Crystal Cove by Lisa Kleypas


  “PR as in ‘public relations’? Or do you mean ‘pointless rambling’?”

  “Provocatively risqué,” Zoë suggested with a twinkle in her eyes.

  Justine smiled and went to one of the tall kitchen cabinets and opened the door. “Where is the little marble mortar and pestle you use for grinding herbs?”

  “I’ll get it for you.” Zoë went to open one of the upper cabinets. Pulling out the white mortar and pestle, she brought them to Justine. “Can I help with something?”

  “No, I was thinking about trying out a recipe for an oatmeal and honey mask.”

  “Add a squeeze of lemon juice,” Zoë suggested, reaching for the fruit bowl. “It’ll brighten your complexion.” She picked up a ripe lemon and handed it to Justine. “As for what we were talking about … try to stay open-minded, Justine. Sometimes love happens in unexpected places.”

  Justine gave her a dark glance. “So do weeds.”

  Zoë smiled. “All right, I’m going.”

  After Zoë left, Justine went to her cottage, retrieved the spellbook from under her bed, and brought it to the kitchen. Leafing through the section on potions, tonics, and tinctures, she found the recipe she wanted. A discouragement potion, one guaranteed to break the bonds of any romantic attachment or attraction. If given to Jason by her hand, he would lose all interest in her.

  Since he could not be expected to drink the potion voluntarily, Justine would have to find a way to slip it to him without his knowledge. She felt more than a little guilty about that, but there was no other choice. It was for his own good, after all. She was trying to save his life.

  She winced, however, as she remembered him telling her, “Whenever someone says ‘this is for your own good,’ it’s a guarantee they’re about to cause you some kind of damage.”

  Wasn’t there a word for when you had to choose between two equally unpleasant options? “Screwed,” she decided ruefully.

  She went out to her herb garden to gather fresh licorice root, mint, cilantro, and marjoram. Returning to the kitchen with fragrant handfuls of green, she locked both doors. It was important to follow the recipe to the letter—she wasn’t going to risk interruptions.

  She ground the herbs with the mortar and pestle, scraped the pungent green mash into a copper saucepan, and added water. After setting the pan to simmer on the stove, Justine went into the pantry to retrieve a cardboard box from the top shelf. It contained a few basic magic supplies, including small glass jars and bottles and packets of resins. Crushing a small lump of myrrh and a pinch of dragontree resin into powder, she added them to the contents of the saucepan.

  As the mixture boiled, Justine lit a white sage smudge stick and waved it around the kitchen in a negativity-cleansing ritual. When the herbs were sufficiently steeped, Justine strained the brew into a small bowl. She cleaned up the kitchen and returned to the table to finish the potion. She flipped back to the formula, which called for “Maiden’s Tears.”

  “Great,” Justine said to the book sardonically. “I’m pretty sure I don’t count as a maiden.” In the absence of readily available weeping virgins, however, her own tears would have to do.

  But how was she supposed to make herself cry?

  Heading into the pantry, she found the wire bin where Zoë kept onions. “This better be worth it,” she muttered, setting a fat yellow onion onto a cutting board. She sliced it in half. Cringing, she lowered her face over the caustic fumes, forcing her eyes to stay open. They began to sting and water instantly. “Oh, jeez,” she gasped, fumbling for a tiny glass bottle. Somehow she managed to capture a couple of teardrops. After blotting her eyes with paper napkins, she took the bottle to the table and used a medicine dropper to fill it with herbal solution.

  Now all she had to do was recite the spell, and the discouragement potion would be complete.

  But as she reached for the Triodecad, the pages riffled and the book slammed shut.

  “Hey,” Justine protested, “quit playing around and let me finish this.” She forced the book open and found the spell again. Quickly she recited the words, using her forearms to pin the book down as it strained to close itself.

  Passion evermore proscribed

  when maiden’s tears imbibed

  Elixir, cool his heart within

  discourage love ere it begin.

