LOVE'S PHILOSOPHY (POEM):
ON A DATE WITH JANE AUSTEN:
After declaring her candidacy for President at age four, Deb Stover veered off course to play Lois Lane for a number of years. When she refused to blow Clark Kent’s cover, she turned her attention to her own Real American Hero and married him. Considering her experience with Heroes, redirecting her passion for writing toward romance novels seemed a natural progression. Since publication of Shades of Rose in 1995, Stover has received dozens of awards for herbest-selling work, which includes over twenty titles in a variety of languagesand formats. This is her second appearance in Heart’s Kiss.
THE ENCHANTED GARDEN
by Deb Stover
The Scottish Highlands.
Glendon didn’t see the bee until it was too late. He performed a diversionary tactic, but the insect’s wing caught him square in the jaw and sent him spiraling toward the nearest flower.
Heather, just my luck.
The pollen would cling to his wings and made him smell like a pillywiggins for weeks. But he consoled himself by remembering his destiny.
Fate had smiled on him. What was a little pollen on a sunny day? A smug smile tugged at his mouth. As the new king and only remaining male of his race, his responsibilities would include ensuring the propagation of his species.
Twenty virgin brides awaited.
Releasing a ragged breath, Glendon flapped his wings and attempted liftoff, but too much residue remained. Until the pollen dried he was grounded.
It was a fine day for an afternoon nap, but he’d best find a different flower. A lone violet caught his eye. Growing near the ground as violets will, the plant provided seclusion and cool shade. He leapt to the ground, then climbed the violet and found a likely leaf. With a sigh, he settled himself for a well-deserved rest.
A vile stench jerked him from his dreams, and breathing eluded him for a few agonizing moments as he came fully awake. Coughing and sneezing, Glendon blinked and tried to rise, but the cloying scent pressed down upon him. He was trapped.
“You ain’t supposed to harvest there, Ian,” a voice boomed.
“But them Yanks pay dearly for these weeds.”
Both voices joined in raucous, deafening laughter. Footsteps came dangerously close. A giant bent toward the flower. Toward Glendon.
“Let me get this straight, Lisa,” Penny Basinger said, pointing a carrot stick for emphasis. “Organic flower fertilizer? That’s called manure.”
Lisa scowled. “Go ahead and laugh.” She reached for a piece of celery. “I’m dying to know why the original human herbicide is suddenly interested in flowers.”
Penny cleared her throat and stuck her carrot in the yogurt dip. She gave her friend a crooked grin. “Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember how serious you are about all this stuff.”
Lisa sighed. “Try harder, because I am serious, and you’re stalling.”
“And I did ask for help.” Penny drew a fortifying breath and took a bite of carrot. They crunched in stereo for a few minutes.
“How’d your talk go with your dad?” Lisa asked knowingly.
“Same old stuff.” Penny rolled her eyes. “A mere woman can’t run the ranch, degree in animal husbandry or not.”
Lisa stared, celery poised in mid-air. “The Lazy B’s been in your family forever. He should want you to have it.”
Penny chewed her lower lip. “Yeah, I mentioned that.”
“It’s nuts.” Penny gave a nervous laugh and used her fingernail to trace water droplets down the side of her glass.
“He…issued a challenge.”
“Uh-oh.” Lisa released her breath slowly.
“You know my dad too well.”
“I know you too well.”
“That, too.” Penny met her friend’s gaze. “Okay, here’s the deal. If I win the grand prize at the Garden Society’s annual—”
“The one your grandma always won?” Lisa asked, her voice dripping skepticism.
“Any other flower shows here in cattle country?”
“Well, ever since Grandma died, Dad’s talked about getting the Society to name the award after her, since she won every year for the last twenty.” Penny couldn’t believe she was even considering this. “Cecelia Winston is the director, and—”
“The one who always came in second to your grandmother?”
“Yeah.” Penny swallowed hard and continued, “She’s the president now, and she knows I didn’t get Grandma’s green thumb.”
“Bingo.” Penny bit into a carrot. “She’s using me to get even with Grandma, even though she died.”
Penny blinked and swallowed the blob of carrot stuck in her throat. “I have to win.”
“But you murder everything with chlorophyll,” Lisa said with infuriating conviction.
“Gee, thanks.” Penny knew she was a plague on the assorted flowers of Kansas. “But if I win, they’ll name the award after Grandma, then…maybe Dad’ll change his will.”
Lisa gave a low whistle.
