Once in a Blue Moon
When testing an enemy for weaknesses, prepare for things to get hard.
Bryn Cavanaugh and her coven like that the community they live in is isolated thanks to a storm that destroyed the bridge between them and the outside world. Now the state wants the bridge rebuilt. When the construction crew checks into the inn, Bryn begins to suspect something about the crew’s boss isn’t quite…human.
Bridges are Ethan Thorne’s thing—after all, he’s a troll—so building a simple span over a remote canal in backwater Louisiana shouldn’t be this much of a problem. When he follows the pretty little innkeeper to a midnight rendezvous, he discovers why his crew keeps running in to trouble. Bryn and her coven are casting spells in the moonlight.
As a troll, Ethan feels the sting of his low place in demon hierarchy. But finding an unprotected coven of witches in the middle of the bayou could lead to all sorts of adventure. And it’s better to keep your enemies close…
Warning: Contains a handsome troll (Hey, it can happen!) who’s skilled at building sexual tension with his hands—and several other body parts, as well—and a witch who’s determined to protect her home, but forgets to shield her heart.
Note for Readers: You must be of legal age in your country of origin to read this excerpt.
Bryn Cavanaugh stirred the contents of a large black pot, breathing in the rich aromas scenting the air.
“With your blessings, come weal and bounty,
With our efforts, come fortunes plenty.”
The spell was short and to the point. She doubted the Powers That Be felt slighted. The Beaux Rêve women worked damn hard and never took their blessings for granted.
She dipped a spoon into the broth and tasted it, closing her eyes as she sampled the spicy mix. “Delicious.”
She turned off the flame beneath the large pot of shrimp gumbo she’d begun the night before. For now, it could steep in its fragrant roux. When she returned, she’d light the burner again to let it simmer slowly until it was ready for tonight when her sisters gathered for the evening meal. Satisfied, Bryn left her large, airy kitchen and headed toward the front door of the inn.
Cooking the large stew had been time-consuming. A task that had taken her mind off the trouble that was brewing. Today, the sisters faced enemies, and she was determined to remain calm, study their adversaries and determine their weaknesses while smothering the interlopers with kindness. Her totem was the rabbit, a symbol of abundance and comfort, and her element was the Earth. She would need to channel both to remain steadfast and calm.
She paused to rifle through the stones in the bowl beside the door. Some were polished and some raw crystals. She found her two favorites-a polished amethyst carved into a worry stone with a soft indentation for her finger to rub against when she grew agitated and a piece of raw witch’s amber. One for cleansing her spirit of stress and the other for deflecting negativity. These she’d also need this morning.
She put both in the pocket of her long flowing skirt and stepped off the porch, barefoot today, because she wanted nothing between herself and the Earth. Freshly cut grass tickled her insoles. She smiled, her first in days since news had arrived that outsiders were descending on them.
Looking to her right, she caught sight of Father Guidry watering his small garden beside his tiny clapboard church. She gave him a wave, her silver and beaded bracelets jangling on her arms, but didn’t stop to discuss his plantings. No doubt he’d say this year’s success was due to prayer. Oh, and he’d be right.
She didn’t have the heart to tell him she’d snuck into his garden every night for weeks to pray to the Goddess for her favor. The elderly priest was a kind man, and he tolerated the sisters of the Beaux Rêve coven while continuing to hold out hope they’d see the error of their strange ways.
Tolerance was a blessing, and something the folks of Bonne Nuit, Louisiana, gave in abundance. Sure, they’d been suspicious of the women when they’d first arrived in their tiny hamlet. But the prosperity the women had brought-the jobs and self-sufficiency-had earned them, if not acceptance then at least a place in this isolated community. However, the isolation, something the coven considered their greatest blessing, was now threatened. Progress had arrived.
She stayed in the grass beside the sidewalk, skirting Main Street and walking toward the river where her sisters were gathered. But as she neared the canal, she found they’d been joined by gawkers. Nearly all of Bonne Nuit was there.
Radha and Darcy stood glaring at the gathering on the opposite bank while Aoife and Miren stared at the clouds above them.
“You’re blind,” Miren said. “It’s a scimitar. A reminder we aren’t without weapons for this battle.”
Aoife shook her head, a frown bisecting her pale brows. “It’s the Reaper’s scythe. We’re doomed.”
