I shuffled through the last few papers on my desk, trying to decide if I could finish them before quitting or let them sit for another day. Across the desk, my partner in crime was doing a superb imitation of a man not watching the clock. I hid a smile. He'd been doing that all day, those green cat-eyes of his sliding to the clock and back again. At lunch, he'd been very enigmatic when I'd asked him what was happening. Cooking up a surprise, no doubt.
I did my own quick scan of the clock over the door. Five more minutes and we were out of here. Back to the flat we called home. Back to whatever new mischief my little leprechaun had planned for us.
"4.5, 3.7, please come to Mr. Cowley's office."
My eyes met Ray's, asking a question. He shook his head. Resignedly, I pushed back my chair and headed for the Cow's office to see what nasty bit of work he'd dreamed up this time.
Betty waved us through to the inner sanctum where George Cowley, despot of CI5, lurked. He looked half-normal today. Smiling at a woman who stood by his office window. More of a smirk, actually.
"You wished to see us, sir." There went Ray, being polite. His eyes were not too obviously looking over the stranger.
"I am assigning the pair of you to out-of-office duty for the next few days. Leave off whatever you're working on. If it's something that can't wait, 6.2 will take over for you. Miss Ambrose has been a good friend to this agency in the past and now she has need of our services." His voice deepened with his last words. "Nan, this is Raymond Doyle and William Bodie. And although I will deny it outside of this room, they are the best team we have."
Well, will wonders never cease, I thought? He must be really desperate to say that out loud in front of a witness. It's probably a lost cat or something equally difficult. But there was Ray again, holding out his hand and being polite to the plain faced woman who had joined us before the Cow's desk.
"It's a pleasure, Miss Ambrose. Anything we can do to help, you just need to ask." That's my Ray. Smooth as silk.
She was dividing her smile between the two of us. When she smiled, she didn't seem quite so plain. Her eyes were crinkled with laugh lines and a light seemed to shine from eyes as emerald green as Ray's.
"Well, gentlemen, if you can just keep me alive for three more days, I would be very grateful." That low husky voice sent a shiver up me spine. "Someone is trying to ..." she faltered, her eyes dimming. "I don't quite know the proper word to describe what he or she is doing. George assures me that you have open minds about the possibilities of paranormal experiences."
Ray's eyes sparkled while I groaned silently. "Yes, Ma'am. We've been exposed to unexplained phenomena before."
"Good. If you don't mind, I'd like to continue this at my home. I have several errands to run so if you could meet me there at about 9 o'clock?" She handed Ray a business card.
"Will you be safe until then?" I finally joined the conversation.
She nodded, giving me the full impact of those eyes. "I'm safe until midnight. Thank you both." With a firm clasp of both our hands, she left.
Cowley was eyeing us. "She has been an unseen but valuable member of this agency for longer than either of you. I can't talk about what she's done but each time she saved lives. She's convinced me that she's in danger. Whatever is menacing her is real. I'll expect a report when it's over. Now, get out of here and clear off your desks."
We escaped before he could change his mind. Ray turned over a file to Murphy who took it resignedly. I just brushed the top of my desk into a drawer and decided to call it quits. Neither of us felt like talking until we were safe in my car, out of earshot of the rest of the blokes.
Ray was practically bouncing up and down by the time we were on our way. I was concentrating on rush hour traffic, dodging the idiots that shared the Queen's roads and listening with one ear.
"I've heard of Nan Ambrose. She wrote a book on Wicca for the solitary practitioner. Sally loaned it to me a couple of months ago. The dust jacket said she was an editor at one of the major publishing houses and has been a witch for most of her life."
Well, that caught my attention and I even let a silly little Triumph get around me when I risked a quick look at my partner. "She's a witch? Why doesn't she just cast a spell and protect herself then?"
"It's not that simple, Bodie. A real witch can't harm another person. The witch's crede is simple but binding. 'And as it harm none, do as you will.' She may be up against some one practicing black magic who doesn't abide by the crede." Ray's voice was earnest, those green eyes of his watching me pleadingly.
I smiled indulgently. He could get excited about the strangest things. But since I was one of the things that excited him, I couldn't complain, could I? "Sounds cultish. And we both know that some pretty odd bastards live on the fringes. It should be interesting if nothing else."
He frowned a little, not satisfied at my answer but then he knows me, doesn't he? Takes me a while to come around. But she seemed a nice enough woman and some nutter could be stalking her which is where Ray and I would come in. More than a match for some voodoo nut with delusions of power. All of which brought us to our block and wonder of wonders, a parking space right in front. I beat out a Renault who had some delusions of his own about grabbing it first.
Ray just shook his head in mock dismay at my offensive driving. He loves it actually; it appeals to his sense of drama. I followed him up the stairs, my favorite position. He knows it too, throwing in an extra wiggle just to make life more interesting. Those bloody skin-tight pants of his set my mind on a bedroom path that abruptly derailed when he disappeared into the kitchen, leaving me to close the front door.
My nose twitched at the absolutely wonderful smell that filled the entire flat. I followed him curiously. The crock-pot his Aunt Betty had gotten him for Christmas was steaming away and he was stirring it gingerly with a smile of satisfaction on his face.
I came up quietly behind him and slipped my arms around his waist. "So, my little kitchen witch, what delectable treats do you have in store for me tonight?"
He leaned back and looked roguishly up at me. "Well, aside from the obvious," moving seductively against my groin which always makes me catch my breath, "I got a new recipe for coq-au-vin. And it seems to have come right along. I'll make a salad if you'll set the table?"
I gave him a quick kiss and set him free reluctantly. I always let him have his way when he's cooking since if we had to depend on my skills in the kitchen we might just starve. I opened a bottle of wine to go with dinner and lit the candles we keep on the dining room table. Ray carried in the steaming tureen with one hand and the salad bowl in the other. I rescued the salad while it was still upright.
We sat down across the table from each other. Green eyes gleaming in the candlelight, he served up the first course. First bite and I knew he had a winner. I rolled my eyes appreciatively, not wanting to talk with my mouth full.
"You're a romantic sod, Bodie. Passable is it?" Was that a hint of anxiety?
I swallowed slowly and raised my wineglass to him in salute. "To the best cook in London. Its great, lover. Really! Love potion #9 caliber."
He blushed with pleasure. Easily flattered is my talented mate. "Don't need any magic around you, you great horny bastard. You're always ready!"
"You got that right, sunshine. Not that you're not a canny wizard in your own right. Fell under your spell right from the start, didn't I?"
Ray just gave me a look and proceeded to lecture me about real magic from all those books he reads. Great one for reading is my Ray and he remembers what he reads. Even years later, he can peel off some fact he heard or read about. Bloody amazing. Most of it I'd heard before. Ray shares his books with me most times and I remembered a ritual book on the sabbats from Christmas. Ray and I had celebrated the one they call Imbolc on February 2 by making love so often we'd worn each other out. Well, it is a fertility festival.
Just thinking about that was starting to get a rise out of me, so to speak. Ray just nattered on while we demolished the coq-au-vin. Underneath the table, I slipped off my shoes and began to lightly tease at Ray's ankle with my toes. He caught on almost immediately, a wicked gleam crossing his face.
"Desert, love?" He almost purred.
"I was thinking of a shower first, then something sweet would be just right." I rose and stalked him around the table but he dashed away to the bedroom with me in hot pursuit. Have I mentioned what a great cooker he is, in or out of the kitchen?
* * * * * * * * * * * *
We were on the road again by 8:30. Her address was on our side of London although on the outskirts in what twenty years ago would have been open country. Ray was curled at my side, his head resting on my shoulder and his curls tickling my ear. He had my left hand entwined with his and he sighed almost wistfully.
"Just keeps getting better, Bodie."
"That it does, lover. Be five years soon since I asked you to marry me. Should do something special."
"A second honeymoon. Someplace romantic." He kissed my knuckles, something that never fails to move me.
"The Cote d'Azur. Been there once. Nice beaches."
Ray raised his head and looked sharply at me. "With someone special?"
"Nah. Getting shot at mostly. Gun runners as I remember."
"Oh." Ray can get more expression into the simplest word.
"You know there's never been anyone special, Raymond. Never been in love before you barged into my life." I've never understood how Ray, of all people, can be insecure. He's the one with the experience, after all.
He put his head back down and said apologetically, "You don't talk much about your life before. I guess I'm curious."
I hadn't thought about it much but then I'm not a very talkative bloke. Contemplating the years before I came to CI5 and got teamed with a green-eyed leprechaun, they seemed pretty uninteresting. "Not much to tell, Ray. It was a dangerous job working the world mercenary market but mostly it was just the same old boring routine. SAS was more of the same. Kind of gray and black. All the colors and excitement came into my life when I met you."
There was a sniffle from under my left ear. I squeezed his hand while he fought to get his emotions under control. I'm constantly amazed at his easy acknowledgment of his feelings. Wears his heart on his sleeve, does my Ray. Me, I don't show my emotions much. Been accused of not having any. Too many years of having to control myself, giving nothing away. Ray's brought them all out and taught me when it's okay to feel. Still hard though, except with him.