All this agony, just because of an old woman’s pride and her father’s chauvinism. “We both know I’m rotten with flowers, but you aren’t.”
“Before she died, Grandma ordered some flowers from Scotland. They’ll be delivered this afternoon.”
“This’ll be a nice change for you.” Lisa flashed an encouraging smile. “And we can test the new fertilizer.”
“Does this mean you’ll help me?”
“Of course.” Lisa stirred her tea, then she put down her spoon and met Penny’s gaze.
“You’re sure it isn’t cow, horse, chicken or sheep?” Penny asked.
“No.” Lisa leaned forward, placing her hands on the table. “The ingredients are things you already have. We mix it up and burn it in—”
“Burn it?” Penny straightened. “Waitaminute. Don’t we need a cauldron for that, or at least a license?”
“Ha. Ha.” Lisa shook her head. “In your fireplace, then we mix the ashes with the soil. For extra zing, you spray it on, too.”
“Extra zing?” Penny looked around the modern kitchen. Everything was white and chrome; the word “zing” had no place here. “We have a problem.”
“What?” Lisa frowned.
“I’m fresh out of eye of newt.”
Lisa shook her finger at Penny. “Well, aren’t we lucky we don’t need any?” Lisa fidgeted with a cauliflower floret and cleared her throat. “I do have one condition….”
Penny eyed her friend suspiciously. “No blind dates.”
“Not that.” Lisa hesitated. “No chemicals. Promise?”
Penny leaned back in her chair, defeated. “I might as well surrender now.”
Lisa reached into her huge canvas bag. “Here’s the formula.” She plunked the bag to the floor and gave Penny a cock-eyed look. “I think you need another reading.”
“Keep those cards to yourself.” Penny took a sip of tea. “Last time you said I’d meet a man.”
“I only read the cards, Pen.” Lisa unfolded the piece of paper.
“Okay, let’s hear this recipe.”
Penny sighed. “If you insist.”
Lisa flashed a smug smile. “I do.” She sat up straight, her eyes twinkling. “Science.”
“Hmm.” Penny stared at her friend. She’d known Lisa since kindergarten. They’d been through everything together—school, Girl Scouts, puberty, proms and college.
Still silent, Penny watched Lisa read the recipe—rather, formula—while she considered the possibilities of her friend’s obsession with woo-woo stuff. At what point had Lisa forsaken cheeseburgers and embraced sprouts? And, more importantly, why did that bug Penny?
The answer shocked her, but she couldn’t deny it. This was the first thing in Lisa’s life Penny hadn’t shared. “Lisa?”
“Hmm?” Lisa looked up. “What?”
“Does this new lifestyle of yours have room for a carnivore like me?”
Lisa’s eyes grew round, then she gave Penny a patronizing smile. “You know better than that. What’s a little broccoli between us?”
“I’m sorry.” Penny’s stomach clenched.
“You need a man,” Lisa announced suddenly.
“Where’d that come from?” Penny drew a deep breath, then released it very slowly. “Okay, but the right man. There’s no such animal. For that matter, we both could use a little romance.”
“Not…necessarily.” Lisa absolutely glowed—it was disgusting. She leaned back in her chair, the paper still clutched in her hand. “I’m seeing someone.”
“Oh?” Penny nearly gagged on her iced tea. “Details.”
“He’s wonderful.” Her smile couldn’t get any wider, but it did. “He’s kind and gentle, in touch with his feelings, and he understands his connection to the universe. Are you sure you want to hear this?”
“I do, and I want to meet him, too.”
“I’m not sure—”
“Dad’s out of town, so bring him over for dinner tonight.”
“He’s…different, Penny.” Lisa cocked a brow—an irrefutable challenge.
“Different how?” Worry slithered through Penny, eating away at her promise to behave. “I mean, different how?” she repeated in a more pleasant tone, forcing a smile.
Lisa laughed. “You’re hopeless.” She squeezed Penny’s hand. “He owns the New Age store in town.”
“Oh,” Penny said blandly. At risk of incurring lasting physical harm, she kept the smile plastered to her face. “A business owner. How nice.”
Lisa gave Penny a knowing smile. “That’s right—a successful business owner.”
“Yes, the shop’s in one of those old Victorians over by the college.”
“Not next to the Feed and Seed so the ranchers can stop in?”
“Very funny. The college kids bring a steady business, and I’m working there part time.” Lisa’s cheeks pinkened and she looked down at her hands. “He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
“You couldn’t have known him very long. Are you sure?”
