Charlotte McLaren is tired of being the good girl – the shy, gentle soul that everyone tiptoes around in case she startles. She wants to be strong and decisive, as powerful and independent as her Witch-sisters. She’s determined to join in the fight against their enemy and to do that she has to challenge everything she’s been taught to believe.
Tristan, a Watchtower Knight, has spent three agonizing months locked in a hell of dark magic – and he emerges a changed man. No longer fun and arefree, there’s a darkness in him now that stalks and prowls, just waiting to escape. A darkness he’s desperate to keepfrom everyone he cares about, especially the lovely Charlotte.
Tristan followed Charlotte to the tables set up in the dappled shadows of the roof garden. Waiting until she took her seat Tristan pulled out a chair and sat next to her. She leaned on the table, turned her head slightly to look at him and his gut churned in an unsettling prescience.
She licked her lips – a nervous habit he normally found endearing. Right now it just set him on edge. “Tristan, I want to ask you something.”
No. He knew what she was going to ask and he couldn’t let the words leave her lips. He was afraid if she gathered the courage to make the request he wouldn’t be able to deny her. And he had to.
“Charlotte, I can’t.” He fisted his hands in his lap so he didn’t reach for her. “I’m so sorry.”
The dejected slump of her shoulders was akin to a slap, and he felt the pain of it right down to his soul. She took three breaths, then four, and on the fifth she straightened her spine and looked him in the eye. “I haven’t actually asked anything yet.”
“You don’t need to.” His heart slammed against his ribs and the need to say yes warred with the necessity of saying no. “I can only think of one thing that would charge your energy with that particular mix of fear, determination and want. You intend to trigger your Quickening, and with the connection we’ve forged, you’re considering me as a partner.”
She stared at him and he sat quietly, allowing her the time to come up with a considered response.
“Do you have any idea how hard this is for me?” Her voice was steady but her agitation rolled off her in waves.
“Yes, I do.” Before he could stop himself, he reached out and he placed his
hand over hers. “I know you, Charlotte, your strengths and frailties. You don’t want to be left behind by Kam and Mycah and you don’t want to be the weak link in your Quatre.”
There were so many reasons he was a bad choice for her – he was a womanizer, incapable of forming relationships that lasted more than a couple days. He was a Knight, bound to the service of the Watchtower and compelled to live his life in the World Between. Charlotte deserved someone who could be there for her, who could commit to her in the way she deserved.
And knowing all that, he still would have been bastard enough to say yes before his foray into the dark. Regardless of the sensible reasons they were wrong for each other, right now the only thing keeping him in check was his need to protect her from the darkness.
He couldn’t tell her that, of course. So he stuck with the most obvious truth. “You need a male who will care for you, Char. One who will lead the dance slow and easy, who won’t push you further than you want to go.”
Charlotte’s mouth dropped and the look of horror on her face froze the words on his tongue. Jerking out of his grasp she lurched to her feet, knocking her chair to the ground and panting as if she’d run a mile.
“You total idiot. You don’t see me at all, do you?” She took a couple of unsteady steps and her voice rose. “Do you think that’s who I am? Some timid rabbit that has to be led around on a ribbon because she’s too stupid and cowardly to go after what she wants?”
“What? No, of course not –”
“Be quiet! I’m talking now.”
Tristan clamped his mouth shut. Charlotte may not be a timid rabbit, but she was no lion either. The fact that she was angry enough to yell at him told him just how far he’d missed the mark.
She stalked closer, her body almost vibrating with rage. It was Charlotte as he’d never seen her and he had no idea what to make of it. Leaning down, she placed her hands on the arms of his chair and lowered her face until they were eye to eye.
“What I want,” she said, her voice low and seething, “is to live. I want
passion and excitement. I want to dance in the rain and kiss in the
moonlight. I want reckless and edgy, not boring and safe. A lot of things
changed while you were asleep, Tristan the Seducer. Don’t presume to know me
or what I want anymore.”
Charlotte spun away from him and stalked across the lawn and down the stairs.
Tristan was so shocked, so utterly gobsmacked, he did nothing but watch her
go. If his sweet Charlotte turned wild and reckless, he had no idea how he
was going to resist taking her to bed – no matter how necessary that
resistance might be.