As she passed the center of town, her gaze turned from the darkened shop windows to the generous park that sat in the center of Main Street. It split the street with a bright swathe of green, and she’d always loved that happy spot of earth and water with its fountain and beautiful plantings of trees and flowers. Benches were scattered here and there to allow visitors to enjoy it all. She wondered if the Ellinghams had built it knowing how happy it would make certain types of supernaturals who needed to be near such things.
She was one of those. She stopped and listened. The gentle trill of the water sang along with the other melodious sounds of the evening, the chirp of insects, the distant hoot of an owl and somewhere farther off, music from one of the town’s bars that must have its front door open. A breeze picked up, and a shower of white petals from the blooming sourwood trees floated through the air like summer snow.
Their sweet scent called to her. She closed her eyes and inhaled. That was where she needed to be. Among the trees.
She opened her eyes and jogged across the street, slowing as soon as her feet touched the path that wound through the park. She followed it until it led her to the centerpiece, the fountain. The sound of the bubbling water soothed her even more. She sat on the edge of the pool, leaning against the massive gargoyle perched front and center.
During the daytime, the gargoyles were real. Of course, the tourists didn’t know that, but she wasn’t a tourist. She pulled her feet up on the pool’s ledge and wrapped her arms around her knees. She tipped her head back to look at the stars and bumped her head on the gargoyle’s massive shoulder.
The jut of his wing blocked part of her view. She twisted to get a better look at him. This wasn’t the same gargoyle that was usually here. This one was a lot bigger. And not the friendliest looking. The town council must have decided to replace the old one with something more convincing.
Job well done. Still, there was something captivating about him.
She stroked her fingers down the statue’s forearm. The stone was warm beneath her touch and spilled a deep sense of calm into her. She pressed her hand flat to his arm and opened herself to the stone a little more, feeling the purpose and power within. Amazing that even the stone this beast had been carved from understood that a gargoyle’s purpose, even one that was only a statue, was protection. She smiled and went back to leaning, her gaze on the rippling water. Coins caught the moonlight and street lamps, sending sparkles up from the bottom of the tiled fountain.
What wishes had been made with those coins? How many of them came true? Nocturne Falls was a place of infinite magic. A place where it seemed like anything was possible.
Maybe she should make a wish, too. She dug in her pocket. No coins. The best she could do was a shard of opal and a chipped pearl. The opal was a piece of a larger stone that had shattered as she’d been setting it. She’d since recut the biggest piece, and while this one could still be made into something, it seemed fitting to use it to make her wish. The chipped pearl wasn’t much of a sacrifice, but the opal still had value.
After all, her work required something valuable be sacrificed. Why not do the same to help her wish come true?
She turned and kneeled on the edge, looping one arm around the gargoyle for balance, then thought about exactly what she might say.
Nick stayed as still as the stone his gargoyle form was carved from. He didn’t want to give the woman currently touching him any idea that he was a real gargoyle and not just a statue. Fortunately, in his stone form, that’s all she’d get—stone. Fae powers or not. But if she figured out what he was, there was no telling what she might do. He bristled at the casual way she draped her arm over him.
Like she wasn’t a threat to him. Like she wasn’t a lapidus fae.
He knew who she was the way he’d known in country when a situation was about to get sketchy; it sang in his bones like a sixth sense. And whether she thought he was real or not, her touch had power over him. Lapidus fae had that effect on all gargoyles, which was why his kind steered clear of them.
Once upon a time, lapidus fae had enslaved his kind and used them as beasts of war, riding them into battle like medieval destriers. Those of his kind who could fly had taken archers aloft. And those of the leviathan class who were also winged had taken small cannons into the skies.
All in the name of claiming more land and expanding kingdoms. Fae kingdoms. The gargoyles had never been a race to lay claim to a homeland, and so the fae had put them to use forcibly. Granted, that was centuries ago, and the exact details had been lost, but some wounds stayed sore even after they healed. He knew enough to know she had the potential to be dangerous.
And while he was pretty certain this lapidus fae meant him no harm, the effect of her touch unsettled him to his core. And not just because of the power he could feel flowing off her. The casual drape of her arm around him was far more intimate than anything he’d experienced in a long time.
The last woman who’d touched him on purpose had been the field medic who removed the metal shrapnel from above his eye and stitched the wound closed, leaving him with the small white scar that was his only physical mark from his time as a Ranger. Unless you counted his tattoo.
The fae shifted, but only to lean on him. She moved a little more and spoke softly.
“I wish…that Martin Burnside would leave me alone. I wish no harm to come to him, just that he would forget me and let me live in peace. I wish to be…safe.”
Nick had studied her as she’d approached, wondering what a beautiful woman was doing out for a walk so late at night. Now he knew. She’d come to make a wish.