While I was thinking, we arrived. I parked in front of the last townhouse. Three story brick. Bright green entrance with a polished brass knocker. Each window had a lighted candle that shone cheerily in the deepening dark. Ray and I walked up to the front door where I chuckled at the dragon's head knocker. While Ray knocked, I took my time surveying the terrain at street level. Hold over from the bad old days, I guess. Always like to know what's behind me.
Ms Ambrose in a shimmering green caftan opened the door wide and motioned us into the foyer. A knotted tree limb served as a coat rack. She led us through the front hall into the back of the house. The front of the house was serene with muted colors and no fuss. But the back room was obviously where she spent her time. It stretched the width of the house and was stuffed to the brim with bookcases from floor to ceiling, furniture and books. The entire end wall was glass, curved like a conservatory with plants hanging, sitting, leaning and growing everywhere.
"Please make yourselves comfortable. I'll just bring in the drinks tray." And she disappeared behind a Chinese screen.
Ray made a beeline for the books near the fireplace and I chose a tapestry wing chair on the other side. Probably never get him out of here now. The fire felt just right after the late April night air. Ms Ambrose came back in with a mixed tray of bottles, glasses, teapot, cups and a carafe of water.
She sat it on the table near my chair, pouring herself a cup of tea and curling up in the corner of the green sofa. Ray came and sat on the big stuffed footstool by my knees.
"Please help yourself to whatever looks good." She gestured towards the tray. "I would very much like it if you would call me Nan. May I call you Ray and Bodie?"
"Of course, Nan." Ray smiled. "I enjoyed your book tremendously. Read it at Christmas.
That smile crinkled her eyes again. "Thank you. My fan mail just about equaled the hate mail on that one. Witchcraft scares most people. Mainly because they don't understand it or confuse it with Satanism." She looked down into her cup as if it held the secrets of the universe. "I have always been a very ordinary, rather average witch. But lately, I've been getting odd surges of power that fuel my spells with tremendous energy. If it continues, I could well be Mage level by the summer solstice."
Ray took a cup of tea and passed me a snifter of brandy. "Is that what you're worried about?"
"Yes and no." Nan shook her head ruefully. "If that was all, I could deal with it. I think I've been unconsciously tapping someone else's power. Rather like getting a surge of electricity when you plug into the wrong socket. It does worry me that I don't know with whom I'm linking. I don't want to think that I'm like the vampires of legend but unless the other is giving the energy of their own free will, then I may be. I've tried to break the link and give the energy back but it just continues to come.
"It's someone close to me, at work or here in the neighborhood. That's the only way a link could have been formed." This time a shiver accompanied the pause. "What has me worried is that shortly after I began to receive this energy, I was ... attacked in my sleep." She put down her cup and got up to pace. "A force of almost pure evil entered a normal dream and tried to drown me in the ocean I had been walking beside. I struggled, trying to change the water to dry land. But I wasn't in control anymore. It was. If I hadn't been able to pull on that extra energy, I don't think I'd be here now. An autopsy would have shown that I drowned in my bed. It would have puzzled the forensics but any psychic would have been able to explain what happened. The backwash of energy was phenomenal."
"Do you think it was a coincidence, the two energies coming right after each other?" Ray was leaning forward now, intent on her story.
She shook her head and sat back down. "I don't believe in coincidence. If you've read Jung, you will have heard of synchronicity. I think the second happening came about because of the increase in my energy levels. Something is more of an energy vampire that I am."
"Don't think of yourself as a vampire." Ray smiled sympathetically. "It may be that some person is sending you the energy. Making a gift of themselves on the psychic plain in the hopes of a closer relationship in the here and now."
Nan blushed and shook her head. "That would be wishful thinking on my part, Ray. The mirror tells me that I'm a middle-aged witch with plain features and a too plump figure. I don't sparkle or attract. Either sex."
"Except when you smile." I found myself saying. "Noticed it this afternoon. You kind of glow-like. Very attractive."
Ray threw me an approving look while Nan shook her head laughing. I had another question that I was afraid would offend her. "Could they be the same person? I mean, giving you something then attacking you from behind after you've been lulled into acceptance."
She lost her smile and thought for a moment. "I don't think so. The energy patterns are too different. I don't quite know how to describe them. The colors from the first one are vibrant and alive with greens like that tapestry pattern you're sitting on. The other is cold and brown with muddy overtones like a murky lake bed that's been stirred to life by someone passing by."
"Any physical manifestations?" Ray thought aloud.
She nodded and pushed up the sleeves of her emerald green caftan. Purple bruises encircled her upper arms like larger than life fingerprints. She had my attention now. Anything that could reach into a dream and do that was a real threat. Although I didn't rule out an intruder that might have actually been in the house. It looked more and more as if we needed to stick close.
Ray gave me a questioning look and I nodded. With a smile, he opened the subject. "Nan, you mentioned three days earlier in Cowley's office. Why that time limit?"
"May 1st is Beltane. It is the sabbat of life, love and marriage. At this time of year, a woman's power grows to larger than normal levels. I should be able to reach the other from whom I'm gaining energy and find out why. But the negative energy seeker will also be more powerful. While I'm open to the one, I will be vulnerable to the other. The power is waxing now, without some backup ..."
"He or she could grab you now before you reach full power." Ray clasped one knee and rocked gently. "So, it looks like you need us to watch your back until Saturday. And this is Thursday." He accepted her nod as confirmation. "Then we're going to have to stay close. Stay here tonight and go to work with you tomorrow."
"It's an inconvenience, I know. I need to ask you an odd question. Do you dream together?" She saw my puzzled look and tried to explain. "I can see that you are lovers as well as partners. Sometimes that combination can produce an effect called reciprocal dreaming. In other words, you meet each other or talk together or wake up having dreamt about the same place."
Ray's eyes widened at her easy acceptance of our status but he nodded in agreement. "Lately, we have shared brief snippets. I dreamed of a ski chalet I'd been to once and the next morning Bodie complained of dreaming of skiing. A sport he hates."
Her face lit up and she nodded. "That's exactly what I mean. If you can trust me enough, I can give you a light hypnotic suggestion that will allow both of you to enter my dreams. It's the only way you can watch out for me while I'm asleep and most vulnerable."
"Because if we're not in your dream and we tried to touch or wake you while it's attacking, you would be weakened in the dream. More hurting than helping." Ray seemed to understand what she was saying. I had some real reservations about hypnosis but I could see that Ray was going to agree and there was no way he was going in without me. Providing this worked.
"Exactly. Plus, you'd be independent observers. You might see something that I've missed. I was too busy fighting for my life. Are you willing?" This time she looked at me.
"Sounds daft to me but I'm willing to let you try. No way is Ray making this trip without me to watch his back. I'll go get the bags we packed." I got up and left the two of them to exchange dreams.
It was a dark night with no moon and few stars. Must be a front coming in, I decided while I hauled the bags out of the boot and set them inside the front door. I decided to take a quick walk around the neighborhood just to familiarize myself with the terrain. Fifteen minutes later I had a pretty good idea where things were in case I needed to chase a flesh and blood intruder.
It was chilly and it felt good to get back inside. I heard
Ray's voice from upstairs and followed it up. This floor had four
bedrooms and two baths. Nan and Ray were to the left in the first
room from the landing.
"Well, I think you have all you'll need for tonight. Is everything all right outside, Bodie?" Nan looked serious.
"It's fine. Just thought I'd take a look around." It felt odd staying in someone else's place.
She and Ray exchanged a look. Uh-oh, something was up. Ray sat down on the edge of the four poster bed and patted the place beside him. "Come here, Bodie. Nan wants to give us the suggestion together."
I really hated the thought of someone messing with my mind. I don't think I can be hypnotized. But Ray was looking at me with that puppy dog look that I just can't resist. Sod it, might as well give it a try.
Nan knelt before us with a hand on each of our knees. Those big green eyes of hers looked back and forth between the two of us. "This is just a suggestion, Bodie. Not an attempt to control your thoughts."
Jesus, maybe she could read minds. Her voice was soothing and calm. Just words and images repeated a few times then a suggestion that we dream of each other and wake up refreshed. Then she was standing briskly and saying good night. With a whisk of her caftan, she closed the door behind her. I resisted the urge to shake my head. Had she or hadn't she hypnotized us?
Ray was smiling up at me with that pixie grin that drives me nuts. "So, what do you think? Pretty good, isn't she?"
"I think ..." I drew it out intentionally, drives him around the bend. "I'm sleepy. Let's go to bed." And I refused to say another word even when he coaxed. I just removed my clothes and hung them in the armoire, calmly sliding beneath the covers and ignoring all his attempts at conversation.
Ray finally gave up and joined me between the sweetly scented sheets. I gathered his slender body into my arms and whispered in his ear. "Just don't dream of snow tonight, lover. Remember I have to go there too."
