Authors: Hazel Hunter
HER WARLOCK PROTECTOR
By Hazel Hunter
Her Warlock Protector Book 4
Adept, powerful, and doing well for herself, witch Selene Lapointe has no problem operating as a rogue. Her ability to alter people’s memories serves many clients, and has sent many members of the Magus Corps running.
But that all changes when Colonel Colin MacDaniel arrives. Rather than avoid her gift, he opens himself to it. She can hardly believe it as he keeps confronting her, and yet offers no resistance except his seemingly heartfelt desire to protect her.
As he begins to wear her down, passion heats up. Soon the pair find themselves in the grip of desires that have gone too long unfulfilled. But as their sensuous parrying spirals to dizzying heights, her secret patron is forced to reveal her for what she is.
AT TEN P.M. on a Wednesday night, the lights from the diner cast an idyllic glow out into the Chicago evening. It was the first snow of the season, and Selene took a moment to glance out into the swirling flakes from the diner window.
It was beautiful, but she also wondered if it wasn’t a little sad. She had lived in Chicago for almost four years now, and she knew how long and unforgiving the winters were. The city on the edge of the lake had what felt like three hectic months of summer, and then suddenly, it was like winter had come on the city like a sprung trap.
The young couple in the corner gestured her over for a refill on their tea. They'd been there for almost four hours, but Selene's boss wasn't on hand to kick them out. She gave them a friendly smile as she poured them some more tea, and she wondered what they were hiding from in the little diner.
The kitchen bell rang, and she fetched the burger and fries on the tray and delivered them to the sad-eyed man in the trucker hat, who sat in one of the booths.
“Looks like it's going to be a cold winter,” he commented, nodding out the window.
“Feels like every single one is,” she agreed, and he looked at her hopefully.
“Maybe a pretty thing like you wouldn't mind getting warm tonight? Maybe over at my hotel room?”
At another point, Selene knew she would have been irritated, but there was something so tired and defeated about this man that she only shook her head.
“Sorry, I don't think my boyfriend would really like that.”
The man shrugged philosophically.
“Ain't it always the way. The good ones are always taken.”
“Not so good as that,” she said with a wink, but she headed back to her perch behind the cash register.
In her late twenties, Selene was curvy, and though she wasn't short, she was far from tall. Copper ringlets were held back in a bouncy ponytail, and she had long since come to terms with the smattering of freckles over her nose. She heard comments like that often enough that it never made much of an impression on her, but it certainly didn't hurt her ego.
It has been a while since I've had an overnight guest,
she thought wryly.
Maybe I should go dancing again, or join a book club or something.
In truth, she was far from the wild thing she had been in her late teens and early twenties, and these days, she was feeling a little tired of it all. Given the fact that she worked at a dead-end diner in one of the less fashionable suburbs of Chicago, she knew that her chances of meeting people weren't necessarily fantastic, but at the moment, she was feeling a little too inert to do much about it.
Her life was far safer than it had been in years, and though she still had nights where she woke up in a panic, she was as close to having a home as she ever had before. She knew that the thought should please her, but in fact, it only made her feel a little tired, a little trapped, and a little despondent.
Selene knew that the impulse was one that could absolutely get her into trouble. When she felt trapped, she could grow wild, could search for ways to get out. Her methods for gaining her freedom were not necessarily smart or safe. So she stayed. She tried to be a grown-up about it. Chicago was a good place for her at the moment, and she knew it.
The bell above the door rang, and she blinked.
The girl who came in was slight and lovely in a long yellow coat that felt far too tropical for the first proper day of a Chicago winter. She looked around wildly as if she was unsure how she had come to be at a diner, and Selene approached her cautiously.
“Hey sweetie, you look a little out of it. You okay?”
The girl turned to Selene, and now Selene could tell that she had been crying. Her eyes were puffy, her breath was coming fast, and when she tried to speak, it came out as a sob instead.
There was a college nearby, and Selene had dealt with her fair share of the heartbroken. Making sympathetic sounds, she guided the girl to one of the more obscure booths in the diner.
“You need food, honey? Our pie's really good.”
The girl made a wet sound that Selene assumed wanted to be a laugh, and she shook her head.
“Well, what do you need then? If you like, I can bring you some tea and let you sit with it for a bit.”
The girl shook her head violently.
“No, I…I do want food, but…but it's my mother.”
In dribs and drabs, the story came out. Selene nodded sympathetically, and between refills for the couple who were still in the window and a slice of the apple crumble pie for the man who wanted her to come to his hotel room, she got the whole story.
The girl's name was Yasmine, and her mother had just died after a lengthy battle with cancer. That was terrible enough on its own, but the true terror behind it for Yasmine was the fact that she did not feel about it the way that she wanted to feel.
“I just feel so…so relieved,” she said in a horrified little whisper. “I hate myself, but I just feel so free.”
Selene, who had certain issues with freedom herself, nodded.
“That's natural. Your mom was suffering, and now she isn't anymore. Lots of people feel that way, especially if their parent was dealing with something like cancer.”
Yasmine shook her head hard.
“No! It…it isn't that, or at least it isn't just that. No, the problem is I would have felt that way no matter what. My mom wasn’t, um, really nice to me.”