Bryn rolled her eyes. She didn’t need to read portents in clouds. All she had to do was look straight across the divide at the big machinery and the crew of strangers there to operate the earthmovers, crane and dump trucks to know they were in real trouble.
“I take it the injunction was lifted?” she asked the group.
Radha nodded. “Last night. I’m sure they paid a judge to do it in the dark of night. Demons do their best work in the dark.”
Bryn took her gloomy response with a grain of salt. The witches were ever vigilant of demons, but the more likely culprit was simply the state’s schedule for recovery from the last hurricane. The bridge that had connected Bonne Nuit to the rest of the world had been swept away three years ago. Something the town had taken in stride since it was a cyclical occurrence. This part of Jefferson Parish was prone to flooding. And Gus Hearn, a local with a Duck Dynasty beard and an old ferry boat, provided transport across the water when needed.
Gus’s boat was already docked on the opposite bank, and he was loading two vehicles, a green construction-company pickup and a delivery truck bringing supplies to Darcy’s crafters’ cottage.
“We can’t take this lying down,” Darcy said, shaking back her long red hair. “Tonight’s a blue moon.”
Bryn stiffened. “The last time we asked for intervention didn’t turn out so well. Remember, we asked for rain for our summer planting? We got a deluge that nearly wiped out the entire crop. Perhaps we should let things be. They’ll build their bridge, and the Goddess will send another storm.”
Darcy’s frown was fierce. “But strangers will walk amongst us. What if we’re found?”
“So far we’ve been lucky. Blessed,” she said, her tone even and filled with conviction. “But we knew this day would come. We’re stronger now. If demons find us, we’ll simply show them we’ve grown a backbone, and that we don’t need their counsel or their manly protection.”
Darcy shrugged, but her green eyes still flashed with fire. “I don’t think we’ll bring bad luck if we ask for intervention and cast a banishing spell. I vote we meet tonight.”
The others glanced around their circle and slowly raised their hands. Four to one.
Bryn sighed. They had no leader, no high priestess, so majority ruled-a policy they’d adopted the moment they’d fled upper Michigan.
Tonight, they’d meet under the blue moon.
And while she’d scoffed at Miren’s and Aoife’s attempts at aeromancy, she felt a little guilty withholding her own confusing portent that had invaded her dreams the night before. The cloud above them wasn’t shaped like a scimitar or a scythe. If her dream was right, it was a penis. The dream filtered through her mind again…
Moonlight gleamed through curtains. Large, callused hands stroked over her back and buttocks as the man in her bed waited while she sank slowly on his cock.
She’d felt the pressure inside her, smelled his earthy musk. But while moonlight illuminated his brawny frame, his face had remained in shadow.
She’d interpreted the sex as meaning that her privacy was about to be invaded. That she’d be tempted to set aside her vow to remain celibate and autonomous while she constructed a self-sufficient life.
But the intimacy of the dream could also mean she’d been alone long enough. The company of her sisters couldn’t fulfill her innate need as one connected to the circle of life, to Gaia the mother-the need to bear children. Children would ensure their future as a coven.
Perhaps the fact she’d been unable to see his face meant that any man might serve her need. When they’d fled their previous life, they’d foresworn true love because a witch could only know love once in her lifetime. A human male could provide his seed, but only a demon could hold her heart. The danger of mating with a demon, of becoming enslaved to his desires, was too dangerous to her freedom.
Reaching into her pocket to rub the amethyst, she concentrated on her blessings-on her sisters and this quiet place, on all the bounty they had brought to the community with their works. Her finger warmed the stone, and it began to vibrate, sending warmth up her arm and through her shoulder before spreading down into chest.
Calm again, she squared her shoulders and stared across the water at the ferry bringing the first wave of strangers. Perhaps she’d been too quick to paint their arrival as something black and ominous. She’d wait and see. And tonight, when her small coven drew down the moon, she’d offer a small prayer to the Goddess for a sign.
Ethan Thorne leaned his elbows on the rail as the rickety ferry boat made its way across a canal deep in a sleepy bayou. A place nearly out of time. Unchanged except for the slow drone of the boat’s engine. Trees draped in moss. Murky water. The sounds of insects buzzing and chirping and bird calls were an unending cacophony of sound.
