Authors: Maggie Shayne
Tags: #romance, #witch, #time travel, #novella, #private investigator, #short romance, #musketeer, #mob boss, #maggie shayne
M. C. leaned back on her hands and wondered
what she’d got herself into this time. She was stuck here, alone
with Al in the middle of the forest, for the night. Al, who’d
somehow wound up with the idea that she was burning up with lust
for him. Not that he wasn’t attractive. He was. Very. Okay, so he
wasn’t the kind of man she’d toss out of bed for eating crackers,
but he wasn’t her type, either.
She frowned, realizing how little sense that
thought made. Her types—the types she’d usually ended up dating,
way back when she’d still been dating at all—were losers. Oh, they
always seemed okay at first. But then they’d reveal themselves.
There was Mike, who’d kept hitting her up for money. Kevin, who’d
been busted for dealing drugs after their second date. And Tom,
who’d been married. The slug.
And there was Al. A guy who put honor above
everything else, who could handle a sword like some kind of master,
and who was so polite it was sickening. A guy who’d refused to
leave her until he knew she was safe.
Definitely not her type. Al was no
Problem was, he had to leave. But why was
that so important, anyway? It wasn’t like she was going to go and
fall in love with him or anything. Why not enjoy the guy while he
He appeared then from the trees, his arms
loaded down with limbs and deadfall. Dropping the pile to the
ground, he shrugged out of his coat and crouched beside it. His
jeans pulled tight to his backside when he crouched like that. And
the black T-shirt he wore clung. He had great arms. Hard. Nice.
M. C. got up, deciding to keep her thoughts
in line by keeping busy with other things. “I’ll help gather wood,”
“Nonsense, lady. Gathering wood for the fire
is a man’s job.”
Aha. There it was. She’d known there had to
be something wrong with him. No man could be as perfect as he was
beginning to seem to her. He was a chauvinist.
“This is the twenty-first century, Al. There
are no men’s jobs or women’s work anymore. Women in this day and
age can be police officers or firefighters or world leaders if they
want to. And men cook and clean and change diapers.”
He went still, his back to her, still
crouching over the fire he’d begun to lay on a bare spot of ground.
“I have offended you,” he said softly. “I am sorry, Lady Hammer.
Chivalry... is a part of being a man, in my time. It is difficult
to understand how it can have become an insult in only a few
“Chivalry.” She repeated the word.
Sighing deeply, Al resumed piling dried
leaves and twigs, adding larger pieces of wood on top of them.
“Yes. The men of my generation are not fools, Mary Catherine. It
has never been a matter of believing a woman
doing heavy work. Only a matter of believing she should not have to
He straightened, turning to come close to
her, and then dropping to one knee in front of her. “I do not think
you do. In my time, Mary Catherine, we cherished our women. Treated
them as the precious, beloved creatures they are. The only hope for
the continuation of our race, the mothers of our children.” He took
her hand in his, tracing its contours with the tip of a forefinger.
“Look at this hand. Beautiful, delicate...capable, yes, but small
and fragile.” Then he turned their clasped hands over, so his was
on top. “Mine, however, is large, hard, and callused. Rough work,
unpleasant tasks...are beneath a creature as magical as a woman.
She...you...should be adored, treasured—respected as the beautiful
being you are. The mother of mankind. Not asked to bruise this
lovely hand on something as far beneath you as gathering wood.”
She couldn’t breathe. His voice had gone
soft and deep, and it touched nerve endings somewhere inside her
that came to life all at once. Then he brought her hand to his
lips, and kissed it gently. “A woman like you should be given
anything she desires.”
“A-and...what if what she desires is to help
He lifted his head away from her hand, but
it tingled where his mouth had touched. Holding her gaze pinned to
his, he smiled slightly. “Then she should gather firewood.”
“You...don’t think I’m too weak for the
“Weak?” His brows rose. “I’ve never known a
woman with your strength, Mary Catherine. But even the most fragile
female has the ability in her to capture a man’s heart—to bear his
children. Surely the latter task takes far more strength than to
gather branches from the forest floor. More strength, perhaps, than
that of any man.”
