Josh’s face contorted in agony as the flash of blue fire
I killed him.
I woke panting, with cold sweat beading my face and
soaking the back of my t-shirt.
When is that memory going to stop haunting me?
It had been almost two weeks since Josh and Sam tried to
kill Adam and me, and this was the third night in a row that I
had been woken by that same nightmare. Every time I fell
asleep, it would wake me several times a night.
Leo meowed a protest when I threw the covers off, and
stood while rubbing my eyes. After rolling around a few
times to get my attention, he stopped with his paws in the air,
and his orange Persian fur sticking out in all directions. I
ruffled his fluffy head while I checked the time, 5:00 AM. I
was getting used to the lack of sleep. Amazing how that
happens—must be how doctors work all those crazy hours.
My room was chilly, and my eyes wandered to the
balcony. The curtains were open to my French doors, and I
lingered in front of the patterned frosted glass for a moment.
I watched as the snow flurries landed on a three-foot high
snow drift and shivered as the cold from the glass doors
seeped through my shirt. I pulled the curtains closed and
headed to the bathroom.
While showering, I relished the feel of the hot water
running over the warm wave of goose bumps along my body,
and willed the negative remnants of the dream down the
drain. I mused about the fact that my talent was still bound. I
thought that after the blue fire, my talent would have
returned. Apparently the Fire elemental didn’t think I was
ready for it yet. That was fine with me, as I didn’t want to
burn anyone by accident.
I’d lost control of my emotions after the death of my
parents. I’ve felt like an irrational stranger—out of sorts,
hormonal, emotional. Disgusted with myself, I knew I
needed to pull it together. I had always been practical and
level headed; I needed to be that person again.
After dressing, I examined my reflection. I had telltale
dark circles under my amber eyes, but aside from that, I
didn’t appear too haggard. My wavy chocolate hair was
behaving for once, the red strands standing out in stark relief
under the bright closet lights.
It was still too early to go downstairs, so I settled
comfortably in my chair and read awhile.
On my way downstairs, I ran into Angela. “Up early
again?” she asked with a concerned frown.
I merely grunted, not wanting to explain my recurring
She followed me into the dining room, where Grandma,
Grandpa, and to my surprise, Great Uncle Azar sat at the
large flame-carved wooden table.
I was beginning to wonder if Uncle Azar had set up camp
at the cave, since it had been so long since I’d seen him. I
think the last time I saw him was the day of the ordeal at the
That’s not entirely true—I did see him briefly from time
to time in the last two weeks, here and there walking out the
door or coming in late. Always he had this giddy light in his
Speaking of eyes, they were all on me as I dropped into
Before anyone could ask, I said, “I’m fine.”
“You don’t look fine. You look like you haven’t gotten
any sleep for weeks,” said Grandma.
In true Azar fashion, he groused, “Let the girl be, Etain.
Of course she hasn’t slept. She was almost killed, just a
couple of weeks ago, at the hands of her own cousin.”
Flinching, I excused myself while Grandma and Uncle
Azar argued. There was no way I could force any food down.
I went back to my room to pack. Today was December
21, the winter solstice, and the first day of Yule. School was
out for the holidays and all the elemental families were going
up to the lodge for the Yule celebration. Last weekend, when
Adam and I had gone shopping for all the Yule gifts, he had
given me a rundown of how we celebrate the holiday. For
twelve days we feast, open one gift, and tell stories.
Apparently that’s where the twelve days of Christmas came
I couldn’t wait to spend some time with Adam. He’d
been so busy the last three days with Youth Committee duties
that I hadn’t seen him, unless you counted the brief visits
between classes, which I didn’t because he was aloof and
When we arrived at the lodge, most of the families were
already there. Lily and her family were the only ones
After figuring out where my room was, I headed back
down to the main floor.
Vinessa stood in front of the empty fireplace, absently
fingering a silver bell that dangled from a white string of
garland lying across the mantle. Her brow was furrowed in
thought. I followed her gaze and spotted Adam by the giant
white pine tree that reached to a second-story balcony.
Presents of every color, shape, and size filled the space
underneath the wide bottom branches.
My face lit up and I moved toward him, only to catch
sight of Bree standing behind a beam, engaging him in
conversation. My smile faltered when I realized he was
laughing at something she said.