He gave a chuckle and molded himself to my side, forgiving me with his hands and lips. "Rotten bastard. You had me worried there. How about a golden beach with a wine-dark sea lapping gently at the shore?"
"You're on. Go to sleep and dream of me." I settled him more comfortably at my side and relaxed all my muscles. It never takes me long to go to sleep. A hold over from the old days when sleep came in snatches and you learned to take what you could get. Next thing I knew it was morning and Ray was taking liberties with my body. My favorite way to wake up. I had no staying power and Ray drank in the results of my explosion. When I had my breath back, I pulled him up into my arms. He looked like the cat that had eaten the canary.
"Unfair, lover. Taking advantage of me when I couldn't defend myself." I traced his dented cheekbone with an indulgent caress.
He smiled ever so sweetly at me and laid that same cheekbone against my shoulder. "Hm-m-m, you'll find a way to pay me back. You always do."
Before I could start my retaliation, Nan tapped at the door. "Breakfast in twenty minutes."
Ray and I looked at each other and smiled. Five minutes later in the shower, I did indeed "pay" him back in kind. Ten minutes later I was still dressing and Speed Demon Doyle was out the door and down the stairs. I don't know how he does it but he can dress and undress faster than anyone I know. Should have been a fireman rather than a policeman.
The smell of something baking drew me down the stairs and behind the Chinese screen. I'd been wrong last night. The living room didn't stretch completely across the back of the house. A corridor kitchen about eight feet across stretched back to more glass and a round table with four chairs. Ray already had my tea poured and what looked like the world's biggest muffin on my plate. Nan smiled a greeting and poured another cup of tea.
"I hope you slept well, Bodie. I certainly did. First night in a week when I didn't dream at all." Nan's eyes sparkled above her tailored russet suit.
"I didn't dream either. How about you, Bodie?" Ray spoke around a mouthful of muffin.
"Nope. I just figured it was the house. Not to mention the magic bed." I took my first bite of muffin and as I began to chew, my eyes went wide. Never tasted anything like it in me life. Sweet but tart. Smooth but with a bite. Apples, maybe? Ginger?
Ray was laughing at me. "I had the same reaction, love. Nan says it's a secret recipe that's been in her family for generations."
"They're called Royal Ambrosia. You guys help me figure out who's doing what and keep me alive, I'll give Ray the recipe." Nan set down her cup and smiled.
Ray agreed enthusiastically while I contented myself with an appreciative nod. After I swallowed though, I changed the subject. "If we're going to work with you, how are you going to explain us?"
Nan and Ray exchanged an identical grin. "Since Ray and I have a faint resemblance, I thought I'd say that we're cousins. Here for a visit. Bodie, we'll leave your status undefined. It will drive that bunch of nosy parkers quite mad."
She didn't look too displeased by that so I shrugged and accepted it. My mouth was too full to talk anyway. She and Ray swapped a few 'family' stories while I devoured another muffin and most of two oranges. Ray sneaking a few slices when he thought I wasn't looking.
We debated which car to take. I hate being driven. Ray says it's because I always have to be in control. But then Ray always analyzes everything to death. And he could be right. Another holdover from the old days. I seemed to be getting a lot of reminders lately.
Nan suggested a compromise. I'd drive her car. Sounded good to me. Sounded even better when I got a look at the little beauty tucked into the garage at the side of the garden. I pulled her up to the front in time to pop the boot open so Ray could put a two by two-foot box inside. Nan had stopped at the front door, looking as if she were saying goodbye to the dragon doorknocker. Probably putting a spell on it, I decided. Then she turned and waved to a neighbor who was peering over the hedge at us.
Getting into the front seat with me, she settled a bulging briefcase at her feet and fastened her seatbelt. Ray was lounging in the back seat as I started off.
"Nice car." It was too. Twenty year old Mercedes in mint condition.
"I inherited it from my Great Uncle Harry, who upgraded to a 1954 SL250. It's more car than I need but it runs like a dream and I know a witch who keeps it in tune in exchange for my editing his monthly car column." Nan hesitated. "Do you have the address of Benton Publishing?"
"Got it. And I know how to get there. Do you park somewhere special?" I don't really have London memorized like the old fashioned cabbies used to, but I like to know where things are. Most of the publishers are grouped like a flock of sparrows in Northeast London, which is where I was headed in the increasingly heavy traffic.
Nan's eyes were wide, trying not to flinch when those aggressive blokes tried to get in my way. "Um, there's a parking, oh," she flinched, "ah, parking garage on lower Reming Way just around the corner from the offices." She caught her breath and decided to watch me rather than the traffic. "I usually park there."
"Don't worry, Nan. He's the best driver in London." Ray leaned forward and patted her shoulder reassuringly.
"I beg your pardon?" I threw him a mock frown.
"Oh, forgive me, master." He can make a compliment into an insult with just a flick of his voice. "He's the best driver in Europe."
"That's better, petal." I cut in front of a particularly obnoxious lorry and swung into Reming Way.
Nan looked at her watch. "That drive usually takes me 40 minutes. We just did it in 20. Can I hire you as my full time chauffeur?"
"If you promise to feed me those muffins every morning, you just may have a deal." I followed her pointing hand and eased the Mercedes into a slot on the left. We all got out and Ray relieved her of the briefcase, which of course, left the heavy box to me. He's past master at that. Nan whisked us around the corner and over to Benton Publishing, a five story brick with green trim to distinguish it from every other building on the Square.
Nan greeted the young curly headed receptionist, calling her Sharon and introducing us. Ray was his charming self, kissing her hand and making her giggle. He honestly likes people and they can sense that. Me, I just fade into the woodwork and watch who's doing what. Until the action starts and Ray clears the way for me to go to work. Teamwork is a wonderful thing.
When Nan finally led us up the stairs, apologizing for the nonworking lift, it figures that her office would be on the top floor. When we finally got to her cubbyhole, I lowered the bloody box to the floor with a groan and rubbed me aching back.
"I may never be able to straighten up again. What's in there? Bricks to build another bookcase?" Looking around, all I could see was a table, two chairs and floor to ceiling bookcases.
Nan laughed. "Not bricks, Bodie. Manuscripts. These are the ones I'll be sending back. After I dictate some gentle rejection letters."
"Just like you sent mine back, angel?" A laughing voice broke in from the hall.
We turned to see a smiling blond lounging just inside the doorway. Nan greeted him with delight, hugging and kissing him. "Tony Hendrix, why didn't you let me know you were coming? I want you to meet my cousin, Ray Doyle and his friend, Bodie."
While he and Ray were meeting and greeting, I stayed back and gave him the once-over. About Ray's height, he had the wide shoulders and pectorals of a weightlifter. His unlined face and beaming smile all spoke of a happy-go-lucky kind of guy.
"But where's BJ, Tony?" Nan teased him gently. "Surely he didn't let you come into the big city all by yourself?"
"Hell, no," a deep voice came from the shadows of the corridor and when the speaker stepped forward, I drew a quick breath. He was an unexpected blast from my checkered past. His quick look told me he recognized me too, but he continued on as if we'd never met. "BJ Franklin. Nice to meet you both. And you know, Nan, that Tony can't be trusted to remember for more than five minutes where he's going or why he's here."
"Not true! I never forget when I'm coming to see the Divine Nan." Tony's sky blue eyes flirted ever so gently with our hostess. "You should tell them how you crushed me with rejection the first time I sent my manuscript in."
Nan laughed and motioned them all inside. It was a tight squeeze but we did just manage to fit, with Nan perched on her table, Tony and Ray on the chairs and BJ and I leaning side by side on the end bookcase.
"You have never been crushed in your entire life, Tony. I rejected your first draft because it was full of techno-babble. But you took my suggestions and see where it got you?" Nan grinned at Ray and I. "Tony is now the author of three computer guides and even I understand most of them. BJ, here, is my best success story, though. His second novel went ballistic. And we have the option on his next two. Which are going to be even more successful."
The three of them launched into an animated conversation while BJ and I eyed each other. Brought back a lot of memories, he did. Last time I'd seen him, we'd been holed up in a desert wadi with our ammo running out and what seemed like the entire Jordanian army lusting after our blood. When the chopper arrived to pick us up, I rolled out from behind the wall to lay down some cover. Took a bullet in the thigh and realized I wouldn't be able to get back up. BJ was known as Kansas in those days because of his Yank accent and he'd come out of the wadi like a bull in heat, roaring and keeping a steady stream of fire with his gun hand while his other arm pulled me up and tossed me over one shoulder. He got us both to the chopper and out of danger. I'd lost track of him while I was in hospital with blood poisoning.
"Long time." He never was one for conversation.
"Yeah. You've done okay. Never did get the chance to say thanks." I figured he'd know what I meant.
The slow smile said he did. "You're welcome. You still on the market?"
The underlying tension was only visible in his dark brown eyes and the way he held his head. His hair gleamed black in a jaunty ponytail that didn't make him look in the least like a nance. His black t-shirt showed well defined muscles and his casual slouch didn't fool me for a minute. He was on full alert and capable of mayhem.