“I imagine so.”
“I’ll start the fire,” he told her. “If you
wish to gather more wood, then do so. But if you’d rather rest from
the ride, consider me your humble servant.” He bowed his head.
For just a moment she had the craziest
feeling that she was some kind of queen, and the grass underneath
her a throne. Whoa, what a sensation! She had to concede he wasn’t
exactly a chauvinist. There was, she decided, a difference between
chauvinism and chivalry.
Al rose and returned to his pile of
kindling, pulling a flint stone from his pocket and crouching
Mary Catherine got up and went to crouch
beside him, reaching into her own pocket. “You can put the stone
away, Al. I have something better.”
He eyed the lighter in her hand. “Another
wonder of your modern world?”
“You’re gonna love this,” she said, and she
flicked the lighter. He smiled when a flame appeared. She touched
it to the dried leaves at the base of the pile and watched the
flames lick up at them, catch, and begin to spread to the
“Wonderful,” he said.
M. C. sat back on her heels as the fire took
hold, and she began to think that maybe being up here with him all
night wasn’t such a terrible thing.
“So, did you mean all that stuff you said
about women, Al, or is that a line you use to charm them out of
He laughed softly, shaking his head. “I
“You really believe a woman can do just
about anything a man can?”
“Some women,” he said. “You, for
“That’s good, because I want to ask you to
do something for me. And it might not be the kind of request you’re
used to getting from women.”
He met her eyes, a reflection of the growing
fire dancing deep in his own. “Ask me anything, Mary
She smiled at him. “Teach me how to use that
sword of yours.”
His eyes opened wide, but then his lips
curved, and he shook his head slowly. “Why should that request
surprise me coming from you? If you wish to learn, Mary Catherine,
I will teach you.”
This night was looking better and
“But first,” he said, “I will find us
something to eat.” He added larger pieces of wood to the fire, then
rose, glancing around the woods. “I saw signs of deer nearby. Also
possum, and quail.”
“Um, I’d rather go hungry than eat a possum,
He bowed slightly. “Then I shall not bring
one for your dinner.”
* * *
He didn’t bring her a possum. He brought a
wild turkey big enough to feed a dozen people. M. C. had busied
herself gathering more firewood and making a neat stack of it.
She’d checked on the horses twice, and was beginning to get bored
and more than slightly worried about Al, though she knew she
probably should have known better. Then he showed up with the
turkey. He’d quite chivalrously taken care of the nastier parts of
preparing wild game far away from camp, lest her delicate female
She was glad of it, too.
This bird he brought was ready for the oven.
Or the campfire, in this case. It didn’t look anything like what
she was used to seeing in the grocery stores or on Thanksgiving
tables. It was skinnier, longer, and not as smooth and shiny.
She was surprised when he began cutting it
up with his dagger. It was stupid of her to have expected him to
roast it whole, she mused; it would have taken half the night. Then
he skewered hunks of meat, and using forked branches to hold them
up, set them to cook over the fire.
Before long the tantalizing aroma had her
stomach growling out loud. He pretended not to notice, but she knew
he had to hear it. Then she wondered why she cared.
He turned the meat until it was done, then
handed her a sizzling, perfectly browned breast portion. One bite
and she was in heaven. “God, this is good,” she mumbled, and ate
Al seemed equally enamored of his own
helping of turkey. But as M. C.’s stomach got full, her mind turned
to other matters. “Al, how did you get this bird without a
He reached down to his boot and withdrew the
dagger. Then replaced it, as if he had answered her question.
“But...you couldn’t just sneak up on the
He shook his head. “The dagger is perfectly
balanced. An excellent throwing blade.”
M. C. blinked. “You
at the turkey? And you hit him?”
Al tilted his head. “It would hardly be
worthwhile to throw the dagger and miss him, Mary Catherine.”
