“I need a break,” Daria cried, palms spread against the ground as she tried to sit. “You need to take it easy on me. I’m not going to be as good as you in just a few days.”
Sweat beaded along Daria’s dark brows as she glared at Candy, who bit her lip in contrition. Maybe she had been too hard on Daria. Though Daria was the auspicious one, she was still human and they’d been training for the last hour.
Candy extended her hand to help Daria up as a servant appeared with a tray of refreshments. They each grabbed a glass of lemonade. Daria plopped to the floor, leaning back against the lower siding of the fountain. Candy sat at the fountain’s edge.
The sound of falling water mixed with the chirping birds among the gentling heaves of Daria breath. Nature’s melody lulled Candy as the sway of the neighboring tree’s branches blocked the heat from the afternoon sun. The atrium lay at the center of her father’s villa and had become a hub of family activity since Jason had been welcomed back into the family fold with Daria, his new love.
She hadn’t meant to train Daria so hard. She just had a lot on her mind with the party tonight. A party that she didn’t want to go to. A party that she was still trying to get out of. Would it really be so bad if she didn’t attend the succession announcement for the House of Witches? Her brothers would already be there. No one ever said everyone from the ruling House had to go. Surely, no one would miss her.
“Want to tell me what’s going on?” Daria asked after swallowing a gulp.
Candy swirled the sweet-sour liquid around her tongue, putting off answering the questions and imminent discussion. Candy had to plan her words carefully.
Daria was the auspicious one and had begun to develop the uncanny power of sensing motivation and possibly could predict the future. And her powers were growing by the day. It was worse than the mind-reading powers of her father and everyone on that side of the family.
“Your powers have grown?” Candy asked tentatively.
Daria rolled her eyes. “I don’t need to have powers to know you have something on your mind.”
That was even worse. Was it really that obvious? She had always prided herself on her ability to hide her feelings, keeping her face impassive, emotionless. Yet somewhere along the way, her carefully schooled features had failed her.
“Is this about Miller?” Daria twisted around and looked up at Candy.
Candy stopped the sigh from rising to her chest. Miller. The bane of her long, immortal existence. Strange, that he had only been alive for thirty-five years. He was on her mind a little too much lately. Had been on her mind since she had learned Miller stayed by her beside while she lay unconscious.
After barely escaping with her life from a mysterious shadowed demon, Candy had managed to warn Jason of the attack before the injuries rendered her unconscious. When she awoke a day later, healed through Jason’s powers, Miller had sat on the bed gazing down at her.
If she hadn’t known better, she would have thought she was still stuck in a dream. His hand held hers while worry marred his brow. That’s why it had to be a dream. Miller never voluntarily got near her. And it was because she knew he hated being near, that she chose to sidle up whenever the opportunity presented itself. She enjoyed torturing him.
As soon as he had realized she was awake, he had dropped her hand like poison and stood. He had asked how she felt. And in her weakened and likely delirious state, she had actual thought she saw tears in his eyes and heard a sob choke his voice.
It was all in her mind, of course. Miller would never be upset over her. He’d only be upset with her. The only face she ever saw was one of aggravation and anger. That’s why he always tried to shove her as far away from him as possible. He wanted nothing to do with her. And the more he did that, the more he wanted to tease him. Mercilessly.
“Or maybe one of you can finally tell me why it is that neither of you can stop looking at the other.”
“That’s not true,” Candy denied, bristling at the accusation. It was preposterous, really. She didn’t look at Miller. Not that much, at least. She just enjoyed making his life hard. She looked at him the way a hawk flew over a rabbit.
Daria began to protest and then stopped as footsteps approached. They stood and saw Candy’s brothers enter. Jason and Alastor were as different in coloring as their personality. Where Jason was considered warm, Alastor was a bully. Where Jason was dark, Alastor was fair. But the two seemed to have developed a comfortable peace after Alastor had tried to fulfill Jason’s potential as one of the most powerful fallen angels ever to grace the realm.
“How’s training?” Jason asked.
“Candy is killing me,” Daria joked. “What are you two doing here?”
Jason swung his arm around Daria’s shoulder as Alastor explained, “We’re heading to Miller’s house early to check on security.”
Candy pursed her lips at the implication. With news of the uprising in Hell still unknown, the number of demons roaming the mortal plane had increased. It was becoming a full-time job just to maintain mankind’s ignorance of the supernatural. And there was risk that uninvited guests would show up to Miller’s succession party. Even Daria and Jason had postponed their wedding until the situation in Hell got under control.
“We’ll see you girls tonight,” Jason said. With a quick wave, the two brothers stepped into the shadows and disappeared.
That was her cue to leave. But before she could rise from her seat, Daria grabbed her arm.
“Not so fast. You haven’t answered my question yet. What’s wrong?”
There were so many things awry lately. She didn’t know where to begin. She should be worried about the trouble in the supernatural realm, but instead, she was too caught up thinking about herself.
“I don’t really want to go to the party,” Candy whispered.
She felt Daria stiffen beside her. “Why?”
“I don’t like parties.”
At least that much was true. Candy never thought of herself as a people person. She much preferred being a recluse. A hermit in her father’s villa. She’d conduct patrols, kill renegade creatures in the supernatural realm, and she hadn’t even minded protecting Daria along with everyone else. But Candy drew the line at large gatherings. She hated clubs, bars, and parties. Anywhere where she had to be with a lot of people in close proximity was an automatic no.
With furrowed brows, Daria stared at her as though she had grown another head. “Why?” she repeated with a hint of annoyed wonder. “You certainly aren’t going to tell me you have nothing to wear, right? Or that you’re worried you won’t be the most gorgeous woman there?”
“Now you’re mocking me,” Candy chided in her usual soft purr.
Daria grabbed her shoulders so they faced each other. “You are without a doubt, one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. You have long legs that I would die for and you have perfect features.” Then under her breath, she added, “Like the whole damn family.”
Candy smiled. As members of their House and children of Lucifer, it was well known across the realm that they were all blessed with decent physical appearances. But she had never heard it from a human until today.
“And your hair usually only comes in a bottle after hours at the salon. What’s wrong with you? People like you should love parties that give you the chance to show off!”
But Candy didn’t. She just wanted to be alone. “But I have no reason to show off.”
“For Miller!” Daria practically screamed, hands raised in exasperation.
Candy blinked, surprised at Daria’s outburst. The latter groaned and took another drink from her glass.
“Maybe I shouldn’t go because of Miller.”
Face scrunched in confusion, Daria cried, “What are you talking about?”
“You know Miller hates me. He probably prefers if I didn’t go.”
Yet even as Candy said it, she remembered Miller asking her if she would be attending.
“And why would you think that?” Daria asked as though choosing her words carefully.
“He’s always pushing me away.”
Daria blinked once. Twice. Her jaw dropped and then clamped shut. “Um, I think that’s because he’s embarrassed.”
Candy shrugged and stood. Far be it from her to ask what was going on in that witch’s mind. It didn’t matter.
Still carrying that bemused look but now with a liberal sprinkle of exasperation, Daria barked, “Are you a sadist?”
Candy looked down at her thigh high boots, black leather mini, and black vest. She threw Daria a wry smile. “I think I’m missing a whip and handcuffs.”
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