"Nah. Joined the SAS. But I'm retired from all that. It's a young man's game. I do odd jobs for the government these days." Don't get much odder than CI5, do you? If he tried to backtrack me, that's exactly what he'd find. The Cow does a good job of smoke screening.
He nodded warily, trying to make the pieces fit. Trying to figure out if I was a threat to him and his. I'd already decided that Tony and he were a matched set like Ray and I. Nan seemed comfortable with the pair of them but I couldn't help thinking it was an interesting coincidence that the pair of them should arrive just when her life was in turmoil. Couldn't really picture them as bad guys but if life has taught me anything at all, it's that evil comes in all shapes and sizes.
"Would I know your book?" I do pick up a book now and then, no matter what Ray says about my reading habits.
"The first one was Krueger. Got a few decent reviews. Nan kept nagging me to finish the next one and got me a three-book contract on a chance. Palmer hit number five within two weeks of publication. Still don't know why." He shrugged.
Nan must have the ears of a cat. "Because it is a powerful book. The plot makes the reader wish he had on a seatbelt."
She slid off the table and crossed to his side. He accepted her hug gingerly as if he was afraid of breaking her. Tony looked on with an understanding smile. They were a lot like Ray and me. Salt and pepper. Complete opposites but complimentary. I noticed Ray giving me a quizzical look. I just smiled blandly back. He hates that. I could see his busy little brain trying to discover what he'd missed.
Tony offered to give us a tour of the publishers while Nan and BJ had a conference. Ray accepted for both of us and we left for an exhaustive look at how a manuscript becomes a book. It looked to me as if they talked it to life. Everywhere we went, people were chatting back and forth, waving their hands and making rude gestures at each other. The art department was the worst. Tony was pulled into a discussion about a new book jacket for Palmer and he was hard pressed to be diplomatic.
We left before I had to be rude. Tony shaking his head with a pixie grin. "Wait 'till I tell BJ about this one. Why would they think a whip and chains for lettering fits the story? I don't remember anything like that in the book."
He and my partner broke up into laughter. Ray had obviously read the book too. By now, two hours had gone by and I had developed an itch to see how Nan was. Ray picked up on that. I swear he can read my mind sometimes.
"Let's go back up and see how the others are doing. Hopefully, they'll be ready for an early lunch. I promised Nan we'd take her out today." Ray's a smooth customer. "Why don't you and BJ join us?"
Tony's eyes lit up. "Sounds good. We know this great little Greek place about four blocks from here. We took Nan there a month ago when we last came to town."
They were making plans when we arrived back at the office. Tony walked in without knocking, Ray right on his heels. Which left me in the doorway with the best view of a very interesting tableau. Nan was again perched on the table but a tall blond had backed BJ into a corner. The harassed look on his face was enough to make me hide a grin behind one hand. But Tony wasn't amused and his eyes hardened in a way I hadn't thought possible for such an even-tempered guy.
"Priscilla, how nice to see you." He took a quick step and tapped her on one silk clad shoulder.
She turned on one three-inch heel to smile down on him. Even without the heels, she would have towered over most men. She was a sculptured blond Valkrie with icy blue eyes, high cheekbones and a statuesque figure without an ounce of fat. Her shoulder length frosted platinum hair was carefully wild, drawing attention to the perfection of her features. The clingy blue wrap-around dress with the plunging neckline had been carefully chosen to show off her many charms. Altogether, an embodiment of living breathing perfection. Whew! Too much, I decided. It was a relief to look over at Nan who might consider herself plain but who was warm and comfortable.
Priscilla's voice was like a bell, pitched to a bedroom chime. "Why, Tony, I knew you wouldn't be too far away. You're looking a little peaked. Not catching anything, I hope?" Her tone left no doubt as to her true meaning. Plague was the very least of what she was hoping for him.
"Never felt better, Priscilla. Maybe it's time you started wearing those glasses of yours." Tony's sweet retort strained Ray's poker face to the limit.
"Now, now, you two. Hang up the gloves. I want to introduce Ray and Bodie to Priscilla. Priscilla Hornsby, meet my cousin Ray Doyle and his friend Bodie. They're staying with me for a few days." Nan had linked arms with both Tony and Ray. "Priscilla is a fashion designer with a real flair for writing. She works with Edward Schaver, another one of Benson's editors."
"It's a pleasure to meet you both. I was in for a conference with Edward and heard BJ's dulcet tones. I came to invite you all to lunch." She gave both of us a firm handshake and a piercing glance that seemed to strip away all pretense. "Chez Antoine's is holding a reservation for me. They can handle a party of six. I simply won't take no for an answer."
I let the others answer for me while I watched the interplay between them. BJ looked harried while Tony's ears reddened with anger. Nan was unsettled, looking from one to the other as if unsure of what was going on. Priscilla had arrogantly taken charge, matching Ray's flirting with her own brand of charm. Me, I was just waiting for the explosion.
Priscilla and Ray left first, arm in arm, with BJ and Tony right behind. Nan walked down with me, a worried frown wrinkling her forehead. "I don't know what's gotten into them. I've never heard such venom before."
I answered her whisper with one of me own. "Priscilla wants BJ. Badly!"
"But BJ and Tony are a couple." Nan looked at me bewilderedly. "I mean, I had my fantasies about both of them when I first met them. But I could never decide between them. Not that they'd ever look at me." She laughed deprecatingly. "But then I made the mistake of introducing them to each other. Wham! Fireworks galore. They took one look and fell head over heels in love. Now, I play big sister. I just hope Priscilla doesn't annoy them too much. She's used to getting what she wants." She gave a wistful little sigh. "She makes me feel like such a frump. I'd love to be able to wear that dress."
I squeezed her hand and whispered in her ear just before we caught up with the others. "Wouldn't suit your coloring, love. But you looked sexy as anything in that green caftan last night."
Her giggle brought me an unexpected glare from BJ. I started wondering what was going on. I wished I could get Ray alone for a minute and get his opinion. Confusion was cluttering up my impressions. That state of affairs continued over lunch. Oh, the food was great and the service impeccable. The conversation was witty and amusing. But underneath it all surged a dark current of innuendo and feeling. I began to wonder if our two suspects were sitting right here.
When the party broke up an hour and a half later, Priscilla left for a fashion show while BJ and Tony headed in the opposite direction to do some shopping. Nan shook her head at us and fled back to her office, muttering something about locking the door and pouring a stiff drink. She said she'd see us later.
Ray was in think-mode so I steered him to a park a few blocks away. When he gets that absorbed look on his face, I know not to interrupt him. Sorting out is what he's best at, that and a few other things. Had plenty to sort out here, didn't he? The park was deserted since the sun had gone missing behind some great dirty clouds that looked like rain. Seeing as we had the place to ourselves, I spotted a secluded bench and edged Ray over to it. Settling him in, using the flowering forsythia as a shield, I sat as close to him as was humanly possible. Tucking him into a hug, I patiently waited for him to surface.
He returned my embrace absentmindedly. Don't often display affection in public. Not my style. But like I said the park was empty and I needed the closeness. Lunch had left a bad taste in me mouth.
"I feel rather sorry for them, Bodie." Ray awakened to where he was and what I was doing. Taking a quick glance around, he smiled at me and stole a kiss. Didn't have to steal though, did he? Always willing to oblige. Glad to exchange the bad feel for the sweet but tangy taste of Ray. After a refreshing duel, he pulled back and settled into my arms, curly head nestled on my shoulder.
His voice was rather dreamy; ticking off his points one by one. "It's kind of like one of those shows on the American telly. Nan's half in love with both BJ and Tony. BJ loves Tony but also fancies Nan. Tony loves BJ but I can't figure out just what he feels for Nan. Priscilla wants BJ, period. I think she would cheerfully strangle Tony if she thought she could get away with it. I know Tony was contemplating homicide over lunch. I hope BJ takes him back to the hotel and screws his brains out. And speaking of BJ, how do you know him?"
So I explained. Ray's face can be ever so expressive when he's listening to a story. His left hand rubbed my thigh in sympathy. Intimately acquainted with that scar, he is. I could see him filing away the info for future use. But that was ancient history and I was impatient to see if he thought as I did. "Are any of them suspects in the attack on Nan?"
"Right now, they're all suspects." Ray threw up one hand. "And tonight we'll have to be on guard. The energy stirred up today hasn't gone to rest yet. I'll bet you there will be another attack tonight."
We made it back to the offices by 4:30. Nan was still preoccupied, unwilling to talk about what had happened. Driving home, she didn't even notice my being firm with a couple of rival drivers. After a light dinner, she and Ray curled up by the fire with a couple of good books while I went out and ran my usual five miles. Nothing settles you like a good run. Blows the cobwebs away and puts your thoughts in order. I slipped upstairs after locking up and took another shower. Just as I was rinsing my hair, I felt Ray join me.