They were headed across the expanse where he would build a bridge to the dock on the far side. A dock that wasn’t a dock. It was simply a road that had sunk into the swamp, the tarmac brittle and broken. The little community on the other side was in sore need of a bridge, so why had they protested for so long?
As the boat drew nearer, he noted a couple dozen people gathered on the sunken road. Most were dark-haired with dark complexions and appeared to be related by the similarities of their features. However, one group of five women standing in a half-circle to the side seemed out of place.
For one thing, their features weren’t large-nosed and their skin was pale. And each of the women was stunningly beautiful. How had a small backwoods place like Bonne Nuit produced so many delicately boned, beautiful women? Two were brunette, one was blonde and one red-haired. The one that drew his eye had hair the color of midnight with a slight bluish sheen.
And they dressed differently from the rest. Not a one wore a tee or tank or well-worn jeans and boots. These women wore long skirts, sandals or bare feet, rows and rows of stones around their wrists and long necklaces with pendants resting between their breasts.
At second glance, their skin wasn’t merely pale, it was luminous.
Realization of what they were hit him with the impact of a blow to his solar plexus. Witches. His gaze scanned the far bank. Where were their guardians?
He straightened and purposely dragged his gaze from them. He didn’t need to incite a war with whatever group of demons lurked out of sight.
“You see them?” Renner murmured, coming up beside him and smiling, his expression at odds with the intensity of his unearthly sea-blue gaze. In direct sunlight, his irises reflected the light, glinting like sunlight on a calm blue pond.
“I count five,” Ethan said. “And no sign of Others.”
“Perhaps they haven’t been claimed.”
“How is that even possible?”
“The isolation? The fact they’re banded together?” Renner raised a brow. “How interesting.” He pulled a pair of sunglasses from his pocket and slid them on. “No need to announce our presence just yet.”
It being daylight, Ethan had no worries his eyes would give him away. “Guess that means I’m staying in the town.”
“Until we find out what’s happening here, yes. Brother, we may have struck the mother lode.” He flashed a grin and turned toward the bank.
Ethan crossed his arms over his chest, instinctively barring his heart to suppress the urge to pounce the moment the ramp dropped to the tarmac. Witches explained a lot. The string of bad luck that had plagued the company the moment the contract for the construction project had been awarded, although seized engines and workers’ accidents were behind them now. Witches also explained how this project had been placed so far down the list that the state’s budget had nearly excluded this last bridge.
Which might confirm his suspicion these witches were truly alone. If they’d been mated, there’d be no need to continue their isolation. Bound, they were protected. For a troll, a lesser demon on anyone’s hierarchy, the thought of five witches, the most exalted feminine prizes in the demon kingdom, the opportunity was too ripe with possibility to ignore.
He’d worked hard to gain respect, suppressing his true nature to ascend. Now, he ran his own crew and owned a piece of Vindlér Construction. The irony that he built bridges rather than lived beneath one wasn’t lost on him, and when Others made snide remarks, he let their jibes go rather than pound them with his stony fists. He’d learned self-control. Had educated himself. And now, the last mountain he had to climb might be within his reach-a witch of his own to increase his power and his influence. Although the stunner with the black hair appealed most, he didn’t really care which he ensnared. Any one of them would suit his ambitions.
“They won’t fuck like sirens,” Renner said softly.
He wrinkled his nose in disgust at the thought of bedding another siren whore. “Sirens squeal.”
Renner laughed. “Maybe for you. They sing like angels for me.”
Ethan grunted. Once the ramp was secured, the ferryboat captain gave them a wave. He and Renner strode to the pickup and climbed in. He drove off the ramp and through the small throng, like the parting of the Red Sea. But he wasn’t going far. They had to wait for the men who’d be staying in Bonne Nuit to make their way across. He parked on a small makeshift gravel lot, likely where cars waited for the ferry, and switched off the engine.
“Maybe you should leave the talking to me,” Renner said with one brow raised.
“All I’m looking for is a place for my crew to stay.” Not a hookup. Not yet. No finesse required.
He climbed down and approached the nearest local, a young man with a scruffy almost-beard. “Does anyone rent out rooms? I need beds for a dozen men.”
The young man’s gaze darted to the women.
Ethan’s followed. The black-haired witch gave a slow nod to the young man.
