21

[A]

Diana's brown eyes were shining brightly, and she looked well-rested. "I'm so glad you're here," she said.

I felt the stirring of unease roiling in my gut. The other day she'd barely given me the time of day, and now we were all happy happy joy joy again? "Just wanted to make sure you both were OK," I said, coating my lie with a smile. I'd only cared about seeing Cassie, knowing Diana was fine even before I'd seen her in the flesh.

Diana indicated Cassie deep in the rose garden, furiously pruning and pointedly ignoring us. "As you can see, we're all in one piece."

I'd always known they'd come through this OK, especially with Cassie in the mix. She was the strongest person I knew, and Diana wasn't far behind. Even drained of their dark magic, they were beyond formidable. "So how does it feel to be a mere mortal?" I said.

Diana's smile slipped slightly. "Weird."

"Maybe it will come back," I said idly, watching Cassie from my peripheral vision and knowing she was upset from the rigid set of her shoulders.

She shrugged. "And if it doesn't?"

I sighed. "Then you move on."

Her smile returned. "I can do that, can you?"

With a toss of her head, she indicated Cassie before letting her dark gaze return to my face. I knew what she was asking, and once long ago I'd thought that we might still have a chance. "I already have." My answer was deliberately cryptic, but it seemed to give her hope.

"I was hoping you'd say that."

I folded my arms across my chest. "Why?"

No dancing around on this topic. "Because once long ago, you said it wasn't our time. But maybe now is."

My throat tightened with emotion, and before I could compose myself, Diana leaned in and started kissing me. And Goddess help me, for a moment I gave in and kissed her back. It felt like coming home, something I hadn't felt in a long time. But then I remembered where I was, and I pulled away. "I'm sorry, Diana, but it can never be."

Tears glittered in her eyes. "You're in denial, Adam. Say whatever you want, but I know you felt it too."

She turned away from me, and the sliding door slammed back into place. I whirled around to view the garden, but Cassie was nowhere in sight. I walked out toward the potting shed, where I saw a trail of rose petals, cut into tiny pieces. The pruning shears were stabbed into the ground, before the flower trail went cold.


[C]

I watched them with cold eyes, barely aware I was destroying Grandma's prize roses. My teeth ground into my gums, and I ignored the pain as a trickle of blood got past my lips. As I tasted my essence, I suddenly felt power welling within me, and my magic came roaring back.

It felt so good, and part of me wanted to destroy them. Even as my fingernails dug into my palms, I swore under my breath and turned my back on them. I traced a circle in the grass before shoving my shears into the ground, and heading out my back gate.

The only way to calm down was to walk it off. So that's what I did, barely noticing where I walked and when I ended up on Sunset Marina, I swore again. This was the last place I wanted to be, and I had promises to keep before I left.

That little boy wanted a pie, and dammit, I would give him the best strawberry pie he'd ever tasted. Berries would be gathered, crust would be rolled and shaped, and forks would be ready for that first bite.

I went home the long way, and Bailey was waiting with an expectant smile. "Is it time?" he asked hopefully.

"Of course. Let's go picking."


[A]

Sam and I tried to find Cassie, but she was nowhere to be found. I had to get back to work, and I fretted all day, waiting in vain for Sam's call. Around lunch, I thought I spotted her on the far end of the pier, but when I got there, the bright sun practically blistered my eyelids. I stood for a moment and sent out some magical feelers, and I got a faint impression.

She had been here, which meant there was still hope.

I jabbed in Sam's number. "Sam, she was here."

Sam sighed. "And now she's gone."

"Gone?" I echoed, feeling my throat tighten up with emotion as I stumbled to a bar stool. "She can't be, there's so much I have to say."

There was a heaviness in Sam's voice that cut me to the marrow. "She left you a note."

A fucking note? Was she kidding?

"Did she say why?" But even as I said it, I knew why. She'd been there when Diana laid one on me, and assumed I'd made my choice.

"We both know why, Adam."

I tossed down my wet dish towel and hopped in my truck. Even with the longest red light in town, I made it to Cassie's in record time. Sam was on the front steps with Bailey eating strawberry pie. He has berry juice smeared around his lips like clown makeup and he handed me a plate. "Made it myself."

I took a tiny bite and we all agreed it was delicious. Soon enough, Faye called Bailey to come home for lunch and Sam and I sat there silently in the unexpectedly hot sun. She handed me the note, which I opened with trembling fingers.

It was always you, Adam. From the moment I first laid eyes on you, I believed you were meant for me. But fate hasn't been kind to us, and I can see that once again she is laughing at us.

Or maybe Diana is having the last laugh. Because she came back for you. She didn't give a damn about helping Bailey or the Circle. Her husband dumped her, and she wanted a father for her girls.

We both want you, but only one person gets to win.

She'd signed a single C with berry juice, and I suddenly noticed the paper was stained with her tears.

"How do I make this right?"

Sam threw me a disbelieving look before handing me a torn off piece of notebook paper. "Follow the moon."

She got up and went inside as I scrutinized the address she'd written down. All these years, and I'd never known where Cassie lived. And maybe she never wanted to see me again, but I had to give it a chance.