"Need some help there, lover?" He innocently asked while his hands drifted lower over my hips and around the front of me poor helpless body. If I'd moved, I might of gotten soap in me eyes. Very dangerous. So, I let him work his wicked way with me while I clutched his shoulders with a strangled groan. Still felt odd being in someone else's home while we made love.
My climax sent me reeling back against the white tiles of the shower while Ray stood up and nibbled gently on one of my aroused nipples. When I'd finally caught my breath, he laughed up at me. "Need anymore help, Bodie?"
I began to run the soap in small round circles over the tightly curling hairs on his chest. Drives him wild that does. I slowly soaped his whole body and just when things were looking up, as it were, the hot water ran out and he had to rinse in cold. Complaining all the way. He was still muttering threats when I settled him into the soft bed and proceeded to take care of the problem.
We must have dropped off to sleep at the same time because the next thing I knew I was in a great hall, like the one at Hampton Court. I was standing near a great open fireplace, dressed in heavy chain mail over a linen tunic and clutching a sword in one gauntleted fist. Ray was sitting nearby at an oak trestle table peeling an apple for Nan. They were both dressed in purple velvet with long flowing sleeves and ruffled collars. Nan was showing a fair amount of cleavage and wearing an ornate necklace of wine red garnets.
A vague sense of anticipation filled the great hall and I realized that I was dreaming. I started to slip out of the dream but managed to still the thoughts and soothe myself into a kind of trance state. Ray had explained it to me once. Lucid dreaming, it's called. Been books written about it. You're dreaming and you know you're dreaming but you keep dreaming, only now you can direct the dream and do what you want.
I'd always wanted to fly but I doubted that the chain mail would let me. I knew I had to concentrate on something to keep from slipping back into a normal dream. So, I watched Nan and Ray as they sipped their wine and watched the doorway at the far end of the room. A few moments passed, or maybe hours, I don't know. Suddenly Nan started and pushed back her chair to walk to the middle of the hall. I didn't see anything and it appeared Ray couldn't either if the puzzled look on his face was any indication.
We both left our spots and joined her in the center of the room, leaving her some maneuvering space. Ray saw me for the first time and he made an appreciative gesture towards my outfit. I shot a grin at his tights and skimpy tunic and he blushed, taking a good look at himself. I'd have to remember this for when we woke up.
Nan had closed her eyes and was slowly turning in place, her long dress making brushing sounds against the cold stone floors. She was moving counterclockwise and her hands were sketching symbols in the air. After two turns, I began to actually see the symbols themselves glowing in the air before fading away. I could feel the hair on the back of me neck start to rise. Eerie as all hell. Out of the corner of one eye I began to see flashes of light, flickering in and out of sight. If I didn't look straight at them, I could see them more clearly. They turned into streams of golden yellow ribbons that caressed Nan from head to toe.
She was laughing now and throwing out her hands to return the caress. By then, I'd figured out that this was the good energy she'd been absorbing. Didn't look green to me but it also didn't look like she was coercing it in any way. Just then the heavy oak paneled doors at the far end of the hall blew open as if pushed by a mighty wind. A dark cloud swirled into the room and headed straight for Nan. Black and twisted, it moved across the stone like a hurricane. Nan's eyes went wide and she began to draw more symbols in the air.
The room felt full of menace and foreboding, the cloud swirling closer and closer. I found myself moving to place myself between Nan and the threatening force. It seemed to tower over me and I could finally hear Nan's voice saying the same words over and over again. I just couldn't make out what they were. Ray was by my side with an ornate dagger in one hand. I don't know what we thought we could do against a cloud but we were going to try. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the yellow ribbons had formed a shield in front of Nan.
Just then the force hit us, faltering as we cut it with our weapons then moving on. We turned to see it hit the golden shield and stop dead. As if from a great distance I could hear Nan asking it a question. Silence and the sense of foreboding increased. Then the yellow ribbons moved toward the cloud and it vanished. Between one heartbeat and the next, it was gone as if it had never been. Slowly the glowing shield sank to the flagstones and disappeared as well, Nan kneeling and trying to make it stay.
Then with a start, I was awake, holding Ray in Nan's guest bedroom. His green eyes popped open at almost the same moment and we looked at each other with pounding hearts. Throwing back the covers, we scrambled into whatever was handy and headed for Nan's room. We barely had a chance to knock on her door before she answered.
Tears streaming down her face, her long red hair in a tangled twist over one silk clad shoulder, she came into our arms for a much-needed hug. Didn't feel awkward at all, after what we'd just shared. By common consent, we moved down to the living room. I built up the fire while Ray made us all a hot drink. Nan sat and shivered even though we'd wrapped her in the comforter from her bed.
Ray had to help her hold her cup at first but after a few sips of the chamomile tea, she nodded her thanks and cradled the cup with both hands. She tried a shaky smile at us and took a deep breath.
"Thanks. There are no words strong enough to tell you how glad I am that you were there. How do you feel?"
Ray looked at me with a question. "I feel tired as if I'd been running for miles."
"Me too. We didn't do much. Just tried to stop the cloud. Didn't work." I felt we should have been able to do more.
"You're tired because the cloud sucked energy from you when you attacked it." Nan's lips smiled faintly. "But you did more than you know. Your choice of weapons, cold steel, drained more energy than it could take from you. It could have stopped to suck you dry but it was too impatient. Thank the Goddess that the other energy was there to shield me." Her eyes filled with tears again. "Tell me what you saw."
Ray gave her his impressions of the great hall and what had happened. I nodded in agreement until he mentioned the first appearance of the positive energy. He said it glowed blue.
"Wait a minute, Ray. It was yellow. Like bright golden ribbons swirling around Nan."
"No, it wasn't." He looked at me in amazement. "It was bright blue like a summer sky."
Nan looked at both of us bewilderedly. "It was green just as it had been before."
We all thought about it for a moment then Ray finished the dream sequence. Nan was thinking hard. I sat back in the wing chair and idly stroked Ray's hair from his position on the floor by my knees. I wondered if we'd be able to dream together like this after we went back to CI5 or if this was just a one-off experience. Tomorrow, rather today, was Saturday and hopefully this would all be over. One way or the other.
Nan's gaze refocused on us. "That's very interesting. Blue and yellow are primary colors that make up the color green. You saw the components while I saw it in synthesis. I'm not sure what that means."
Ray shot a look up at me and I just shrugged. He was the one with the gift of explanation. Nan caught the look and raised an eyebrow in question.
"Nan, has it ever occurred to you that you're seeing green because there are two people sending you energy? One that manifests itself as blue and one as yellow. Working together."
"But why would two people at the same time begin sending me such energy?" She shook her head, unable to grasp what Ray was trying to tell her.
Sometimes blunt is best. My strong suit, isn't it?
"Nan, you only have to look as far as BJ and Tony for your answer. As far as Ray and I could tell, they both love you. Maybe this is their way of showing you."
She looked like I'd given her a blow, shaking her head and closing her eyes tight. Ray and I left her alone to come to terms with the possibility. When she was ready to speak, she had to clear her voice several times.
"I can see how you might think that but I can't quite believe it. I've known them for two years and neither one of them ever said anything that might make me think they would ... want me." She blushed. "I know I said I had fantasies about them but once they became a couple, I put them out of my mind."
"Maybe they are having the same fantasies. Some couples are strong enough to add a third. A wise man told me once that love expands to fit." Ray leaned forward and laid a gentle hand over hers.
Her voice was a whisper. "I think I'm afraid to accept your theory because I want it to be true so badly. I used to dream of them, welcoming me into a hug like the one we just shared." Her eyes closed tightly then sprang open to gaze at us in wonder. "It feels right. If I ignore the attack part of the dream, the emotions the ribbons engendered in me are exactly what I felt this morning during my conference with BJ."
Now it was my turn to be concerned. We still hadn't solved the second half of this equation. "Nan, we can't ignore the attack. One is leading to the other. If Tony and BJ are both part of the positive force then who is the attacker?"
A frown crossed that expressive face of hers. "Well, judging from this afternoon, that would be Priscilla. But as far as I know, she's never cast a spell in her life." She got a thoughtful look on her face. "But, you know, I have always wondered about the fluke that burned out her competitor just before her first spring showing. Rumors had her behind that. But no evidence was ever found and the arson squad looked very hard. She made some pretty snide comments about my book as well. I just put it down to petty jealousy. But maybe she was speaking from a professional point of view."
She was starting to look mad now and that's where we left it. At three in the morning, we decided we'd had enough. We agreed to thrash it out some more over a late breakfast. As far as I know, we all slept like babies for the rest of the night. Over another muffin, Ray and Nan decided that I should tackle BJ and Tony. Ray chose the job of getting background information on all three from the secret files of CI5's computers. Nan had some witchy errands to run before the Beltane ceremony tonight. So, we split up.
I headed for the hotel, undecided just how to approach them. But when I asked at the front desk, the clerk told me they'd left for lunch. Taking a chance, I looked for the Greek restaurant Tony had mentioned yesterday. And that's where I found them. The look in BJ's eyes when he spotted me decided my handling of the situation.
