Authors: Maggie Shayne
Tags: #romance, #witch, #time travel, #novella, #private investigator, #short romance, #musketeer, #mob boss, #maggie shayne
“Oh, sweet Lady Hammer. Sssh.” He ran his
hand through her hair. “You will be all right. I will find help for
you, I vow it.”
She closed her eyes, poor little thing. “I
can prove it,” she said.
“Oh?” He so wanted to help her get well. He
wasn’t certain, but he didn’t think it would be quite chivalrous to
seduce a lunatic. So until he cured her...
“See that little box over there?” she asked,
He followed her gaze and nodded. She picked
up a smaller item, thumbed a button, and the box came to life all
on its own.
he shouted, leaping to his feet as
tiny Musketeers, his own comrades, battled their enemies, all the
while held captive inside the box! He drew his sword and lashed out
at the thing, but its face was impenetrable.
The poor S.O.B. was still swinging his sword
at the television set when the front door burst open and Aunt Kate
appeared. Mary Catherine sank a little deeper into the sofa
cushions at the glare her aunt sent her. She just stood there,
looking from Al to M. C. and back again. Then, hands going to her
hips, she shouted, “Mary Catherine Hammersmith,
Poor Al. He’d just sat there looking stunned
as Aunt Kate explained what happened to him. He hadn’t believed it
at first, of course. But by the time they’d shown him the electric
lights, the microwave, and Aunt Kate’s smoke-belching Buick, he’d
pretty much accepted the truth.
Now, Kate paced while Mary Catherine sat
beside Al on the settee. She felt like a kid called into the
principal’s office. “You should have listened to me,” Kate
muttered. She went to the book, glancing down at it. “Is this the
spell you used?”
Getting up, Mary Catherine went closer and
peered over her aunt’s shoulder at the book. “Yeah, that’s it.”
“This spell specifically calls for the
moon’s first quarter. I can’t believe you’d use it during a full
moon! And on All Hallows eve, of all nights!”
M. C. shrugged. “I didn’t exactly expect it
“Work? You quadrupled its potency!” She
glared. M. C. looked at the floor. “And what about the white
candle? I don’t see one here.” Kate looked at the candles on the
table. “Red and pink? You used these, didn’t you?”
M. C. nodded. “Is that bad?”
Kate eyed Al, then M. C. again. “Red is for
passion. Pink brings true love. Honestly, Mary Catherine, what were
Again M. C. shrugged. “Mostly about
she muttered. “It was on TV.”
Kate frowned. “Well, that explains it. You
wanted protection. You got yourself a protector—in exactly the form
you were envisioning.” She rolled her eyes, shook her head.
“Goddess preserve us from neophyte witches.”
“I am not a witch,” M. C. said flatly.
“I think Alexandre would disagree with you
Al looked up at the mention of his name.
He’d been sitting, pretty much ignoring them. But now he seemed to
straighten his spine as he got to his feet and came forward. “Can
this...this spell be reversed?”
Aunt Kate looked at the book again, drumming
her painted fingernails on the page. “I think so. It will take some
“Well, that’s just great,” M. C. muttered.
“Meanwhile, I’m right back where I started, with the biggest
criminal in seven states out to do me in.”
Kate blinked. Al gaped at her. M. C.
realized she hadn’t told either of them just how much trouble she
was in. Nor had she intended to. She wasn’t a whiner, and she
certainly didn’t want to drag either of them into this mess.
“Forget I said that. It’s nothing I can’t handle. Go on, Aunt Kate.
Figure a way to send Al back where he belongs.”
Kate tilted her head. “I can’t do that, M.
C. The only one who can reverse your spell is you. I can help,
At his declaration, Kate and M. C. both
turned toward Al in surprise. “Whaddya mean, no? You have to go
back,” M. C. said.
He stared straight into her eyes, and his
were very dark, very deep. If it weren’t for the long, crimp-curled
hair, pointy beard, and stupid hat, she thought, the guy might
actually be attractive.
“I am a Musketeer,” he said, still holding
her with his penetrating stare. “You brought me here to help you,
Lady Hammer, and help you I shall.”
Lowering her eyes, she shook her head. “It’s
not like there’s much you could do, Al.”
