Ian was glad to get out of the cold and while the living room in Steve’s home still had a faint smell of paint in the air, the fire crackled and the chairs were comfortable. “I see the paint is still in one piece.”
Steve grinned. “Armani has been given instructions by Lady Freydis. It should last until the wedding. Only a few days now.”
Ian looked around and sank into an armchair. “Don’t say anything to Jeanette, but I sort of envy your wedding. Between being pregnant and all the stress, I think it’s too much for her, even with Adele and Jasmine helping her out. She was almost in tears yesterday over the colour of the tablecloths.”
“But they’re white.” Steve said.
“I know.” Ian said helplessly. “She’s always wanted white. They turned up and were white. I don’t understand.”
“You could ask Mrs Tuesday about it.” Steve said.
Ian shook his head. “I just hug Jeanette, tell her it will be alright and hope for the best.”
“The wedding will be fine.” Steve said. “The brownies are in charge of the catering, the guest list is mainly well behaved, Lady Freydis has decided that the weather will be crisp and dry and the house is ready for visitors.”
“I know.” Ian said. “I’m more worried about the stress on Jeanette and the baby. She’s looking really tired.” He looked at Steve. “Don’t suggest talking to Mrs Tuesday.”
Steve grinned. “It’s a last resort.”
Ian looked thoughtful. “It’s been a strain, but Jasmine and Adele have been wonderful to Jeanette. Jasmine has really come on.”
“She’s a good kid.” Steve said. “While you’re here, I could do with your opinion on a book.” He jumped to his feet and then paused. “Why are you here? Hiding from the wedding?”
“All the women have turned up at our house.” Ian grumbled. “Callum disappeared to the shop to do some stock taking and Trent said he had to go to the library to do his homework.”
Steve laughed. “Well, wait until you see this book.”
Steve came back a few minutes later with two mugs of tea and an old book tucked under his arm. “I found this in the lining of a chair I was recovering. It feels ‘off’ to me, but I’d like to know what you think.”
Ian took the book and started leafing through. “Well, it’s not a medieval grimoire.” He held the book up to the light. “But it’s old.”
Steve nodded. “It’s some sort of notebook, and it’s survived for years in the upholstery, but it’s the content. There’s magic in there.”
“The handwriting is appalling.” Ian said. “But you can read most of it.” He frowned. “This looks familiar.”
“A summoning?” Steve asked.
Ian shook his head. “It’s a trap spell. I don’t know exactly, but it looks like something to trap an elfen, or similar. Like the spell that held Jack.”
“I’m beginning to hate Jack.” Steve said.
“He’s not that bad, is he?” Ian said, flicking through the notebooks. “This is only one notebook in a series. There will be others out there.”
“He is driving me crazy.” Steve said. “I can really understand why someone wanted to trap him.”
Ian looked up from the notebook. “You can cope with Lady Freydis and Kadogan without too much trouble. You just go with the flow and divert them when you need to.”
Steve shook his head. “Jack is always hanging around Fiona. Look at that.” Steve gestured to a vase with a casual arrangement of hawthorn berries, dried roses and ivy set next to a cool window. “He brings in flowers for her, jokes around, and I swear he is flirting with her. Fiona won’t have it, but he is. Maybe I could use a trap spell.”
Ian didn’t like the dark look on Steve’s face. “He’s probably just trying to show his gratitude. Don’t worry. And Fiona’s not likely to get carried away.”
Fiona sipped her oolong tea and sighed. Darren’s vicarage was the opposite of every vicarage in films or books. It was clean, uncluttered and, even in winter, filled with lots of light. There were no sooty open fires, no dust trap coving, and no draughty wood floors. She loved her new home, and wouldn’t swap it for anything, but Darren’s study was a nice change. “Jasmine adores you.”
Darren hunched over his glass of water. “It all comes down to one basic fact. I’m too old for her. She hasn’t had the chance to find out what she really wants.”
“I think a year of living on the streets gave her plenty of opportunities.” Fiona said. “She doesn’t want to look elsewhere.” She took a deep breath. “Yes, there has been discussion of this in the White Hart. Mrs Tuesday will stay out of things in general, but she has her opinions. And she thinks…”
Darren held up a hand. “I don’t think I can bear to hear this.” He said quietly.
Fiona placed her mug down on the glass coaster. “You have to hear this. Jasmine is beautiful, I mean, really beautiful, and she’s a werewolf. She could have men queuing around the block and down the street for her.” She frowned at Darren. “Let me speak! But how many of the men would really see her. She has had some tough times and has amazing resilience, but there are times that she needs reassurance. It’s a dream for a predator. But you wouldn’t harm her.” Fiona tried to gather her thoughts together. “If something bad happened to Jasmine, you wouldn’t turn your back on her, would you? If she lost her looks or got scarred from silver, I don’t think you would even notice.”
Darren shook his head. “It’s an easy thing to say, that you love the person on the inside, but Jasmine has such a shining spirit. I can’t imagine turning my back on her.”
“Of course you would be there for her.” Fiona said. “And if she went a little crazy after the years as a stray, you’d be there for her, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes, of course.” Darren said. “That’s never the problem.”
“And if she went bad, if she needed to be stopped, you would stop her, wouldn’t you?” Fiona said.
“I’d do my duty.” Darren said, “But I would have failed if that happened.”
“And she knows that if she does get it wrong, if she goes bad, she can be stopped. It’s like a safety net for her, so she doesn’t have to be on high alert against herself. You wouldn’t be cruel, but you would be there.” Fiona took Darren’s hand. “Mrs Tuesday thinks you are the best possible thing for Jasmine. You won’t take any nonsense, you’ll always love the bones of her, no matter what, and you’re as gorgeous as she is.”
Darren looked blank. “What’s looks got to do with it?”
“Everything?” Fiona said. “People are less likely to bother Jasmine if they know she has a tough, good looking boyfriend. You’re like a layer of protection for her as well as the pack.”
“Ian’s not happy.” Darren said.
“Ian isn’t that stressed about it.” Fiona said. “He knows that you will look after Jasmine, and that she’s safe with you. You won’t hurt her, play mind games or cheat on her. You won’t break her heart. If it has to be anyone that isn’t a werewolf, it would be you.”
Darren stared into space for a while. “I would do anything for Jasmine, absolutely anything. I loved her long before the love potion. Life without her would be bleak.”
“Then don’t think about life without her.” Fiona said. “Just enjoy time with her.” She picked up her tea again. “Is that why you wanted to talk to me? About Jasmine?”
Darren grimaced. “I’ve been asked to make sure that you and Steve are okay, that you’re happy.”
“I wish the elfen would stay out of this.” Fiona said. “And I don’t think Steve and I have been happier.”