“Oh. Well, how practical.” She finished her
meat, licked her fingers, and got to her feet. “So will you show me
how to use the sword now?”
“Of course.” He got up as well, his rapier
dangling from a belt at his waist. He wasn’t wearing the coat now,
so the sword was in plain sight. M. C. stepped forward and reached
for it. Al dodged her, shaking his head.
I entrust you with the actual weapon.”
M. C. frowned at him. “How am I supposed to
learn without a sword?”
“I brought you a... a practice sword,” he
said, and nodded toward the large tree behind her. She saw a long,
narrow stick—a branch with all its twigs and leaves stripped
off—leaning against the massive trunk.
“You want me to use
“For now,” he told her. “Trust me, Mary
Catherine. I have no desire to lose a hand or to see you lose an
eye when you make a misstep. This will be safer.”
“You sound like my mother. ‘You could put an
eye out, Mary Catherine.’ ”
“A wise woman, your mother. It would be a
shame for harm to come to such beautiful eyes.”
She averted her
turning to pick up her stick instead of letting him see her blush
“They’re like rich brown velvet, you know,”
he went on.
“Or mud,” she replied.
Al chuckled, and it did something wild to
her insides. He had a sexy laugh—she’d give him that much. She
gripped her stick and turned to face him. “So what do I do with
Al lifted his sword, holding his opposite
hand up in the air behind him. “
Wielding a sword was nowhere near as easy as
Al made it look. M. C. discovered that while trying to mimic his
graceful moves with her stick. To her credit, she only whacked him
upside the head twice, but he had a bright red welt to show for it.
Still, he’d kept his patience, and she thought she’d mastered a
move or two by the time they finished.
“Now,” Al said, gently closing his hand on
the hilt of her branch and taking it from her. “Try it with a real
She was breathless, and she had no doubt her
face was bright red from exertion—while he stood there as relaxed
as if he’d just been napping. No doubt about it, the guy was in
great shape. She, on the other hand, definitely needed to do more
aerobics. Or something.
He dropped the stick to the ground and
pressed his gleaming sword into her hand. “Like this,” he said,
guiding her fingers around the grip, then covering them with his
She nodded. Al stepped away from her...a
good three feet away, and that made her grin. “How can I fight
without an opponent?”
He smiled back at her, and it made her heart
skip. “For now, your opponent is going to have to be make believe,
Imagine Monsieur de Rocci standing before
M. C. narrowed her eyes. “That should help
immensely. Can I castrate him?”
Al frowned. “You are more bloodthirsty than
“Only for de Rocci,” she said, and she
lifted the sword as he’d shown her. “It’s heavier than the stick,”
she said, then she brought it down in a sweeping arc.
Now thrust! Parry! Dodge!
Block!” As he shouted commands, she obeyed, and she couldn’t deny
she felt incredibly powerful wielding the weapon—though not exactly
graceful, nearly tripping over her feet once. Still, when she
finished, he nodded in approval. “You are an excellent student,
Mary Catherine. You learn quickly.”
She nodded, smiling, breathless. “I only
wish you were going to be around longer.” Then she bit her lip. She
hadn’t thought about his leaving lately, but now the idea made her
inexplicably sad. And not just because he wouldn’t be around to
give her lessons.
“I wish it, too,” he said softly.
“What was your life like before I stole you
away from it. Al?” Her voice was softer than usual, she
“Ah, my life before.” Did he sound wistful?
“It was a grand adventure, Mary Catherine. To be a Musketeer is
every Frenchman’s dream...or it is in my time. I am respected and
admired, even envied, by everyone I meet.”
A man of stature, she mused. Successful and
in love with his work. “Did you have any family?”
He lowered his eyes. “I was my parents’ only
child. They died of a fever when I was still young, so I was reared
by my uncle, who had served with the Musketeers before he finally
married and settled down. He is gone now too. I have no family. But
then, a Musketeer is better off without one. My life is my work,