When she looked up again, he wore a knowing
smile. “You know very little about what I can do, pretty one.
Besides, no Musketeer would leave a lady in this situation. This
criminal...he means to murder you,
?” She shrugged, and
Al shook his head. “I will stay,” he said firmly. “And when I’ve
dispatched the villain, only then will I allow you to send me
back...if you can.”
Sighing heavily, M. C. lifted her chin.
“What do you plan to do, Al? Challenge him to a sword fight? Look,
I know you think you’re some kind of superman, and maybe you are,
in your own time. But you wouldn’t stand a chance against this guy.
He has weapons you haven’t even imagined. Machine guns, and a dozen
goons to do his bidding. You couldn’t begin to—”
“Enough!” Al spun around, putting his back
to her, arms crossed at his chest.
“Now you’ve gone and insulted him.” Aunt
Kate scolded. “I swear, M. C, didn’t your mother teach you a thing
M. C. threw her hands in the air. “I’m just
trying to keep him alive, for crying out loud!” He didn’t face her.
He tapped his foot on the floor, waiting, she figured. She cleared
her throat, moved closer, put her hand on his shoulder. “I
apologize, Al. I didn’t mean to insult you or question
your...abilities. I just...well, hell, I dragged you here by
mistake, and I feel bad enough about that already. If you go and
get killed, I’ll never be able to live with myself.”
“And if I return, leaving you behind, never
to know whether this…goon person succeeds in taking your life… I
would not be able to live with myself,
She nodded. “I guess I can understand
Slowly he turned to face her again. “It is a
question of honor, Lady. I cannot leave you to face a killer alone.
It is that simple.”
M. C. tore her gaze from his and sought
assistance in Aunt Kate. Kate sighed, shaking her head. “You won’t
be very successful in sending him back if he doesn’t want to go.
Besides, there are consequences to working magic on people against
their will, Mary Catherine. It just isn’t done.”
Lowering her head in defeat, M. C.
surrendered. “Okay. You can stay. But”–she looked him over again,
head to toe–“but we’re going to have to give you a makeover. I
mean, the boots are cool, but the rest of this getup…” Kate elbowed
her, and she realized she was on the verge of insulting him yet
again. She cleared her throat. “It would be better if we dressed
you in clothing more typical of what people wear in this day and
He rubbed his pointed beard thoughtfully. “I
see. Yes, it is obvious people dress…quite differently today.” This
with a disapproving glance at her jeans and T-shirt.
M. C. looked at him with raised eyebrows.
Then she reached up and removed his hat, eyeing the elegant, wavy
locks underneath. “We’ll have to start by chopping off this
“His smile was slow and almost…sexy. “No
need.” He reached up and removed the offending hair. “Frankly, my
lady, I find the wig as offensive as you obviously do. I wear it
only when I must.”
“Sort of like me with panty hose,” she said,
grinning. Underneath, his own hair was dark, pulled behind his head
and tied their with a thong. She wondered how long it was, and
impulsively reached around his head to tug the thong away. Then,
without thinking, she ran her fingers through his hair to shake it
loose. But her hands froze in mid-motion as his eyes, darkening,
“Maybe we should still cut it,” Aunt Kate
Unable to look away, M. C. shook her head.
“No. No, I think it’s…fine/” Why was her voice all hoarse?
“At last, something about me you like,” he
Remembering herself, she drew her hands away
from his hair. “You…um…you should shave.”
His dark brows drew closer. “Men of this
time do not wear beards?”
She averted her eyes. “Some do.”
She didn’t look up, but she could hear the
smile in his voice. “But you would prefer to see me without
“I really don’t care one way or the other.
It was just a suggestion.” She peered up to see him studying her.
He was entirely too convinced of his own appeal.
“Come, Alexandre,” Aunt Kate said. “I’ll
show you to the bathroom and explain how everything works. M. C.,
while we’re up there, you run next door and ask Mrs. Johnson to
loan us something for our guest to wear. He looks to b e about Mr.
Al started up the stairs. M. C. headed for
the door. But before she left, she saw her aunt gazing worriedly at
the red and pink candles on the table, a perplexed frown between
her brows. She shook herself, though, and hurried p the stairs.
