Crystal Cove by Lisa Kleypas

  “Only if I fall in love with him,” Justine said hastily, not looking at Jason. “And I haven’t. I won’t.” She paused. “Is there an escape clause? A loophole? Some kind of banishing spell or rite or—”

  “Nothing, I’m afraid.”

  “What if I don’t believe in it?” Jason asked.

  “My Neil didn’t,” Sage replied regretfully. “Neither did Justine’s father. It doesn’t matter what you believe, dear boy.”

  The words made Justine cold all the way through. She found herself anxiously taking inventory of her emotions. It wasn’t too late. She didn’t love Jason. She would never let herself love anyone if it would turn him into a victim of some supernatural penalty.

  Occupied with her thoughts, she didn’t notice Jason’s approach until she felt his warm hand on her back.


  “Don’t,” she said, stiffening, shrugging off his hand.

  “Don’t what?”

  Don’t touch me. Don’t make me love you.

  “I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” she said in a monotone, averting her gaze. “I want to go home. And then I’m going to do my best to stay away from you.”


  The ride to Roche Harbor was lightly choppy, a few cloud breaks revealing flashes of porcelain-blue sky. Jason navigated with care, mindful of the rocks and islets rising through the water. Many of them had been designated as bird refuges for gulls, auklets, oystercatchers, and cormorants. An eagle surveyed the ocean from its perch on a bone-clean tree snag. As the harbor came into view, a wedge of whistling swans crossed in front of the Bayliner, headed to California for the winter.

  Jason glanced at Justine, who barely seemed to notice the scenery. She played with the rose quartz bracelet around her wrist, her mouth set and moody. Ever since they had left the lighthouse, she had been remote, as if even the attempt to make conversation might pose a mortal danger to Jason.

  They docked in the slip, and two of the red-shirted marina staff came to grab the lines and take care of the boat’s maintenance. Jason helped Justine from the boat and walked with her along the wooden dock. He slung an arm around her shoulders, and felt her tense.

  “Sorry about your kayak,” he said. “Maybe it’ll turn up somewhere.”

  “It’s probably at the bottom of the ocean.” Letting out a quick breath, Justine tried to sound cheerful. “But at least I’m not in it, thanks to you.”

  “Can I offer to buy you a new one while at the same time making it clear that I’m not trying to impress you with my oversized wallet?”

  Justine shook her head, a reluctant smile appearing. “Thank you. But no.”

  “So what now?” he asked.

  Her mouth turned wistful. “We go back to the inn,” she said. “You go to work, and so do I. And … that’s it.”

  Jason stopped with her at the end of the dock, his hands gripping either side of the rail as she backed against it. Their bodies weren’t touching, but he knew how she would feel against him, his body remembered the soft radiant heat of hers.

  He stared into her troubled brown eyes. “We have unfinished business.”

  She understood what he meant. “I—I can’t do that with you.”

  “You were willing this morning.”

  “I wasn’t thinking straight.” A blush covered her face. “But now I am.”

  “You’re afraid you might start to care about me.” He let a trace of sarcasm enter his tone. “And that will somehow put me in danger. Is that it?”

  “No. Yes. Look, no rational person would claim that you and I should be together anyway. I mean, would you pick me for you?”

  “I just did.”

  She tried to move out of the enclosure of his arms, but he wouldn’t let her. “It’s not worth it,” she said, facing away from him. “Jason, I know what happens when a person without a soul dies. That’s it. There’s nothing left of you. Your time is limited enough as it is.”

  “How I spend it is my choice.”

  “But if I hurt you in any way, I’m the one who has to live with it.” Her face contorted, and she struggled with a sudden urge to cry. “And I couldn’t,” she said thickly. “I couldn’t stand it.”