“You’ll have to ask, Bryn,” he said, scratching his beard. “She runs the Beaux Rêve Inn. Though I don’t think she has that many rooms to rent. Might also try ole Winnie,” he said, pointing to a large gray-haired woman. “She keeps a passel of grandkids in the summer. But she’s got rooms now. For a price.”
Renner stepped out in the direction of the witches, but Ethan elbowed his side. “Go make arrangements with Winnie for the crew.”
Renner flashed a smile. “Make sure your witch has a bed for me.”
“Thought you weren’t staying. You have a jobsite in Thibodaux to visit.”
“Thibodaux’s just over an hour away.”
Ethan narrowed his gaze. “As the crow flies.”
“I’ll commute. Get me a room.”
As his friend walked away, Ethan drew a deep breath to steady his heart. His sudden surliness toward Renner was generated by the intensity of his reaction toward the witches. There were five. He could share. He drew another calming breath. Didn’t help his hands were beginning to sweat. He wiped them on the sides of his pants. Then, catching the dark-haired witch’s eye, he strode straight for her, holding out a hand. “I’m Ethan Thorne, ma’am.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Ethan.”
Her voice was deeper was than he’d expected, with a slightly hoarse inflection. Sexy as hell. Also, her hand was warm; heat pressed his palm and traveled up his arm. His gaze locked with the woman’s. Her eyes were a dark gray-blue and fringed by thick, curling black lashes. She wasn’t wearing a speck of makeup, not even lipstick, but her skin was like porcelain, her lips a deep cherry red. Since he’d spotted her, he experienced his first doubts. She was too delicate for someone like him. Too refined.
Heat swept through him again, and he couldn’t believe it. She thought he was human and was luring him in with her witch’s heat. An invitation he wasn’t about to refuse.
Since she already thought he was human, he’d play the part. “Ma’am, anyone ever tell you have the prettiest eyes?”
There was humor in those pretty storm-cloud eyes-not shared. She was secretly laughing at him.
Two could play this game. He cleared his throat and let go of her hand, and then he tucked his thumbs into the front pockets of his cargo pants, his fingers framing his sex.
Something a quick, darting glance didn’t miss. Rosy color seeped into her cheeks.
“I understand you have rooms to rent.”
The redhead beside her grinned and jostled her shoulder, but the dark-haired beauty never looked her way. “I do. Are you interested in staying with me?”
At her choice of words, he smiled. “I’ll need a couple of rooms. One for me and one for my partner, Renner. We’ll be here for a few weeks. I can pay in advance, if you like.”
“That won’t be necessary.” She glanced back at the other women who stood watching them so closely he wondered if they had the ability to communicate without speaking. He’d heard some witches could do that.
One shrugged. Another gave her a pointed look and a frown. Another a wide grin.
He held his breath as he waited for the dark-haired woman’s answer, his dick getting harder by the minute, arousal she hadn’t drawn with her witchy heat. His erection had stirred simply because of the hint of flowers in her scent, her direct stare and plump red mouth.
If she was unencumbered, she’d be his. And soon. It was a damn shame he couldn’t use the power of that night’s blue moon to stake his claim. Didn’t matter though. Trolls had their own brand of magic and a penchant for capturing unsuspecting prey. Somehow, he’d have to keep her from discovering what he was long enough to seduce her.
“If you’ll follow me,” she said, indicating with a finger toward the street.
“Why not ride with me?” he asked, tilting his head toward his truck.
She drew a deep breath and then laughed. The tinkling sound made his belly tight. Holy fuck, her every gesture and sound made him hard. He curled his fingers against his pants.
Drawing a fortifying breath, he swept a hand toward his truck and then followed her as she strolled toward it, her hips swaying in a natural, easy wag of her ass that had his gaze following it like the sway of a mesmerer’s pendulum.
The job in this backwater bayou suddenly seemed more exotic. More portentous. Not that trolls trusted omens. As he helped her up into the cab, he couldn’t resist skimming his hand over a slender arm. Static crackled.
Her eyes blinked and a frown produced a tiny line between her dark brows. He ignored it, hoping she hadn’t noticed or that she put it down to some cause other than the fact trolls gave off a natural charge. She’d get used to it. Hell, she’d crave it. He’d make sure of it.