  Breathing with effort, Justine closed the Triodecad and screwed the dropper top onto the little bottle. “All done,” she said aloud. “One drop of this, and Jason won’t be able to run far or fast enough from me.”

  Her eyes stung again. “Stupid onion,” she said, reaching for another napkin.

  Even though the sliced onion was on the other side of the room.

  * * *

  At nine P.M. sharp, Justine knocked on Jason’s door. She gripped the silver tray more tightly than necessary. The vodka shots and ice rattled in her hands.

  The door opened.

  Jason’s unnerving gaze swept over her. It started a carousel of emotions spinning inside her, warmth, desire, infatuation.

  He urged her inside the room and took the tray from her, setting it on the table.

  I’m not in love with him, she told herself as he reached for her. Even though she was intoxicated with the clean sea-salt fragrance of his skin and the comforting feel of him all around her. Even though her throat had gone tight as if she were going to cry.

  “You’re leaving the day after tomorrow,” she found herself saying awkwardly.

  “And?”

  “This will be over.”

  “Nothing will be over,” he said. “We’ve just started.”

  “Any other woman would be better for you. You know I don’t fit in your life.”

  Jason bent to kiss her neck. His hands slid to her hips. His whisper curled softly against her skin. “I think you’ll fit me perfectly. Let’s try you on.”

  Wicked, wicked man. Her face was burning. She could hardly stay still, every nerve in her body twitching with hunger. She couldn’t help imagining it, just for a moment … the feel of him inside her.

  “I brought your vodka,” she said, pulling away from him. All nerves and twitches, she scrubbed her hair into a wild flurry and tugged at the hem of her T-shirt. “You should have a shot. It’ll help you relax.”

  “An entire fifth of vodka wouldn’t do that,” he said behind her.

  Wrapping her arms around her middle, Justine wandered to the window and looked at the outline of her cottage, the night rustling cool and dark around the inn. The little door lamp was haloed like the painted gold circles around the figures in medieval icons.

  “What if I agreed to sell you my Dream Lake house?” she asked without looking at him. “At a fair price. That way you could stay there whenever you need to check on the progress of the construction site. You wouldn’t have to come to Artist’s Point again.”

  “You’re trying to bribe me to stay away from you?”

  The hair on the back of Justine’s neck prickled as she heard the sounds of ice jangling in the tray. He had picked up one of the vodka glasses.

  “Not bribing,” she said. “I just want to arrange the situation so we can avoid future problems.”

  “You can’t avoid future problems,” he said. “Even if you find a way not to care about me, or even talk to me, there’ll be other problems. Because that’s what life is. One problem after another. You can’t control any of it. All you can do is reach out for something good whenever you can. And hold on no matter what.”

  “I can’t,” she said fiercely. “Because I’m trying to save you.”

  A long pause. She heard the clink of a glass being set on the table. “Don’t try to save me. Just try to love me.”

  “That would be easy.” Anguish shredded her voice. “So ridiculously easy to love you.” She kept facing away from him. “My God, I wish I’d never broken the geas. They were right—I was better off before. And so were you.”

  “You weren’t—”

  He stopped. He drew in a
long, rough breath.

  Turning, Justine saw Jason with his hands braced on the table, his head lowered over the empty shot glass. His back tensed until she could see the delineation of muscle even through the knit fabric of his polo shirt.

  “Justine.” His voice sounded odd.

  He had taken the discouragement potion. Was it working? Had she made a mistake? He wasn’t breathing well. Hades’ bones. Had she made him sick?

  “Yes?” she asked, approaching him warily.

  “What did you put in the vodka?” His voice was deceptively mild.

  “Maybe a little drop of something herbal. Sort of a … um, health tonic. How do you feel?”

  He was breathing and swallowing, his skin infused with a darkening flush. “Like a racehorse on steroids.”

  Justine shook her head in consternation. That didn’t sound good. Something had gone wrong.

  Jason looked at her then, his eyes dilated into pools of molten black. “Justine,” he muttered, “what the hell have you done to me?”