  “Justine.” He pulled her closer, and she twisted away, and ended up with his arms wrapped around her front. His head bent until his mouth was near her ear. “It’s a risk I’m willing to take. This happens once in a lifetime. You meet someone and have this crazy reaction … you touch her skin and it’s the best skin you’ve ever felt, and no perfume on earth could be better than her smell, and you know you could never be bored with her because she’s interesting even when she’s doing nothing. Even without knowing everything about her, you get her. You know who she is, and it works for you on every level.” His arms tightened. “I’ve spent the past ten years being with one wrong person after another—which qualifies me to know when I’ve found the right one.” He kissed the little space behind her earlobe. “You feel it, too. You know we’re supposed to be together.”

  Justine shook her head. Incredulously, she felt him smile against her ear.

  “I’ll make you admit it,” he said. “Tonight.”


  Jason turned her to face him. “Find a spell, then,” he said in a low voice. “Find a way for us.”

  Justine bit her lip and shook her head. “I’ve already racked my brain. The only thing I could come up with is a longevity spell, and I can’t do that.”

  His gaze sharpened. “Why not?”

  “It’s in the area of high magick. Anything that messes with life or death is forbidden—those kinds of spells are dangerous even in the hands of the most experienced crafters. And if a longevity spell worked, it would be terrible. People usually think of longevity as a blessing, but in just about every grimoire you look in, it’s classified as a curse. It’s a cruel fate to live beyond the natural order of things … you would outlive everyone you care about, and your body and mind would decay, but no matter how much pain or loneliness or sorrow you felt, you would keep living. You would end up begging for an end to your suffering because death would be a mercy.”

  “What if I still wanted you to try? What if I said it’s worth it to be with you?”

  She shook her head. “I wouldn’t do that to you. And even if I were willing, and I cast the spell correctly, it still wouldn’t work out for us. We’re too different. I would hate your life; I could never be part of it. And I can’t see you giving up everything you’ve worked for to live on a quiet little island. Eventually you’d be unhappy. You’d blame me.” Justine turned to face him, her face hidden. “It’s no good,” she said in a muffled voice. “We’re better off apart. It’s fate.”

  Jason wrapped his arms around her and held her for a long time, oblivious of strangers who passed them on the dock. It seemed as if he had resigned himself to the inevitable.

  Except that when he finally spoke, he sounded anything but resigned. “The only kind of fate I believe in, Justine, is what happens when you don’t make a choice. I want you. And I’ll be damned if I let anything get in the way of that.”

  * * *

  Jason’s return to Artist’s Point was greeted with relief by the Inari group, which consisted of Gil Summers, a college friend who now ran the company’s development shop … Lars Arendt, his lawyer … Mike Tierney, an accounting and acquisitions manager … and Todd Winslow, the architect for the Inari building in San Francisco.

  “Didn’t think you could survive without a cell signal,” Gil had said with mock concern.

  “I enjoyed the break,” Jason had told them pointedly. “I can handle being unplugged.”

  Mike had looked dubious. “You once told me that if heaven and hell existed, they would both be small Midwestern towns except that hell would be the town with no Internet.”

  “My guess is,” Todd had said with a sly grin, “Jason didn’t mind the lack of wireless access because he was getting some client-server action from a long-le
gged brunette.”

  Jason had sent him a warning glance, and although Todd had grinned unrepentantly, he hadn’t said anything further. There were lines of privacy that everyone, even Jason’s close friends, knew not to cross.

  Priscilla, on the other hand, dared to broach subjects that no one else would. A year earlier Jason had interviewed and hired her from a pool of interns as his own assistant, after one of his managers had narrowed the field down to three candidates. With her country-fried accent and unconventional background, Priscilla had been an offbeat choice. However, her intelligence and competence had already made her a standout among the other interns.

  What had clinched the deal, however, had been her comment near the end of the interview, when Jason had asked if there was any information about herself that she might want him to know. “I reckon there is,” she had said. “I couldn’t help noticing that you don’t have a soul.” As he had stared at her, she had added, “Maybe I could help you with that.”

