Sweet, sweet Willa,
She grunted out a noise of irritation. This guy was too much.
I know now that the woman I need in my life is you. I know this is sudden, but I feel it in my heart. It’s meant to be. I think about you constantly. Please, let’s meet and talk about the possibilities. I know I can make you happy.
Willa stared at the email, her mouth open. “Are you kidding me?” When she’d asked fate to hurry up, this was not what she’d had in mind.
“What?” Ramona, one of her two employees, looked up from where she was straightening chains in a display case.
“Nothing,” Willa answered. But a shivery feeling passed through her. This was nuts. And borderline creepy. She had to nip this in the bud, pronto. She sent a quick email back.
I appreciate your interest, but I’m already seeing someone. The ring I designed for you will do its job if you just give it time.
All the best,
She hit send. Sure, it was a lie, but the man lived in Arkansas. Wasn’t like he could check up on her and see if she really was dating someone. Whatever. Her reply should be the end of it.
His response came less than an hour later.
You have to understand, I am the man for you, just like you are the woman for me. Whoever you’re seeing, he isn’t the guy you’re meant to be with. I am. I know this in my heart. Please meet me. Please. I know that if I could just talk to you in person, you’d see things the same way.
“Okay, this is too much.” Fed up, she sent him a reply. A last reply.
I am not interested in meeting you. Please respect my decision and consider this the end of the matter. I do.
If that didn’t put an end to things, she wasn’t sure what her next step would be, but she’d figure that out when and if it became necessary. She went back to the pearls, putting the finishing touches on them a half hour later. Leaving Ramona to watch the front, Willa went into her office workshop to call Elenora and let her know the job was done. Jasper, who always came to work with her, was sprawled on her desk on top of the book she used to log in jobs. His head was upside down and his paws were in the air.
“Um, I hate to interrupt your very important nap, seeing as how you only had eighteen hours of sleep yesterday, but I’m trying to make a living here.”
He didn’t budge.
She wiggled her log book out from under him. He rolled to one side, stretched his back legs until his toes spread, then blinked sleepily up at her. “Yes, I know I disturbed you. I’ll make it up to you later with catnip.”
She called Elenora and left a message about the pearls being ready with Alice, her assistant. After Willa hung up, she checked her email, unable to help herself.
Nothing but a notice from one of her suppliers about a new selection of rubies that had come in. She smiled. Maybe that was the end of Mr. Burnside after all. Poor guy. It was kind of flattering that he’d somehow thought she’d be interested, but really, the man had been married for thirty-five years. He was clearly too old for her.
And a troll, which wasn’t the worst match up Willa could think of, but trolls and fae were very different species. Yes, they had the whole children of the earth thing going on, but trolls were a rough lot, given to fighting and feats of strength and the kind of boisterous behavior best suited for monster truck rallies and Renaissance fairs.
She squinted at the computer. For a troll, Mr. Burnside’s emails had seemed…very untroll-like. Probably him trying to sound sophisticated enough to impress a fae woman.
Nice try, still a fail.
The fae were a gentler kind of people who focused more on beauty and intelligence rather than brute strength and who could throw a tree the farthest. And while they might occasionally show up at a Ren fest, they were more likely to be part of a crafters guild than involved in the mud-wrestling show.
She knew that much firsthand because she’d made her way for several years working the Ren fest circuit before she’d landed the gig with the cruise ship. She’d loved it, really. Moving from town to town, following the festivals through the country. She’d never been one to stay in the same place for too long. It was the best way she knew to avoid trouble.
She stared at the computer screen, a thought flashing through her head. If Mr. Burnside showed up, like actually showed up, here, in town, she might have to move.
No, she couldn’t do that. Not again. She was an adult now. Plus, she’d never find another town as great as Nocturne Falls, or another opportunity this good. Leaving would mean giving up her shop, her friends, the life she’d finally built for herself.
She shook her head, laughing at her own silliness. She wasn’t about to let a troll run her off.
But the thought remained in the back of her head. Taking off was so easy. She’d done it plenty of times. Doing it again would be no big deal.
So long as she didn’t mind leaving everything behind.
Nine twenty-nine rolled around, and Nick was already on the corner of Eerie and Main, the street bustling with tourists out for an evening stroll. Julian had yet to show up, so Nick leaned against one of the street lamps and waited.
Why Julian had wanted to meet here, Nick wasn’t sure. The fountain was two blocks away.
A few of the women going by shot subtle and some not so subtle looks of appreciation at him. He got it. He was in good shape, sported a few tattoos, and wasn’t wearing a ring. For a lot of women, those were the right checked boxes. Enough that they didn’t care he was rough around the edges. Or maybe that was part of the appeal. Either way, he didn’t let it go to his head. Looks faded. Time passed. People left.