Without waiting for an invitation, I pulled out a chair and sat down. "Nan's all right. Do you have any idea how confused she is?"
BJ looked relieved and sheepish at the same time. "Kind of a hard subject to bring up. Happened by accident the first time. Did some experimenting. Then told Tony."
Tony was glaring affectionately at his partner. "We had it out then. I set up all the different scenarios for a three-way relationship. Given the parameters ..."
I tried to keep up but he lost me in computer computations. BJ and I exchanged grins. Tony caught us at it and gave an exasperated sigh. "All right! I know human beings are unpredictable. But the final formula said that BJ and I love each other enough to not feel threatened by the addition of someone we both like and respect."
"And love," BJ added gently.
Tony grinned, "And love. I wanted to just tell her. But by then that other ... um ... force had arrived. So we came to London to try and sort it out in person." Tony finished with a questioning look at me.
"Ray and I work for CI5. So does Nan occasionally. She came to us for help. She hypnotized us so we could follow her into her dream. We came to some conclusions about what happened but I want to hear who or what you think is attacking Nan." I sat back and waited.
They exchanged a long look then BJ nodded. It was as if they were talking to each other without spoken words. Spooky, but I suppose Ray and I do the same thing sometimes. In the middle of an op, we always seem to know what the other is doing or sometimes more importantly, what he is going to do.
"After yesterday, we came to the conclusion that Priscilla is the negative energy. But is she attacking Nan or simply attacking the other energy near me?" BJ shrugged.
Now, there was a thought. "Last night, Nan said that she always saw your energy as green. Ray and I saw two energies. One blue and the other yellow."
Tony's eyes gleamed, resting his chin on one hand. "I see BJ in blue when we dream. And he's told me he sees me as yellow. Maybe males see male energy separately but women see them in synthesis. So Priscilla would see only two energies. The green would be you, BJ."
"And she would see Nan's silver as you, Tony." BJ sounded worried.
Couldn't blame him. I was having some trouble with all this. I badly needed Ray to make this all sound natural and normal. Energies, for God's sake! Taking a deep breath, I decided to not think of some of the consequences of all this and concentrate on the logistics of making it all come out right.
"Fine! That's a working theory. How do we bring her out into the open?" I spoke up. "Nan thinks tonight is the night."
"Beltane." BJ nodded. "It is a powerful time, especially for women. Nan and Priscilla will both be energized by the rituals performed tonight. However, male energy is waxing now, reaching it's peak on August 1st, Lammas. If we can join our energies together, meld ourselves into one being, we should be able to stop her."
Here's where Ray's input would have been useful. "Well, it won't be dark until late. Why don't you meet us at Nan's house at about eight o'clock? She's running errands right now and she said she wouldn't be back until after six. We need to let Priscilla know that the two of you are going to be at Nan's tonight."
"Setting the bait, as it were." Tony's eyes were grim again. "That's going to have to be BJ's job. If you call her up and ask her out to early dinner, you can casually mention that you and I have had a tiff. But that we have this conference set up with Nan for later."
BJ's voice was plaintive. "Do I have to? She makes me nervous. Whenever I look at her, all I can see is a black widow spider eyeing her dinner."
I smiled. If BJ wrote like he talked, I'd have to see about reading his stuff. "Neither of us can do it." I pointed out gently. "We don't even know for sure if Priscilla is attacking Nan or if she thinks she's attacking Tony. Nan is doing some checking with her occult friends to see if maybe Priscilla has been a secret black magic user for the last few years."
I decided to not explain that Ray was doing background checks on all of them. We hashed over a few points and then we all split up to get ready for the night. I headed over to the pub near CI5 where I'd promised to meet Ray. I was nursing a pint, flirting with the barmaid when Ray walked in. He had on a green shirt that matched his eyes and a pair of those white skintight jeans he looks so good in. I noticed a few others appreciating him and had to quell an urge to knock some heads together.
He spotted me and came over after stopping at the bar for a pint. "What's got your knickers in a twist, then?" He took the chair next to mine so his back would be to the wall and he could watch the door.
"Did I tell you this morning that you look good enough to eat?"
His eyes lit up with mischief. "Why, no, you didn't. Are you about to remedy that situation now?"
I leaned a little closer and put a serious look on my face. "Have I ever told you about this fantasy I have? It's the one where we've just met, here in the pub and you're wearing skintight jeans and a shirt that matches your eyes. I grab you by the front of the shirt. . lay you across the table and ... proceed to tickle you until you give up."
Ray choked on his beer. So I had to pound on his back for him while he coughed and laughed. More of a caress than a pound. Not often I get a chance to touch him in public. He tried to glare at me but it was a lost cause. I could feel myself getting smug all over again. I've felt that way a lot since I found out I could love someone.
"Bloody Bodie! I thought you were going to say something else. I'll have to tell you about my fantasy in this bar." His eyes slid up to mine with a sensual sweep of his long lashes.
Always makes me catch my breath when he does that. I could see that playtime was going to be interesting for the next few weeks. "Can't wait, sunshine. Until then, what did you find out about our trio?"
Ray's got a memory like an elephant. He proceeded to run down each one from birth to now. He'd even gotten into the Inland Revenue database and pulled up their last two returns. BJ and Tony were solvent but Priscilla was riding the thin line between bankruptcy and riches. Her fall collection would make the difference. One of Ray's old friends on the Fraud Squad had passed on some fashion trade rumors. Seems her orders had been slow coming in and her suppliers had just sent in 90-day notices. The only thing that might save her was another rumor about a major department store chain that was contemplating stocking her fashions in a series of boutiques in each of their stores.
A major coup, if true. Our beer was gone by the time Ray was finished. I got Milly's attention and she brought us two more, stopping for a bit of chatting up. When she'd gone, Ray looked slyly over at me. "Cowley stopped by while I was in Records. Reminded us to finish up and report back on Monday morning. Told him I'd get Nan to wiggle her nose and speed things up."
I grunted somewhat distractedly. It was fine to joke about magic but I didn't have the faintest idea where we went from here. Five years ago, I'd have laughed in anyone's face if they'd predicted that I'd be involved with witches and magic.
Ray's hand was gentle on my thigh beneath the table. "What's wrong, sunshine? Worried about tonight?"
"Ray, we're talking about magic and spells and witches, for God's sake. What do we know about any of that? How do we fight something we can't see?"
"We did all right last night." His eyes brightened. "Don't think of it as magic. Think of it as energy. This beer we're drinking is one form of energy. After we drink it, our bodies channel part of it into food for our muscles and part of it goes to the brain as a stimulant."
He took another sip and continued. "Remember your science class? About the only thing old Mr. Garibaldi managed to make stick in my thick skull was the fact that energy is never destroyed. It can be changed but you can't get "rid" of it. It's always there and always will be. I think magic users must know some way of channeling it into another form, like our bodies do with food and drink. They gather the energy, focus it with, say a spell, and then channel it into that one purpose."
"The energy is still there but changed by the spell." I decided the details were beyond me but I could see the basic shape of what we were up against. "So, Priscilla can cast a spell using her energy but our three should be able to cast a more powerful spell because they're together."
Ray shook his head ruefully. "Unfortunately, she appears to be using black magic which means she's gathering up negative emotions for her energy base. And London has a lot of negative energy that she can pull from. Fear, hate, envy and greed are all around us and can be very powerful."
I shook my head doggedly. "I don't believe that all the negatives could overcome the positives our three have."
"Love conquers all?" Ray joked.
"Yeah, something like that." I struggled to explain. "Do you remember when we first kissed?"
Ray's eyes widened and he nodded.
"Remember how it felt like an electric shock at first then gentled down to a steady throb? I joked later that it felt like we were connected to the National Grid. Still does today. But it's never one way; it always flows from me to you and back again. While we're connected, we're stronger than when we're separated."
Ray finished his beer and smiled. "Let's go home, sunshine. You've convinced me. If we go now, we'll have time to make love and raise our energy for tonight. I don't know about you but making love in someone else's house leaves something to be desired."
I finished hurriedly and followed him out. And he was right, as usual. Strenuous but invigorating. Left me feeling there was nothing I couldn't handle. I nuzzled Ray's curls under my chin. He had his nose buried in my shoulder, taking a quick nap.
"C'mon, love. Time to get up and slay a few dragons." I rolled him over on his side and kissed him gently. "Wake up, Sleeping Beauty. The Wicked Witch is waiting for us."
He groaned and opened his eyes. "That's at least three different fairy tales. You think if we doused Priscilla with water, she'd melt?"
I grinned and caught his roving hands. "I don't know about her but for the sake of experiment, I vote we both get under some running water and make sure we don't."
An hour later, we were on our way. Ray had insisted that we both wear our wedding rings. He said they would be a physical link between us if we got separated. Dusk was fast turning to dark as we arrived. The candles in the windows had tripled, shedding a welcome light in the twilight.
Ray laid a gentle hand on my arm, slowing us on the front steps. "Be careful, Bodie. Of us all, you are the most grounded in this world. You'll be a good target."