  There was no way Priscilla could have known. He had pressed her to explain, and she had said she could sense it. He had hired her with the expectation that more revelations would come later, and they had. Eventually she had admitted to Jason that she was a natural-born witch.

  “You could say me and my kin are the rough end of the Fiveash line,” Priscilla had told Jason. “We got witch blood, but no one in this branch of the family ever did anything with it. But one night back in ’52, my granny Fiveash made the moon fall from the sky. Bounced on the horizon and went right back up again. Ten minutes from start to finish. Whenever Granny talked about how she’d drawn down the moon, my mama always told me it was really just a pilot balloon from the Weather Bureau. But I knew Granny was telling the truth.”

  According to Priscilla, her mother hadn’t wanted her to know the truth about their family’s magical legacy. It would have caused them to be expelled from their God-fearing Ozark community. So Priscilla had covertly tried to learn what she could from her grandmother and her great-aunt, both of them crafters who had secretly practiced magic.

  After coming to work for Jason, Priscilla had researched the histories of a handful of ancient grimoires. The Triodecad had been listed among them. Following the descendants of the Triodecad’s previous owners, Priscilla had finally identified Justine Hoffman as the last one in the lineage. She was almost certainly in possession of the grimoire by now. And if any book on earth contained secrets that might help Jason, it would be the legendary Triodecad. By a stroke of either coincidence or fate, it had turned out that Justine lived on the island where Jason had already considered buying property.

  Jason was grateful to Priscilla for leading him to this place. And he had come to like her as much as he could like anyone who could reminisce fondly about pimento cheese and white bread sandwiches, or grape jelly meatballs, or who thought that the pinnacle of Clint Eastwood’s career had been the movie with the orangutan.

  Assuming the role of mentor, Jason had tried to make Priscilla understand the values of subtlety and moderation. You didn’t need to use a sledgehammer to kill a fly. Gradually she was learning that the skills that had helped you climb out of the gutter were not necessarily ones you wanted to hang on to once you were out.

  “How is Justine?” Priscilla asked, sitting at the table in Jason’s room and flipping open her laptop.

  Jason sat on the edge of the bed. “She’s fine.”

  “Did you—”

  He stopped her with a brief gesture. “Let’s clear away the business first.”

  Priscilla tucked a front lock of straight coppery hair behind one ear and opened a file on her screen. “Only a couple of things you need to answer. You’ve been invited to do the keynote at QuakeCon in Dallas next summer.”

  That one was easy. “No.”

  “Will you at least do a panel talk? For an hour?”

  Jason shook his head. “I’m going to Cal-Con next week. One conference a year is all I can handle.” He had agreed to host a private party to fund-raise for a cancer charity, but it would be a low-profile event. A few other pieces of business were discussed—the latest round of bug fixes for Skyrebels, including a logic error with loading screens from add-ons, and a few new memory and stability optimizations.

  Priscilla closed the laptop and gave Jason an expectant glance. “What happened?” she asked. “With you and Justine.”

  Jason paused, uncertain how to answer. A basic recounting of facts wouldn’t convey the truth of what had happened, what was still happening. It was impossible to quantify what he wanted or how he felt.

  “Ever heard of something called a geas?” he asked.

  Priscilla shook her head.

  As he explained, Priscilla listened in the way she always did when her brain was filing away information for future use. Unlike Justine, she was not at all conflicted about the use of magic. She wanted to learn as much as possible. The pitfalls didn’t matter to her. Yet.

  Someday they would.

  “Poor thing,” she commented, looking genuinely sympathetic. “I can’t imagine being cursed by one of my kin.”

  “Justine is taking it hard,” Jason said. “And it didn’t help to find out that Rosemary and Sage were part of it. They’re like family to her. She was devastated.”

  “Lucky for her you were there to help her through it.” Something in Priscilla’s tone turned the comment into a light barb.

  “I was there for her as a friend,” Jason said curtly.

  “A friend wouldn’t scheme to steal her spellbook.”

  “I’m not going to steal anything. I’m going to return the book after I get the information I need.”