That’s odd. I continued forward, studying Adam. He gave
no sign of irritation, or alarm.
When I stopped in front of them, Adam started and
exclaimed, “Sera! I didn’t realize you were here.”
Flushed, he leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek.
The cheek! What the hell?
“Adam and I were just reminiscing,” Bree said, her
brilliant white teeth flashing.
Adam chuckled. “We had some good times.”
Good times? What is going on here? I met his gaze. “Are
With a puzzled frown, he replied, “I’m fine. Why?”
“Sera, we put all that nasty stuff behind us. Didn’t we,
Adam?” Bree’s silver eyes sparkled when she met Adam’s
His look matched hers. “Of course. No use wasting time
being angry over trivial things.”
I clenched my teeth and just barely managed not to hiss
between them. “Adam, could I talk to you?”
“Sure,” he said, as if I wasn’t about to clobber him.
I pointedly looked at Bree; she just stood there in her
white silk dress with a hand on one slim hip and her lips
quirked up at the corner.
“Alone,” I snapped.
He glanced at Bree. “Oh, sorry.”
I followed him up to his room, closing the door a little
harder than intended.
“What the hell is going on with you? You’re acting really
He shrugged. “What’s the big deal? Bree apologized and
“So, everything’s forgiven, just like that?” I tried keeping
the incredulity out of my voice. I think it came out a little
With a defensive inflection, he replied, “Yeah.”
“Okay, I can admit her breaking up with you may seem
trivial now that we’re together, but what about her trying to
force herself on you at the cottage? Not to mention all the
trouble she’s caused?” I crossed my arms accusingly.
His shoulders slumped with the sigh he heaved. “Sera,
you are being dramatic. She apologized for the way she
treated me and I forgave her. Aside from her kissing me at
the cottage, what trouble has she caused? In fact, as I recall,
she saved our butts in the cave.” Now he folded his arms.
“Cut her some slack.”
I stared at him like he’d grown a second personality.
“Are you kidding me?” My hands dropped limply to my
He reached out and pulled me to him, his lips finding
Momentarily distracted, I melted into the kiss. My arms
wrapped around his neck, and then he pulled back—
something was off. That didn’t feel like any of the other
kisses we’ve shared. It was controlled, normal even. It
lacked the fire we always had.
Before I could comment, he dragged me with him back
down the stairs and into the great room. We reached the
bottom step just as Lily and her family walked in, bringing a
gust of frigid wind with them.
Adam let go of my hand and walked over to greet Ryan. I
felt, once again, like I had just been thrown into the Twilight
I hugged Brook, and while I hugged Lily, she asked,
We glanced around and found her by the enormous side
table that housed the overflow of gifts that didn’t fit under
the tree. Vinessa stood in front of Bree. Her cheeks flushed
as she flailed her arms in the air.
I quickly followed Lily. She reached them before I did.
“—did you do to him?” I had caught the last part of what
Vinessa said before Bree stormed off.
“Vinessa, what’s wrong?” Lily asked, her eyes narrowed
on Bree’s back.
With a glance at me, Vinessa replied, “Nothing … I don’t
know.” Flustered, she strode over to Adam, grabbed his arm,
leaned up on the tips of her toes and whispered something in
his ear, then headed into the kitchen. When he didn’t follow,
Lily went after her.
Now what’s going on?
I wondered if Bree was blackmailing Adam. Whatever it
was, I was getting to the bottom of it. I found Vinessa and
Lily in the kitchen back by the large pantry. They stopped
talking when they saw me approaching.
“All right, guys, what’s going on?” I zeroed in on
Vinessa. “No more secrets.”
She shook her head, but answered anyway. “I’m not sure,
and I didn’t want to alarm you until I talked to Adam, but I
think Bree may have done something to him. He’s been
acting really strange the last three days.”
“I know, I just talked to him upstairs, and he told me he
forgave Bree because she apologized for everything. He also
said to cut her some slack, since she saved us in the cave.”
My irritation came through loud and clear.
Locking eyes with Lily, Vinessa practically yelled, “See?
I told you something is going on with my brother, and I
know that silver-eyed bitch is involved.”
“Okay.” Lily lifted her hands in surrender. “What do you
propose we do?” She glanced between us.
