didn’t mean she did, but to touch him and make a wish with an offering of stone…she had to have some idea.
A gargoyle’s purpose was to protect. Plain and simple. And whether or not her actions had been purposeful, he had no choice but to obey. She’d made a plea to him and sealed it with an offering of stone. It was a ritual as old as both their bloodlines.
By her actions and the makeup of his kind, he was bound to her. Bound to do her bidding. Bound to protect her. Not to the same extent that his ancestors had been enslaved to hers, but still connected until she released him. He would fish that bit of stone out before his shift was over and take it with him as a reminder.
Because, until she was safe, his life and his time now belonged to the very woman who came from the race that had once held his people in bondage.
His desire for a little action had just taken a very twisted turn.
Willa opened her store promptly at ten, having changed her mind about going to see the sheriff, because it was no longer necessary. She’d come home from her walk last night to find one more email from Martin Burnside, this one short and sweet and apologetic for his actions.
It was over. And what a relief it was. Here she’d thought she’d accidentally corrupted her own magic with her blood, but all that worry had been pointless.
Or maybe her wish at the fountain had worked. She kind of liked that thought, that the fountain might be magic after all. Made sense in a town like this.
With a grin on her face and a song on her lips, she hummed a little tune as she worked polishing charms in one of the display cases.
Ramona showed up at quarter after twelve, her unruly mop of dark brown hair held back with a pink-flowered headband that matched her pink high tops. For a twenty-something, she dressed like a teenage tomboy. So did her sister, Valerie, who also worked part-time at the shop.
Willa frowned. “You’re fifteen minutes late.”
“I know. Sorry. I was playing Stone Sword Saga, and my guild got caught up in a quest, and the Vessen hordes had twice the numbers of marauders than we thought so—”
“I get it.” Willa held her hand up. “You were playing video games. Set an alarm next time, will you?” She shook her head. Ramona was a hard worker, all brownies were, being distant relations to house elves, but sometimes the work she got caught up in wasn’t the work she was supposed to be doing.
Ramona popped her hip out. “Stone Sword Saga is not a video game, it’s an online multiplayer role-playing game.”
Willa failed to see the difference. She shot Ramona a wry smile. “And this isn’t just my store, it’s the business that pays your salary.”
Ramona winked and shot Willa with a finger gun. “Got it, boss lady.”
She went to work cleaning the display cases, polishing each one with glass cleaner and bunched up newspaper to keep them lint and streak free.
The door to the shop opened, and Willa turned to greet the customer, happy for the distraction. “Good afternoon.”
For a moment, the outside light was obliterated by the breadth and height of the man who’d just walked in. Then her eyes adjusted, and she sucked in a breath as the details of his face and body became clear. There was something too hard about his looks to call them handsome exactly. Dangerous? Edgy? No, there was something about him that said he would go to great lengths to protect the one woman who made it through that hard exterior. He was a protector.
She swallowed and reminded herself that he was a customer, not the hero of one of her romance novels. Although he could be. She glanced at his hand.
No ring. He still might be shopping for a gift for his wife. Too many men didn’t wear wedding bands these days. Or maybe he was shopping for a girlfriend. Neither possibility prevented her body from responding in the most unusual and anticipatory way. Heat swept through her a second later as she realized what that feeling was—desire. Holy stars, had she been dateless so long that the first good-looking, possibly single guy who came into her shop got her hot and bothered?
He nodded at her, oblivious to the hormonal cha-cha going on inside her. “Good afternoon.”
She cut herself some slack because he wasn’t just good-looking. He was next-level hot. And who could be blamed for reacting to a guy like that? It was out of her hands, really.
Kind of like…fate.
Square-jawed and square-shouldered, the man looked like he’d been cut from rough rock by an able lapidary who’d run a little short on time. The only grace about him was a kind of predatory calmness. The rest of him was all hard planes and sharp edges, but they suited him. He radiated quiet power. Every inch of him looked just as hard as granite, too. Except his eyes. They sparked with the warm brown of tiger’s eye, their bronze depths flecked with gold.
Forcing herself to focus, she closed the case of charms. “Can I help you with anything?” Me, maybe?
“I hope so.” He dug into his pocket and pulled out a large diver’s style watch. “I need a new band for my watch. Do you sell those?”
“I do. Come around to the back of the store and I’ll show you what I have in stock.” She snuck a glance at Ramona. The brownie was eyeing the new customer like he was made of chocolate and she’d just grown a second sweet tooth.