  “Why don’t you ask Justine to loan it to you?”

  “She’d refuse.”

  “How come? If she’s a friend…”

  “It’s complicated.”

  Priscilla regarded him with unblinking blue eyes. “I found the spellbook while you were gone,” she said eventually. “Under Justine’s bed in her cottage out back. The book is locked.”

  “I know where the key is. Justine wears it on a chain around her neck.”

  “Even if you get the key from her, the book is protected by something a lot stronger than a copper lock. You’d never make it past the front door.”

  Jason shook his head slightly.

  Seeing his incomprehension, Priscilla explained. “A grimoire is held to its owner by a whole lot of binding spells. If you try to pull it away, it resists. Like a magnet.”

  “How do I get past that?”

  “My best guess is, you get Justine to trust you. Care about you.” Priscilla looked troubled. “The agreement we shook on … you’re gonna hold to it? You won’t hurt Justine by taking away her spellbook for good?”

  “I’ve already said I’m going to give it back. I have no intention of hurting Justine or making an enemy of her. Just the opposite, in fact.”

  Priscilla looked vaguely startled. “You’re not planning on trying to stay friends with her after this, are you?”

  “That’s my business.”

  Priscilla studied his impassive face. “Remember what I told you: Never ever get involved with a witch. If she falls in love with you, you’re doomed. Even the nicest of us are man-killers. We can’t help it. Every man in my family died before his time, including my daddy. You don’t want to have anything to do with this. You can’t win against it.”

  “You just told me to make Justine care about me.”

  “Care, yes. Not love. After you get what you want, leave Justine as fast as possible, and don’t look back.”

  * * *

  “You’re sure you’re all right?” Zoë asked again, stocking ingredients in the pantry.

  “Everything’s great,” Justine exclaimed as she cleaned the commercial coffee machine. “I’m fine, other than losing my kayak. But it’s replaceable. I guess my pride’s a little wounded—I felt like an idiot, getting caught in that storm.”

  “You must have been relieved when Jason appe

  “Beyond relieved,” Justine said, deciding there was no need to worry Zoë by explaining that she’d been half dead at the time.

  After returning to the inn, Justine had been gratified to learn that everything had gone smoothly at the inn during her brief absence. Annette and Nita had cleaned the rooms and common areas, and Zoë had taken care of the kitchen. No complaints from the guests—they had been happy to lounge in the reading room by the fireplace during the storm, while Zoë had brought in trays of refreshments.

  Zoë seemed to sense that Justine wasn’t telling her everything about the experience on Cauldron Island. After listening to Justine’s expurgated version of the night at the lighthouse, she asked skeptically, “Nothing happened between you and Jason?”

  An image appeared in Justine’s mind, of being held against Jason’s muscular body … that skin as golden and hot as sunlight … and she felt herself flush. “I guess I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t have a little crush on him.” She tried to look nonchalant.

  “What about Jason?” Zoë asked, bringing a roll of paper towels for Justine to use on the coffee machine. “Does he feel something for you, too?”

  “Well … that doesn’t matter.”

  “Why not?”

  “He’s my total opposite, Zo. He’s a one-percenter. He has a company plane. He has three houses and doesn’t spend time in any of them. I can’t be with someone like that.”

  Zoë gave her a look of fond exasperation. “Is he kind to you? Does he make you laugh? Do you enjoy talking to him?” After Justine nodded in answer to all three questions, Zoë said, “Maybe those are the only things you need to focus on.”

  “It’s not that simple.”

  “I think it is that simple. People use complications as an excuse to give up too soon.” Zoë helped Justine to push the heavy coffee machine back into place. “A group of the girls want to get together this weekend. Are you up for a movie night?”

  “Sure. But do me a favor—warn them beforehand not to ask me anything about Jason.”

  “You’re going to have to come up with some PR version to tell them,” Zoë said. “Otherwise, they won’t stop pestering you.”

Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]