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Seconds later, Arohi squeezed out of the dark tunnel into an open room lit by firelight. Disoriented, she staggered a little and grabbed onto the back of a leather chair.
Shocked by the suddenness of the shift, she glanced at the flagstone floors and marble fireplace, and instantly recognized where she'd landed'in the private study at Balfour Manor.
"Glad you could join me tonight, Arohi."
She turned toward the voice and there he was'the culprit, not that she was really so surprised.
"Arjun. I should have known." She crossed her arms over her chest and frowned. "I can't believe I fell for that'a transport spell. What are you, six?"
"Six with a couple of zeros," he said while pouring brandy from a crystal decanter.
Still handsome, and just as infuriating as the last time she'd crossed paths with him, she decided. Only now he wasn't speaking to her from across a ceremonial circle. In fact, he looked like he'd just come in from a hard day at the office. His white shirt hung open over his black trousers, unbuttoned from top to tails, exposing tan skin peppered with dark hair, and rock hard abs that never failed to grab her attention.
He glanced at her as he took down a second snifter and poured. "You could at least pretend to be happy to see me, you know."
"Should I? The last time I saw you, you wanted me to give up my house and my career."
"I asked you no such thing. I asked you if there was anything you wanted to bring here from the house in New England'hardly a crime. It's only natural a wife moves in with her husband after the wedding. It's tradition."
"Maybe'if we were still living in the dark ages."
"Admit it." He put the stopper back in the bottle and looked at her with a flat expression. "That last argument had nothing to do with me. It was all about you and your cold feet."
Arohi bristled, heat blooming in her face. "Well, that's a high handed conclusion, Mr. Scottish Laird'. Mr. Coven Council Know-it-all!"
Perhaps some of what he said was true, but not all. Besides, no way was she about to let him guilt her into changing her mind, or in giving up her shop. And she certainly wasn't going to let that thick accent seduce her again, either. Not this time.
A lock of hair fell free of her chignon and landed against her cheek. Flustered, she reached up to brush it back from her face and her hand jerked short. She looked down, and her mouth gaped at what she found. For a moment, all she could do was stare in shock at the slender gold chain binding her wrist. Then her anger piqued, and outrage flared through her.
"What is this?" She glared at Arjun. "Take this off right now!"
"You know I can't do that, sweet. Gold spells are unbreakable, and that chain is made of genuine fairy flake. See for yourself."
She did see. Each individual link in the chain glittered as though it had been dusted in shimmering powder. Thinking back to the candle, the gold flakes in the wax should have set off warning bells. But it hadn't, and for that she could have kicked herself. She couldn't say that to him though, because it would only add confirmation to his cause. He'd tell her she'd grown too trusting, that she'd grown soft living among mortals. The old argument would begin again when the truth was she simply hadn't been looking for a trap'and why should she?
Gold flake. That rat! So she'd been caught by a spell that had to run its course'.
"Oh, I suppose you think you're really clever."
"If the shoe fits," he drawled. "Perhaps it will ease your mind to know the magic should only last an hour, give or take, then the chain will turn into dust again."
"Oh, well, there's good news," she blustered, putting a hand on her hip. "In the meantime, I suppose this is your idea of a hot date?"
"Not really," he said, and then scanned her from head to toe as though he could see right through her cotton bathrobe. "Well, I guess it could be."
She clutched at her lapels in self-defense. "I dare you to try it."
He sighed. "Arohi, my love, you should know by now I'm only teasing." He brought her one of the snifters he'd poured and held it out until she took it, then he raised his own in a quick toast. "To us."
He sipped his brandy and she frowned, watching him walk over to one of the leather sofas where he sat down heavily. He beckoned her by patting the seat beside him, but she stayed right where she was.
"Why exactly did you drag me here, Arjun?"
"What better time is there? It's the second anniversary of our marriage arrangement."
"Is it?" she choked. She tabulated the date in her head like a run down of store figures. "Are you sure?"
"I'm positive. I received the official blessings from the council two years ago to the day. That same night, I tried to contact you, but you were with friends in New York City, going to'"
"'a candle convention." She'd totally forgotten, but now that she thought about it, he was right. "And you just decided to bring me here so we could throw back a few cocktails and reminisce?"