Selene's noncommittal sound made the girl hurry to defend her late parent.
“You don't, you really don't! She was sick off and on throughout my childhood, and she didn't always have the time, the energy or the patience to take care of me and my sisters. I did my best, but things didn't always turn out all right. Sometimes she got mad if I burned dinner. Sometimes she yelled when I forgot to do the sweeping up.”
“Would she do more than yell?” asked Selene, her voice iron.
She had heard this story and variations on it before, and she knew when someone was covering up for someone who didn’t deserve it.
Yasmine's shoulder hitched up as if she wanted to avoid a blow, and she shrugged nervously.
“I guess she did. With her hand, with a belt. It was only when I was acting up though, and it didn't really hurt.”
It didn't need to,
Selene thought angrily.
For someone who was as innately good and kind as Yasmine, even the intimation of punishment would have reduced her to tears. Physical punishment on top of that—especially when it was called upon the head of a child who was too young to be doing the chores in question anyway was cruelty, pure and simple.
Selene glanced around at the restaurant. The other patrons were off in their own world, and she knew that the cook was likely reading comics in the back. Outside, the snow was coming down thicker and faster. Her shift was almost over, and as long as her relief showed up, she could go home soon. There was not much concern about wearing herself out or having to deal with something unexpected at this point.
“Yasmine, you're a good, good girl,” she murmured. “Why don't you look up at me, hmm?”
In surprise, Yasmine looked up, and when Selene caught her eyes, Yasmine became still. Selene knew what was happening. When their eyes locked, Yasmine could see Selene's eyes, which were as gold and deep as honey. Yasmine was feeling a deep feeling of lassitude come over her, and she would have absolutely no urge to fight it.
Selene sat with Yasmine for another minute, counting slowly to sixty. That ensured that the trance was deep enough, and Selene nodded with self-satisfaction. Another glance around the restaurant told her that no one was looking in their general direction. She turned back to Yasmine.
“It is very, very sad that your mother died,” Selene said softly, her voice deep and urgent. “You were in a really tough spot when you were young, and your mother didn't handle it very well. Instead of throwing up her hands and being aware that she needed to get help, she put all of that on you, and that was unkind and cruel. Do you understand me? It was unkind.”
Yasmine nodded as if she were drugged, and Selene reckoned that wasn't all that far from the truth.
“You deserve to move forward without that baggage, Yasmine. I want you to look for your memories. Look for the memories where your mother hurt you or yelled at you. Look for those memories really hard.”
Yasmine nodded slowly, and as Selene watched with compassion, she could see Yasmine's big dark eyes fill with tears. Distantly, she could her a bell ring, but all of her concentration was focused on this one girl. There was nothing else in the universe for her.
“Yeah, I know they hurt, sweetie. But look, see, they're losing their hard edges, aren't they? It's not so bad now. Those memories are still there, like river rocks, but there's been enough time, enough water and enough friction that those memories are wearing away. They're still there under the water, but they don't hurt you the same way, do they?”
Selene concentrated, and though her eyes were open, the rest of the diner took on a dim aspect. She could see the memories in Yasmine's head, and if she wasn't so deeply in her trance, she would have flinched. The abuse was bad. She had seen worse, but that didn't stop Yasmine's memories of slaps and curses from hurting her. Consciously, Selene focused on the memories and she made them fade. She didn't make them disappear entirely. That would have been a trauma in its own way. However, she took away their vibrancy, and in doing so, she took away some of their jagged pain as well.
As she finished, she could hear Yasmine take a deep breath and then another. There was already something a little lighter about her. She sat up a little straighter and she blinked, as if she had been drifting off.
“Oh, oh dear, was I asleep?” Yasmine asked, and Selene smiled, squeezing her hand.
“You just drifted off for a bit, sweetie. You were so tired. Do you want me to get you some pie?”
“Oh yes,” Yasmine said immediately. “Um, pie, and a burger with fries, and maybe a salad too? I'm starving, and I don't think I noticed before.”
“You got it, hon. I'll put your order right in. I'm going off shift right now, but it looks like Dawn's here, and she'll take good care of you.”
As she turned to deliver the girl's order, she saw the door close and a man hurry away. She shrugged. The boss wasn't there to see her ignore a customer, and that was all that mattered.
She smiled at Dawn who was settling herself behind the counter, and she set Yasmine's order on the order wheel.
“Hey Frank, I'm headed out.”
“No problem, just dump the trash on your way, okay?”
Selene made a face, but after she pulled on her jacket, she took the trash as directed. She was thinking of a quiet night at home with some wine, a few favorite movies and perhaps a long hot bath when she stepped into the alley. The snow was still falling, though it was lighter now. After she dropped the trash into the dumpster, she stared up at the sky.
In Chicago, even when it was so late, there were only a few of the very brightest starts visible. The sky was dark, but there was an orange cast to it from all of the lights. Suddenly, she missed Montana fiercely. She had been born in big sky country, and as a girl, she had loved to run out under the stars, so bright and so many that they could not be counted. She missed that velvety darkness, and she was beginning to wonder if she could return. It might be safe now.