M. C. got the clothes, along with a curious
glance from Mr. Johnson, delivered them to her aunt, and then
waited. She spent her time checking the cable listings, thinking
she might be able to give Al a few lessons on life in the new
millennium by letting him watch television tonight and explaining
things as they went along. She figured she’d best get him a gun,
too, and teach him to use it. She really didn’t see how the man was
going to be of any help to her at all. In fact, worse than that, he
was an added burden. Now she had to worry about keeping him alive
as well as protecting her own skin. Hell, things had gone from bad
to worse, and they showed no signs of improving soon.
Aunt Kate cleared her throat, and M. C.
turned, then jumped off the couch as if someone had goosed her.
Al stood at the foot of the stairs. The
faded jeans fit him like a surgical glove, and the T-shirt strained
to contain him. The guy was built like Stallone. Broad chest. Big
shoulders. Biceps to die for.
Even when she could finally drag her eyes
away from his body, she still couldn’t catch her breath. His hair
gleamed, neatly pulled back again. The beard was gone, and
underneath it he looked like...like...he belonged on the big
screen. A leading man to make the actresses’ pulse rates go up.
He smiled then, and M. C.’s stomach
convulsed. The man was absolutely, drop dead gorgeous.
“Oh, dear,” Aunt Kate murmured.
He sent her a puzzled glance, but focused on
M. C. again, moving forward. “Will I blend in now, do you
“Not in this lifetime,” she muttered,
suddenly conscious of the fact that she hadn’t run a comb through
her tangles in hours. He looked worried. She bit her lip. “You look
great, Al. You really do.” He looked better than great. He looked
like a Grade A hunk with a French accent. He looked like a
cover in search of a home. Her throat went dry.
His smile got bigger. “Good. It feels
strange...but comfortable. Far more so than the dress of my day.
Although I see nowhere to fasten my sword.”
She looked across the room to where he’d
left his weapon standing upright in a corner. The ornate hand-guard
glittered and she wondered if it was real gold. “Men don’t carry
swords these days. I thought I’d teach you to use a gun.”
He frowned. “If you’re referring to that
volatile toy you pointed at me earlier, I think not. A sword and my
own wit are all I need.”
“But the men we’re up against will have
guns, Al. And—”
“You can carry all the...
need, my lady Hammer. For me, my rapier will be sufficient.”
She clenched her jaw. “You’re very stubborn,
you know that?”
He only smiled.
“It’s autumn,” Aunt Kate commented. “We’ll
get him a longish coat to wear, and no one will notice the sword at
all. It’s not a big deal.”
“It will be a big deal if he gets a
forty-four-caliber hole blown through that magnificent chest of
hi—” She cut herself off, bit her lip.
Al moved forward until they were standing
very close to each other, nose to...magnificent chest. “Something
else about me that meets with your approval,
“I’m only saying I would like to keep you in
one piece, you arrogant, feather-hatted, Don Juan wanna-be.”
“Ah. All the same, I am glad you find
my...chest to be...
Lady Hammer. And I
promise...I will remain in one piece, for you.”
She swallowed hard, and told herself she was
not the sort of woman who would respond to such outrageous,
ego-based flirting. So why were her knees so weak?
“You can’t keep calling me Lady Hammer,
either,” she said.
“What shall I call you then?” He touched her
chin with a forefinger, lifting her head slightly so he could
search her eyes. “Sorceress? Enchantress?
“M. C. will be fine,” she rasped.
“It does not suit you. I will call you Mary
Catherine, as your aunt does. A lady as beautiful as you are
deserves a name equally so.”
Her throat was dry.
“Did the women of your time really fall for
these lines, Al? I know perfectly well that I look like hell.”
His fingertips brushed a curl from her
cheek. “If this is what hell looks like, my lady, then I shall
resolve to sin far more often.”
Her cheeks heated. She couldn’t believe it.
She was blushing!
Beyond him. Aunt Kate sighed heavily,
snatched up the pink and red candles, and tossed them into the
M. C. settled onto the settee beside Al—not
too close, of course—and thumbed the remote. The set came to life,
and Al shot it one startled glance before regaining his calm and
eyeing her instead.