  Sixteen

  “You should sit down,” Justine said anxiously. “I’ll get you some water. You’re—” She broke off in surprise. One glance along his body revealed that he was aroused. Really aroused. Definitely not the side effect of a discouragement potion. Astonished, she reached for the second shot of vodka and took an experimental sip, barely wetting her lips.

  A flash of heat covered her from head to toe all at once, taking her breath away. She felt fire racing through her veins. And between her thighs, a hard intimate throb. She could hardly think through the haze of lust and confusion. All from a single taste of the vodka.

  And Jason had taken an entire shot.

  “This is the opposite of what I wanted,” she exclaimed in frustration. “What could have gone wrong?”

  Jason took a fistful of ice chips from the tray and held them against the back of his neck. The ice melted as if it had been dropped into a hot skillet. Glittering rivulets snaked around his throat and into the fabric of his T-shirt. He was breathing through his teeth, gasping, shivering.

  “I’m so sorry,” Justine told him miserably, reaching out to touch him, then snatching her hands back as he gave her a baleful sideways glance. “I never meant to … I shouldn’t have … What would help? More ice? Should I start a cold shower?”

  Jason didn’t seem to have heard. He rubbed his chilled wet hands over his face and lower jaw. The crests of his high cheekbones were bright with color, his long black lashes water-spiked. Stripping off his polo shirt, he wadded it up and blotted his damp neck and shoulders. For a moment Justine could only stare at him.

  “I’m sorry,” she said again. “I keep making everything worse.”

  The long muscles of his back flinched as she touched him, as if even the lightest touch were torture. She pressed her cheek remorsefully to his blazing skin.

  Jason turned slowly, as if a sudden move would break the tenuous thread of his self-control. He took her against him. She felt the hard, hungry tension of a leopard ready to spring.

  “I followed the formula exactly,” she managed to say. “It should be working.”

  Jason dragged his mouth down to the joint of her neck and shoulder, nuzzling roughly. “Paradoxical reaction,” he said.

  “You mean like when an antidepressant causes suicidal thoughts in some people, or—” She started as she felt his hands go to the fastenings of her jeans, the top button popping free, the zipper hissing. “Or when pain medication gives someone a headache—” A gasp was torn from her throat as his hand slid into the back of her jeans, beneath her underwear.

  “I want you,” he muttered against her skin. “And I hope the feeling’s mutual…”

  “Yes, but I—”

  “… because there’s no chance in hell that you’re leaving this room without getting laid.”

  Justine’s eyes widened. She couldn’t think straight with the way he was rubbing her against him, his mouth and hands navigating her body with urgent demand. She was shocked by the things he was saying between each ragged breath … he wanted to kiss and touch and own every part of her, make her beg, make her come so hard she would think she’d been turned inside out. “And I wanted all that, damn you,” he muttered, “even before you slipped me a roofie.”

  “It wasn’t a roofie,” she protested. “I mixed up a discouragement potion to … to make you not want me.”

  He crushed his lips to her throat, the kiss strong and gnawing. “Does this feel discouraged to you?” he demanded, shoving her jeans down her hips, gripping her bottom with both hands.

  Her eyes half closed and her head tipped back as he brought her against the thick, enticing pressure of his erection. “No,” she managed to say weakly. “If you want, I could go look up an antidote.”

  “I already have one in mind.” He tugged her shirt over her head and reached for the back fastenings of her bra. She felt her jeans slip to the floor, and she stepped out of them clumsily. After her underwear was flung aside, Jason shed his own jeans, his gaze locked on her as if he half expected her to bolt and run. They were not going to talk first, turn down the lamp, close the window, lay their discarded clothes on a chair. There was a strong possibility that they weren’t even going to make it to the bed.

  He pulled her against him, front to front, kissing her endlessly, his mouth gentle and savage by turns. The heat of him was unbearable, the skin of his stomach and chest and groin blistering. Justine pulled her lips from his, panting. The air was sauna-hot, scorching the insides of her lungs. Jason reached to the table behind her, fumbling with the crushed ice. He cupped some of it against her breasts, drew an icy handful along her torso. Justine shivered and gasped in relief. The water trickled over her skin, raising gooseflesh. His mouth caught at a budded nipple, sucked the moisture from it. He reached behind her for more ice, spread it over his own chest and down the front of his body, and cupped some to his mouth.