Vinessa’s eyes narrowed. “I propose we spy on her. Lily,
you keep her busy, and I’ll go through her room. Sera, be my
lookout in case Bree breaks away from Lily; you’ll intercept
We wandered back into the main room. I stopped next to
Adam while Lily confronted Bree. Adam was telling Ryan
about his new state-of-the-art snowmobile.
When Ryan noticed me, he gave me a big hug. “Hey,
there you are. How are you?”
“I’m okay, and you?”
He kissed my cheek before replying, “I’m always good.”
While we pulled apart, Adam went to say hello to Brook.
Ryan watched him go with a frown.
I put a hand on Ryan’s arm, getting his attention. “Have
you noticed anything odd about Adam in the last several
Ryan’s eyes shifted from me back to Adam. “Now that
you mention it, yes.” He scrutinized my face. “Why, is
something going on?”
“The girls and I think that Bree did something to him. He
is acting really strange, and now he’s suddenly friends with
her? It doesn’t make sense.”
Ryan’s gaze involuntarily snapped to Bree. We both
noticed Adam’s attention kept straying in that direction as
“I’ll see what I can find out. In the meantime, act normal.
If Bree is up to something, we don’t want to alert her that we
“Easier said than done,” I mumbled under my breath as
Ryan went back to talking to Adam.
I jumped when Vinessa came up behind me.
“Anything?” I asked, almost desperate.
Vinessa shook her head. “Don’t worry, we’ll keep
looking. If we have to search her house, we will.”
Over the next few hours, Adam kept to himself as we ate
dinner. My anxiety reached a new high, and I had to keep
reminding myself to act normal. I would have to wait until
later to figure out what was going on.
After dinner, Grandma made a show of lighting the
ceremonial Yule log. At first, flames danced on the huge log,
then the fire took form and became dancing figures until the
log was a blazing inferno. Now I understood why the
fireplace was so massive: it needed to house a bonfire for
Next we all sat around opening gifts. Vinessa picked
mine, the green Earth vase I had purchased from the little art
boutique at the small town down the road.
While opening the gift that I had chosen from the large
pile of presents, I couldn’t keep my eyes from straying to
Adam, who was watching Bree.
Something dropped into my lap, and I tore my gaze from
Adam to see what it was. I picked up a two-inch statue of a
phoenix carved from a clear red glass substance. I hadn’t
even looked to see who it was from, I realized, embarrassed.
Just as my hand reached for the discarded wrapping
paper in search of the tag, Angela said, “It was your mother’s
—a phoenix cut from a rather large ruby. I thought you might
like it.” Her voice wavered as she added, “It was her favorite
Blinking away tears, I hugged her and choked out a
thank-you before pulling away.
After all the gifts were opened, we gathered around an
enormous water basin. I sat next to Adam with a question on
my face. This was something he hadn’t explained.
He grinned mischievously. “This is the storytelling part.”
Settling in, I frowned at the water that Lily’s mother—
Mrs. Ainsworth, or Pearl—kneeled in front of. Just before
the lights went out, the adults were given spiced wine, and
the underaged—spiced cider. I wrapped my fingers around
the hot cider and inhaled the spicy scent. It reminded me of
The fire cast shadows across Pearl’s face, and as she
spoke, her voice echoed up into the rafters.
“As you all know, it is tradition to tell the story of the
two great kings on this day, the winter solstice. For tonight,
the Oak king rules anew.”
Music filled the air, and the water in the basin began to
swirl as she started the story.
Lily hovered over the basin and poured different colors—
of what looked like food coloring—into the water, along
with colored sparkles, then settled back into her spot.
When a figure of a man with holly berries in his hair and
beard, with a crown made of pointed holly leaves, formed
out of the water, I leaned forward. On the other side of the
basin sprang forth a younger man with oak leaves for hair.
I watched avidly as the paint and sparkles settled in their
leaves, berries, and clothes.
Lights flashed on, illuminating the Old Holly king and
the young Oak king from below, bringing them to life.
They stood about a foot-and-a-half tall, and each one
held a staff made from their own wood. An acorn topped the
Oak king’s staff, while a spiked holly leaf adorned the Holly
Pearl’s voice rang loud and clear, echoing off the rafters
overhead once again. “Every turn of the wheel, on December
21, the Oak and Holly kings battle for rule over the next six
months. The Oak king wins every winter solstice, bringing
the return of the sun.”