"No need to be crass, sweet. I've tried calling you, but you never answer your phone."
True, she avoided the phone. She left her cell purposely on voicemail, and almost never checked her answering machine. What was the point? Half the time it was her mother calling to ruffle her feathers, to ask her why she hadn't settled down yet, and when she planned start popping out grandchildren, as if that were some spontaneous thing she could control by the wave of a hand.
Rubbing her forehead in a bid for patience, she started to sip her drink, but stopped short and looked into the snifter, dubious. "What's in this, anyway?"
"Cognac," he said, and gestured toward the cantinas in on the sidebar.
"Cognac and nothing else? No potions or draughts?"
His brows lifted. "I see your opinion of me hasn't changed."
"A politician with magical ability'what's not to trust?"
He let out a bark of laughter. "Touch."
She took a small sip of brandy, watching him carefully over the rim. Hearing him laugh curled her insides, made her skin break out in goose bumps. Already that electric attraction seemed to be working on her, that unexplained magnetism, damn him. Arjun had always been too smooth for his own good'and for her sanity.
After that maddening initial chase he'd put her through, and remembering how in awe she'd been of him those first few blazing-hot weeks after they'd met, she felt incredibly self conscious standing in his presence now.
"You're thinking hard," he said.
"I was thinking about when we first met."
A devilish smile curved his mouth, and Arohi shivered as a ribbon of desire pooled low in her stomach.
He lifted a hand, and with a flick of his fingers, a long gold leash feeding off the chain around her wrist appeared in his grasp. He gave it a little tug, just hard enough to lift her wrist away from her side.
She glared at him. "You said no spells!"
"No. I said there weren't any draughts in your drink." He made a face and tugged again at the gold leash. "Stop being so ornery and sit with me. It's bad enough that I've missed you."
She ignored the excited leap of her heart at those words, and walked across the room and sat beside him on the couch. He put his arm around her and hugged her shoulder.
"There, that wasn't so bad?"
Close to him like this, she could feel his body heat, smell his enticing masculine scent. "Your cologne'" Arohi gaped at him when she recognized it. How could she have forgotten? She leaned over and sniffed his neck to make sure she hadn't imagined it. "That vanilla-cherry currant smell'. It is you. No wonder that candle smelled so familiar."
He looked surprised. "I braided one of my hairs into the wick to ensure you ended up here, but I assure you, I didn't add any cologne."
She stared at him thoughtfully then sat back and laughed. "And you told me you'd quit smoking, you big liar. Your scent was in the candle: cherry-vanilla pipe tobacco, and brandy. You didn't have to add any cologne to the candle, your hair braided into the wick put your magical essence in there for you."
He raked a hand through his hair, a roguish grin spreading across his face. "You would deny a six hundred year old man his pipe?"
She gave a snort, and took another drink of her brandy. Beside her, Arjun spoke a short command that reverberated around the room, and suddenly the furniture shifted.
Arohi dug her fingers into the couch cushion to hold on, but it happened in an instant: the lounge tables vanished, the wing chairs moved. The couch they sat on revolved and sank to the floor, and when Arohi looked down, the black cushions had remolded into a thick, white Flokati rug in front of the massive fireplace.
"There. Much more comfortable, don't you think?" Before she could protest, he propped himself on his elbow and stretched out beside her. "So, tell me, how is work? You're still making candles at your little shop?"
She started to tell him, but stopped short, uncertain. "Seriously? You want to talk?"
"What did you think I was going to do? Chain you and fall on you like a rutting beast?"
"The idea crossed my mind, yes."
He set aside his drink. "Give me some credit, Arohi. I've never touched you when you didn't want me too."
It was true, and she lowered her eyes, heat scorching her face that she'd even suggested otherwise. When she did, he slipped the snifter from her fingers and set it back behind him, off the rug.
"However much you like living in the mortal realm," he said with a sigh, "you belong here at Balfour with me. Of course I have all the time in the world to wait for you, and don't get me wrong, love, your happiness is very important to me, but I'm growing impatient."
"Oh, is that all'."
He lifted her hand and laid a soft kiss against her knuckles. "It's not easy living alone, you know? Thinking about someone you can't touch every day. It's damn maddening."