  Burning and disoriented, Justine gripped the edge of the table behind her as Jason lowered to his haunches. She bent her head, her hair falling in streamers around her face. She felt his cold hands high on her thighs, thumbs stroking upward to where the skin was thin and excruciatingly sensitive. The blushing folds were parted, held open. She jerked with an incoherent sound as she felt the startling chill of his mouth, his tongue against her tender flesh, stroking cool circles around the swelling peak. She sobbed with every breath, struggling to keep quiet, but it was impossible. She covered her mouth with one hand to smother a low cry, and pushed frantically at his dark head.

  A slow, shameless lick across the delicate full ache … a hoarse murmur … and then he stood. He nudged her toward the bed, but her legs were too stiff to walk. Picking her up with astonishing ease, he carried her to the mattress and lowered her onto her back.

  Her thighs opened in a wanton sprawl, her arms half curled and defenseless above her head. She was on the edge of climax, red-faced and dazed. Reaching up for him, she drew him fully over her and pulled his head down. He kissed her, sending his tongue deep, and it felt so good that she moaned into his mouth. Widening her thighs with his knees, he entered her in a demanding thrust. Her knees drew up, her body buckling into the delicious masculine weight of him.

  A sheen of sweat gave his skin a metallic luster, light gilding the paths of veins on his arms and neck. His eyes had closed, his brows drawing together as if he were in pain. He drove inside her with a fast, vehement rhythm, not holding back, and she didn’t want him to. She pushed back at him, lifting and lifting, her flesh ratcheting tighter around the thickness of him until both of them groaned and shuddered in pleasure, shocks searing through every nerve. Jason shoved deep and held, and she could feel the heat of his release inside her.

  Eventually Jason rolled to his side, bringing her with him. His breathing had slowed, the movements of his chest steady and even. They were still locked together, the pulses and tremors of his flesh secreted deep inside her.

  She was going to regret this lat
er … but at the moment she couldn’t bring herself to care. She gasped as he withdrew from her. “Oh. You’re still…”

  “Yes.” His tone was dry. “I’ve never taken Viagra, but as far as I can tell, you’ve managed to whip up one hell of a substitute.”

  “I’m so sorry. I really, truly didn’t mean to do that to you.” At his silence, she asked tentatively, “Are you mad at me?”

  “Yes. But it’s hard to focus on that when I’m drowning in endorphins.”

  She smiled slightly and relaxed against him.

  Idly he let the backs of his fingers slide over the upper slope of her breast. “You’re still on birth control?”

  She nodded. “We broke your rule about condoms. I’m so s—”

  “You don’t have to keep apologizing.” He caught the tip of her breast with his knuckles and tugged softly.

  No one had ever held her for so long after sex, nor had she ever wanted anyone to. But Jason’s hands were gentle as he coaxed delight to uncurl softly inside her, blooms and blooms of it.

  “This is okay as long as I don’t fall in love with you,” she heard herself say.

  “But you will.”

  That was enough to jolt her out of the euphoria. Pushing up on her elbow, Justine frowned at him. “No I won’t. The only reason I’m in bed with you is because you’re suffering from one of those four-hour emergencies they’re always mentioning on TV.”

  “Caused by you,” he pointed out.

  “Yes, and I’m trying to help. But I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t try to make this into something romantic or meaningful.”

  His reply was gently arid. “What would you like me to do?”

  Justine thought for a moment. “Tell me the worst things about yourself. Make yourself so unappealing that there’s no way I could fall for you.”

  He gave her a dubious glance and pulled her from the bed.

  Justine followed him to the bathroom. “Tell me some of your bad habits,” she persisted. “Do you leave wet towels on the bed? Clip your fingernails in the living room?”

 
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