As she regaled us with the tale, the water kings fought,
and when their staffs clashed, water spritzed us.
In the grand finale, when the Holly king was defeated
and turned into a holly tree, water sprayed my legs, and an
involuntary squeak tore from my throat.
Lily laughed in delight at my reaction. I had almost
forgotten Adam’s strange behavior. When I looked up at him,
he was focused on Bree, and he was laughing.
After that I sat stiffly, watching a new tale unfold in
water and light.
When the clock struck midnight, everyone drifted off to
I trudged up the stairs to my room, and as I turned around
to close the door, I jumped; Vinessa stood in the hallway.
Clutching at my heart, I asked, “What are you doing?”
“I want to try something.” She came into my room and
closed the door. “Do you have a gift for Adam?”
Nodding, I riffled through my bag for the one gift of
Adam’s that I hadn’t put under the tree. I handed over the
small, silver gift-wrapped box. She took it, set some
mistletoe on top, and positioned my hand over the mistletoe.
She laid hers above mine and spoke in another language. Old
Welsh, I think. I didn’t want to interrupt her by asking.
When she was done, I felt an odd tingling sensation from
the box. “What did you do?” I stared at the small gift in
“A spell. I got to thinking when I was rummaging
through Bree’s room and found nothing. I think maybe she
cast a love spell using her bond to Adam. I want to see if he
acts differently when you give this to him.” She dropped her
hands to her side. “If he does, then we will know for sure
that Bree cast a spell on him.”
The mistletoe leaf floated to the floor, and a memory of a
café with Bree standing on the opposite side of the door, at
the counter ordering mistletoe, flooded my mind—her smug
smile seared into my memory.
Bree’s smile was replaced with Vinessa’s frown.
Shifting under her scrutiny, I asked, “What is mistletoe
“Love spells, mostly.” Suspicion crept into her voice.
I made a point of looking directly at her. “When I
ordered this gift for Adam, I stopped by the café, and Bree
was there ordering mistletoe.”
“Well, that explains it. You couldn’t mention that
sooner?” She waved her hand at my protest. “Never mind.
Just give this to Adam.” Vinessa opened the door,
impatiently ushering me out.
I knocked on Adam’s door after trying the knob; it was
locked. That hurt. The door swung open, and Adam filled the
doorway—in nothing but his boxers. My pulse picked up and
I had to remind myself why I was there.
“Hello. What are you doing here?” He looked unsure. He
glanced down the hall as if expecting someone else.
Before I lost my nerve, I answered with, “Can I come
“Sure.” He held the door open a little wider for me.
When I slipped past him, I caught a whiff of his earthyspicy
scent. He closed the door. I stopped in front of the bed
and turned back to him. I held the little package out for him.
He smiled wide and came forward. “What’s this?”
“Open it and find out.”
Taking the gift, he tore into it.
The second his fingers ripped the paper, his eyes flashed
a bright green, and he paused. He put a hand to his forehead
and groaned. When he swayed, almost dropping the box, I
reached for his arm. His eyes met mine and they were darker.
“What the hell happened?” he asked, in a gruff voice.
I let out the breath that I had been holding. “You don’t
He scowled at the door. “Bree,” he growled. “I’m going
to kill her.”
That was my Adam. “I think she cast some kind of spell
on you, using mistletoe and who knows what else.”
The expression on his face made me hurry on, “Are you
going to finish opening it?” I didn’t want to deal with any
apologies for things that were out of his control.
Adam reluctantly looked away from my face and opened
the wooden box. Inside was a Steven Kretchmer Inner Glo
Polarium necklace. He twisted the bail, popping the two
pieces apart to reveal the words Fire on one half and Earth
on the other. An orange diamond was flush set next to the
Fire and a green diamond after the Earth. He smiled, letting
them seal magnetically back together.
I took it from him and clasped the chain behind his neck.
He captured my lips when I let go. Heat raced through my
veins. I felt his control slip, and I gave in, deepening the kiss.
He lifted me up and dropped me under him on the bed. As
his fingers slid up my side, a knock at the door startled us
He sat back, panting, and ran a hand through his hair. His
voice was husky as he called, “Who is it?”
There was a pause. “Bree.”