"You could have come to Arborville at any time if you wished to see me."
"Yes, I could have." Sly eyes regarded her. "And if I'd paid you such a visit, would it have made you accept tradition? Would you have agreed at last to complete the Heart Spell?"
At the mention of those two words she felt a frisson of panic race over her skin.
"Did my mother put you up to this?"
"Good gods, no. Auntiji is the last person I'd call. Nothing against your mother, but she's too bent on grandchildren right now. She'd likely try to talk me into some hair-brained, romantic scheme. I much prefer the direct approach."
Her brows lifted. "Besides, it's not as if a transport spell hidden in a candle isn't hair-brained enough."
"Ah, but it worked, didn't it? Would you have come to me any other way if I'd asked?"
"Probably not," she admitted softly, and then upon thinking about it, shook her head and frowned, that faint restlessness nagging her again. "I don't know. Maybe I would have. The point is you could have asked."
"Very well, I will ask you now. Arohi, I love you and I want you near me. Will you please come to live with me in Balfour?"
Butterflies sprang to life in her stomach at the husky promise in his voice. Oh, dear. This is not good. Not good at all!
She hadn't truly expected him to ask, or that he'd sound so sexy doing it. He waved his hand and the fire dimmed, throwing orange shadows around the room. All around them, the sparkle of sensual energy crackled in the air. It feathered over the fine hairs on her body, like the caress of static against her skin.
Candles lit in the candelabras all around them, and Arjun gave her a soft, romantic lip locking kiss, that made her heart flip.
"It's time to fulfill the Heart Spell, Arohi," he murmured against her mouth. "I have already given you my heart, and I have waited for your response long enough." He pulled back and looked into her eyes. "I call on you to either accept tradition or deny me entirely."
Arohi licked her lips. She only had to speak the words and they would be bound together, heart to heart, soul to soul. Man and wife in this life, and in the next.
"Your answer, Arohi'."
Her gaze flicked to that tempting mouth hovering so close to her own, and she sighed. "You're a serious danger to my sanity."
His voice had taken on a husky timber, and she cursed him in her mind. It wasn't fair that she should find him so irresistible. But then, for the Heart Spell to work there had to be an underlying attraction, one strong enough to bind. Never mind the fact it had to be strong enough for the Coven Council to even recognize it.
After all, what good would the ritual do if there was no passion to hold the bond in place?
"Arohi, speak now or'"
"Oh, fine," she relented, ignoring her own excitement at the thought of joining with him. "You know I always intended to do it, and don't pretend you weren't already certain of it."
A devilish smile curved his lips, a split second before he leaned down to kiss her. She promptly stopped him with her finger.
"Just one more thing, Arjun. If we're to do this now, tonight, I would like a few concessions from you first."
Dark eyes glittering, he pulled her closer. "Name them."
"I will not give up my mortal carousing, as you like to call it, and I'm keeping my candle workshop'including the house in Arborville. If I live here with you, I'll need it to keep up appearances."
He responded by nipping lightly at her lower lip. "And?"
"And Scooter goes where I go."
"The cat? But of course."
He nibbled at her chin and moved lower to kiss her throat. Brows furrowed, she closed her eyes allowing the current of desire to swirl through her. The feel of his hot hands on her bare body beneath the bathrobe was nothing short of intoxicating.
"Anything else?" he asked against her skin.
"Yes, actually, I' Oh'." Her mind drew a total blank. Arjun had drawn her robe open, and now his fingers stroked over her breasts, her rib cage, and down the flat plain of her belly to her moist apex.
Gods, but he excited her to distraction.
He stroked her with his fingers while kissing the mouth, his tongue swirling around the peak before he withdrew and blew gently across her wet . She sighed, shivering as chills broke out across her skin.
"You know, I really can't think with you doing that," Arohi confessed.
"No?" he asked, and repeated the sensual process with her other breast. Arohi drew in a deep breath and arched in response, tangling her fingers in his hair.
"Since you're being so wickedly unfair right now," she groaned as his fingers flicked against her just the way she liked, "you'll just have to promise we negotiate the rest later."
Laughing low in his chest, Arjun teased a slow kiss from her then pulled back and stripped off his shirt. "Agreed."
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