I managed a laugh even though my stomach was doing a dance all it's own. "Not to worry, sunshine. You can use me as a shield since I don't plan on going to any astral plane."
He gave a good-natured groan and rapped on the door with the dragon's head knocker. Tony answered the door, his face wearing a worried frown.
"BJ should have been here by now," was his only greeting.
I closed the door behind us and Ray guided Tony to the back room. Through the glass, I could see a bonfire and the small figure in green that circled it. For a moment, I felt transported in time to an earlier age when the Old Ways were a way of life. I shook myself free of the atavistic fear of the unknown and concentrated on Tony and Ray's conversation.
"They were to have dinner at Guido's then Priscilla was supposed to drop him off here for the conference. BJ was going to tell her that Nan had invited us to stay with her for the weekend. To be company for you two." Tony's voice was controlled and trying very hard to be matter of fact.
"It's just gone nine, now." Ray was obviously calculating times. "What about the argument story he was going to give her?"
Tony's laugh had no humor in it. "BJ was going to complain about my love affair with my computer and the way I tune everything out when I'm working. It's true; of course, I do tend to block out the world and everyone in it when I'm writing a new software application. But if it's important, BJ knows how to get my attention." For a moment, Tony's face softened at a fond memory. Then, he was back with us. "But it does sound as if I'm neglecting him. We wanted it to seem like he'd be vulnerable to her persuasion."
"And that you might be abstracted enough to let an attack get through." Nan's voice preceded her into the room. "You're supposed to be working on installing the new desktop publishing software on my home computer."
She looked like someone out of an old King Arthur movie. Her hair cascaded down her back in a mass of red curls. Her headband was a silver ring with a clear crystal mounted in the center. Her floor length dress was a filmy silk that floated around her. The belt was a twisted skein of something silver with a lethal looking ornate silver knife hung from it.
Ray bowed to her and it didn't seem odd at all. "My Lady, you look the personification of May."
She curtsied gravely. "Thank you, My Lord. Tonight of all nights, I am standing in for the Goddess. BJ is on his way. I can feel him getting closer."
Putting her hand on Tony's arm, she locked eyes with him. A long moment passed and a smile crept over his face. With a sigh, he covered her small hand with his. "Thank you, Nan. I couldn't sense him."
"That's because you are worried. Worry clouds the mind and obscures the links between us. Now, why don't all of you go upstairs and change into the outfits I got you today." Nan smiled slyly and winked at me. "Bodie, I think you'll like them. Let's say I was inspired by last night."
I grinned. She laughingly shooed us upstairs. Tony disappeared into the spare bedroom that shared the master bath. We went in to find what Nan had picked out for us. Ray's was a green velvet tunic that exactly matched his eyes. With a pleased laugh, he immediately started getting undressed. That's something I always enjoy watching, so I was a little slow to start peeling off my shirt.
"Hurry up, Bodie. Yours is the same blue plush as your eyes." My lover was impatient as ever.
We finished dressing at about the same time. Ray looked like an extra from Romeo and Juliet. He'd jumped back in time about three hundred years. The tunic just barely covered his ass and the green tights ended in a pair of black slippers. Suspiciously like ballet shoes, they were.
"You look good enough to eat, Bodie." My mate sounded envious and I couldn't understand that. He was the gorgeous one of us. But he must have read my mind because he turned me around to look at myself in the mirror.
I had to admit the flowing blue velvet fit like a second skin above the blue tights. And it did match my eyes. But if Ray looked like someone out of Romeo and Juliet, I was out of Julius Caesar. The Roman short sword that hung from my belt completed the illusion. Even the sandals felt Italian.
"It feels like we're slipping back in time, doesn't it?" Ray fingered the hilt of the dagger that hung at his side.
I nodded, unable to speak for a moment. I touched Ray's curls and threaded the familiar silk through my fingers. His eyes were on my face and they seemed to glow with an ever-growing heat. I pulled him to me, needing his touch to keep me sane. Our kiss was fire and ice, a combination of love and lust that grows each time we touch.
"Where ever or when ever we go, as long as we're together, it will be all right." I've never meant anything so much.
Ray smiled the smile that always melts me into a puddle of sentimental goo. "'Whither thou goest, I will go. And whither thou lodgest, I will lodge.' I've always wanted to vow that to you. Whatever happens tonight, we'll face together."
"Ray, have you ever felt that we've done this before? You know, been together?"
"Oh, yes, Bodie. From almost the moment we met, I knew you for who you are." He ran a gentle hand down my face. "The other half of my soul."
I caught his hand and placed a kiss in his palm, breathing in the lovely Ray-scent. We'd never spoken so freely before about our deepest feelings. I wanted to say something profound but my tongue was twisted in knots.
"I know." Ray leaned into my hug. "I've always known how you felt.
I could feel his heart beating in time with mine. We let the moment stretch out comfortably then let go to head downstairs and the coming confrontation. But it was odd, even though we weren't touching; I could still feel Ray inside me. I would have bet that if I closed my eyes and he disappeared, I would know where he was. It seems we had taken our working bond a step further.
We joined Nan outside by the bonfire. She smiled approvingly and motioned us to stand on two points of a large star inlaid among the flagstones of her terrace.
"Bodie, I'd like you to take the western point. Ray, the north. Did I get you right?"
"Yes, been doing some file searching of your own?" Ray stood to my left about six feet away.
"Nope. Didn't have to. I can usually spot a birth sign instantly." Nan shrugged. "You're a Taurus and Bodie is a Scorpio."
I shook my head in disbelief and took my place. She was right on the money. Ray always says I have a lethal sting. And I like to tease him about being as stubborn as a bull. It made me wonder about BJ and Tony. And of course, Nan picked up on my thought.
"BJ is an Aries, while Tony is an Aquarius. We have the perfect ingredients for our power cone. I'm a Pisces and I'll take the fifth position of spirit. That's why we get along so well, Bodie. I'm water, like you." Nan flashed me a grin.
"I don't suppose you'd like to tell us what Cowley is?" I had always wondered.
Nan laughed out loud and threw a handful of something on the fire. It flared bright green and scented the air with spearmint. "He's Scorpio like you, Bodie. You are much alike."
I snorted. Not bloody likely. The old man and I were always getting on each other's nerves. I caught a shared mischievous look between Ray and Nan that set me thinking. Maybe I'd have to do some reading on the subject of astrology. Couldn't let Ray get too far ahead of me.
A slight scuff of footsteps sent my hand to the hilt of my smallsword. But it was only BJ and Tony dressed much as we were except for color. BJ was in a light blue shimmering fabric that matched his eyes. Tony was in a cloth of gold tunic and tights. We were all armed with cold steel.
"BJ, I need you here on the south node. Tony, on the east by Ray." She circled us slowly, tying a ribbon of gold to each of our wrists. "This symbolizes the weaving of life and love between us within the circle."
It was only then that I noticed the white stone circle that enclosed the star. Nan circled us, stopping near each of us and calling to the Goddess Ishtar. Finally, she took her place between and slightly beyond Ray and Tony, on the fifth point of the star. She slipped her hands into the ribbon loops so we were all connected.
"The circle is now complete. All within are safe among the blessings of Our Lady Ishtar. She is the Lioness of legend. She is the desert wind and the flaming sun. Come to us, Lady. Join your power with ours at this time of celebration and joy."
With sure strokes in the air above the crackling fire in the center of our circle, Nan traced the same star as the one on which we stood. Suddenly it came to me, the word I'd been struggling for. Pentagram. A five sided star.
"Gentlemen." Nan's voice was soothing and light as air. "If you would be so good as to concentrate on the fire and on the healing power of love. Love between woman and man, man and man, woman and woman. Love shared between each of us and our Goddess. Between the Goddess and the God who are made one at this time of sacred marriage."
I felt I was floating in a safe place, surrounded by light and the sweet odors of green growing things. Part of me was standing there, looking at everything and everyone. But part of me was standing outside of myself near my left shoulder and that part saw every thing in colors. Ray was golden sunlight while I seemed to cast a silver shadow onto the fire. BJ glowed blue like the summer sky while Tony gleamed yellow as the sun. Nan, though, was every shade of green. She seemed rooted in earth like the first woman of the world. Growing gracefully towards the sun.
Then, I wasn't alone in my contemplation. I could feel Ray blending into my soul. And I was at both his left shoulder and mine. I watched his green eyes widen and felt the power grow at our joining. After a few moments, the energy shifted again. Only this time, Ray and I joined BJ in looking at the circle. It wasn't the blending that was Ray and I but more of a linking between powers. Another shift, and we joined Tony.
Odd as all Hell. I was in four different places at once but it seemed right somehow. The feelings of effervescence and pure fizzle bubbled from us to the fire that seemed to dance brighter than before. They ran between us and doubled each time they crossed the circle. The hair on the back of my neck tried to rise straight up and I could have sworn that Ray's curls were dancing. BJ was grinning broadly and Tony had an awed look on his face. Nan's eyes were closed and she swayed slightly in a small circle in rhythm with her chanting.
The garden grew brighter with each passing moment and the world fell away from us. The house disappeared, then the garden walls. I was no longer sure we were in London any more. In the distance, I could see a forest that stretched forever. A forest that hadn't existed for hundreds of years.
"Ishtar," echoed around the garden. A whisper of sound that hadn't come from any of us. The hairs on the back of my neck rose again but this time in warning. Someone else had joined us.
Out of the corner of my right eye, I saw movement. Priscilla moved like a black panther from the shadows. Her ivory skin gleamed through the carefully placed slits in her flowing ebony gown. Her belt was gold and the knife that hung from her waist was more of a Malay kris than a dagger.
"How brave of you to call on Ishtar, little one. It takes a brave woman to call on the goddess of fire." Her voice purred through the silence.
"Each goddess has her rewards and dangers, Priscilla. It's a mistake to rely too heavily on just one." Nan sounded so matter of fact.
A little voice in my head echoed, "Stay calm and linked in the circle. No matter what happens, remember love."
Priscilla halted just beyond the circle. I could feel her gaze raking us, taking each of us in turn. "Oh very nice, boys. Bodie, you look extremely fetching. Almost as delicious as BJ, here. A little early for Beggar's Night, isn't it?"
"We're not the ones begging, Priscilla." I shifted my position so she wasn't completely at my back. That pulled the ribbons between BJ and I taut. "We were invited."
With a laugh, she snapped her fingers and the ribbon between us burst into flame, burning through in a heartbeat. But even though the physical ties were gone, I could still feel BJ inside my soul.
"I was going to watch until you were done with your silly little celebration but then I thought, why wait? You might accidentally tap some power that could give me some trouble." She waved such a thought away with a contemptuous flick of her fingers. "BJ is promised to me. Siva has given his word. The breaking of his ties to Tony will feed the god of destruction's appetite for sorrow and despair. So sorry, Tony."
Tony went brick red at the mocking insult but he kept silent. Priscilla's laughter echoed throughout the garden. "Such restraint. Perhaps it won't be such a loss after all? You two never did seem to suit. We'll have to come up with some other pain to feed the god. Maybe physical pain?" And she threw a word and gesture at us.
The night erupted in fire and heat that swirled around the circle. I know I flinched but in the same instant I realized that it wasn't entering the circle. Nan spoke quietly and the flames died.
"Priscilla, this doesn't have to happen. Do you realize that you have been attacking me, not Tony?"
The look on Priscilla's face was one I'll always remember. Disbelief, chagrin, hatred.
"BJ loves both Tony and I. We've been becoming a triad for the last month or so. You'd have to destroy both of us and wipe BJ's mind clean in order to have him. I'm sorry." Nan's voice was full of sorrow and compassion.
"No. That's not possible." Priscilla paced angrily around the circle perimeter. "He's mine."
BJ shook his head. "I'm sorry, Priscilla. I don't love you."
"I can make you love me after they're gone."
"You can't take love, Priscilla. It's freely given or it's no good. There's someone out for you. But it's not me." BJ's compassion was sincere but just served to make her angrier.
"No. I will not listen to you. Your puny, pathetic goddess is nothing compared to my god. He is Siva, the god of destruction."
And the world exploded in flames. This time they were real, we could feel the heat and hear the crackle. Smoke blew across the circle and hid the others from my sight. My first instinct was to go to Ray but I remembered in time not to leave my position. My eyes were watering and I closed them against the pain. That's when I felt Ray in my mind. Strong and sure as if I could see him. The others were there too.
I could feel the power that Priscilla had unleashed all around us. Shocking in its strength. Pulling at us. Wanting us. I felt Nan grow to meet it, stretching larger and larger to meet it's challenge. And we were still linked to her so we went along. The garden had fallen away and we were suspended in a timeless vacuum that stretched for an eternity around us. I felt pretty small in comparison to the vast forces around us.
Then I felt Ray holding me and I was holding him and I didn't feel so small anymore. Nan spoke just once and at first I didn't understand what she was saying then it all fell into place.
"I love you."
Priscilla was looking for love but she thought only in terms of destruction and pain. Nan was going to show her what love really was. Nan sent an energy bolt of pure love deep into the heart of the black, flames of the dark. Sounds like a contradiction in terms but that's what it looked like. All that Nan was and knew went with her. We could only look on and wonder. The struggle went on for a moment or an eternity; it was hard to tell but Nan's light began to dim in the darkness.
I felt BJ fling himself into her, giving her all his love and strength. Tony was only a heartbeat behind him. Ray and I didn't even hesitate before casting ourselves into the maelstrom. The resulting explosion of light illumined the darkness from a tiny seed into a blazing supernova. All the love that we gave was returned to us three fold until we could take no more.
And suddenly we were back in the garden, still in our same positions but sprawled on the ground around a dead fire. I could still feel Ray inside my mind but muffled. I sat up with a groan. It felt like the aftermath of a bone-melting, mind-boggling orgasm. Looking around, the only light streaming from the house windows, I couldn't see Priscilla anywhere.
Ray sat up slowly and called my name softly, "Bodie?"
"Right here, sunshine. The only one missing is Priscilla."
Nan's voice was quiet in the darkness. "She was never really here in the garden. She joined us in the alternate universe that is so close tonight. She's probably waking up with a headache right about now at her altar."
BJ and Tony were both sitting up. Tony held his head in both hands.
"Is it over?" BJ asked wearily.
"It better be. I never want to have to do that again as long as I live." Nan uncurled and sat up. "Didn't you feel it there at the end? We overloaded her connection with Siva. For a moment, we were the Goddess, loving her other half. I'd say, we won. I think, we'll find that tomorrow, Priscilla will have forgotten all about BJ."
"Well, I don't know about you guys but I could use a drink." I also needed some light and normality in my life.
"Oh yeah!" My partner agreed, standing upright and offering Nan a hand up.
Once inside, BJ played barman while Ray built up the fire. Tony had disappeared when the rest of us gathered in the living room. The silence was awkward for the first time since I'd known Nan. She was looking down into her brandy snifter as if it held the secrets of the universe while BJ watched her surreptitiously. Tony strode in with a grin on his face that brightened the whole room.
"I just talked to Priscilla's neighbor. They called the police after they heard a scream from her place." Tony reached over and took a snifter from the tray, raising it in salute. "The poor dear had fainted and after the paramedics checked her out, it seems that she has no memory of anyone. Including the neighbors who have known her for years. It seems we're in the clear."
"I'll drink to that." Ray toasted the group and we all followed suit.
Tony went to sit on Nan's other side. "That just leaves us. And what we're going to do about this situation."
Nan blushed and seemed unable to meet anyone's eyes. BJ and Tony exchanged a long look over her bowed head, then put their glasses back on the table. BJ removed her glass and took her left hand while Tony clasped right hands with her.
"I can still feel you inside my heart, Nan. Right beside Tony."
"You're inside of me, too, Nan. What do you feel?" Tony's voice was gentle. "We kind of forgot to ask. What do you want?"
Nan closed her eyes and smiled, finally raising her head and leaning back so she could look at them both. "I want you. Both of you. You're inside of me as well. I always loved you both. I just didn't think you could love me."
"We love you." They chorused.
Ray was sniffing discretely and I felt light as a feather. Somehow we were holding hands and without words I knew he was ready to go home. Past time for the others to celebrate Mayday as it was meant to be celebrated. Privately.
"Time for us to go, folks. Ray and I are going home to celebrate." I stood up and Ray joined me. I honestly think they'd forgotten all about us.
There was a bit of milling about while everybody hugged everybody else. Felt fine. Ray disappeared briefly to fling our stuff into the suitcases. Nan and he rejoined us shortly thereafter and we left the lovebirds alone. It felt good to going home for some privacy of our own.
Ray's head was on my shoulder, his hand rubbing gently down my thigh. "I can still feel you inside of me, Bodie. Do you think that will fade after Mayday?"
"Nah, Ray. I think we got blended more than we already were. We've always known what the other one was going to do. Now it's closer, more concrete. Maybe a gift from Nan's Goddess."
"Speaking of gifts. Nan gave me the recipe for the muffins. I'll bake some tomorrow. I mean, today." Ray yawned beneath my ear, the breath teasing my ear.
I dropped a kiss on his auburn curls. "You're on, sunshine. When we get home though, I'm taking you to bed."
"To sleep, perchance to dream." His sleepy voice murmured into my shoulder.
"As long as it's of me, Ray." I whispered into those tickling curls.
That sounded about right to me. And I had a feeling it always would. It had been a hell of an experience and I'd always wonder how much of it was real and how much dream images. Cowley's report was going to be a model of brevity and moderation. How do you capture a cosmic occurrence? Oh well, there's more than one reality. I parked in front of our building and looked down at my mate. The only reality I needed was asleep on my shoulder. And I set about moving my love up the stairs to home and bed.
Reality can be so grouchy!
The end for now