Penny cleared her throat and forced her smile to return. “I just want what’s best for you.” And that’s the truth. She gave a surrendering shrug. “If you say he’s wonderful, he’s wonderful, but I still want to see for myself. Okay?”
“Okay.” Lisa sighed. “I can’t tell you how glad I am that’s over.”
Penny cocked an eyebrow.
“Just kidding. Sorta.” It was Lisa’s turn to giggle.
“All right, I’m being bitchy.” Penny refolded her arms across her chest.
“You’re not bitchy,” Lisa said, unfolding the paper again. “What time do you want us for dinner?”
“Sure. By the way, Fred’s a vegetarian, too.”
“Fred?” Penny grinned for real now. Fred was such a nice, ordinary name. “Not Rathmel or Sajid or…?”
“Nope, just Fred Simon.”
A vegetarian named Fred. Penny pointed to the paper. “Now tell me about this recipe—I mean, formula.”
Lisa’s smile lit her whole face and Penny knew she’d weather this evolution right along with the rest of them. Life had a way of testing her on a pretty regular basis. Now all she had to do was find the Basinger family’s green thumb.
Maybe she should check Grandma’s cedar chest….
Glendon remained hidden, holding the stem of his violet as if his life depended on it. Well, it probably did.
Most of the heather pollen had dissipated, but some lingering effects of the human’s foul concoction remained. His ability to move had returned, though his wings sagged miserably. Uselessly.
He shuddered. What sort of faerie king couldn’t fly? He’d be a laughingstock. A failure. Even the thought of twenty virgin brides couldn’t raise his spirits…among other things.
No one had touched the violet since uprooting it and dropping it, and him, into a box with hundreds of other flowers. All he could do was hold on, though he had managed to find a weapon by breaking a thorn off a neighboring shrub.
The humans had transported him a great distance. He’d even felt as if they were flying, though not with the wind-in-his-hair sort of joy to which he was accustomed.
Now the box that had become his sanctuary sat forlornly beneath a huge tree. Tufts of white fluff flew from the tree and blanketed the grass, and the wind was the hottest he’d ever encountered.
He heard a sound and reached down to retrieve the thorn from where he’d stuck it in the soil. Sword firmly in hand, he looked beyond the green leaves overhead. Something peered through the foliage at him. A furry face.
Pressing himself closer to the stalk, Glendon tightened his grip on the thorn and girded himself for battle. A white paw, claws extended, batted through the foliage and barely missed him. Glendon held his breath and waited—the beast’s nose pushed through the leaves and sniffed.
The paw came in again, but this time its claws weren’t visible. A non-threatening rumble emitted from the cat’s furry chest.
Glendon relaxed somewhat, though he held his breath again as his feline visitor withdrew.
“There you are, Samantha.”
The human’s voice was definitely female, soft and lilting, almost soothing. Glendon wanted to see her, but decided not to leave his hiding place just yet.
“You leave my flowers alone,” the voice continued. “Don’t look at me like that. Yes, I said my flowers.”
Glendon begged to differ. If these flowers belonged to anyone after this day, it was him.
“Lisa’s going to make me some kind of organic woo-woo dust, so we don’t need any kitty fertilizer to go with it. Got it?”
Curiosity tugged at Glendon until he released the stalk and climbed onto a leaf. He craned his neck to peer through the leaves.
The human female stooped beside the cat, stroking its white fur. Her voice continued in that soothing, musical tone, easing his fears, though suspicion remained. The siren could very well be baiting a trap.
“Let’s get these flowers into the greenhouse before Lisa and her new boyfriend get here. The sun is wicked.” She straightened and approached Glendon.
He leapt down from the leaf and resumed his grip on the central stalk just as she lifted the box and started walking. The jarring motion shot through his bones, forcing him to clench his teeth together tightly to prevent them from rattling in his head.
She entered some sort of shelter and lowered the box and started pulling plants from inside it. Glendon waited, terrified. Would she crush him with her huge hands?
He watched her gloved hand hover over him—he gripped the plant and his sword with all his strength, poised to attack. But instead of smashing him, she gently lifted the plant from the box. With a thud, she dropped it into a container and pressed dirt around its base.
’Tis my fate to be buried alive?
Glendon heard the cat’s voice and saw its white fur through the leaves. The beast seemed to deliberately place itself between the plant and the human. Glendon readied his weapon again.
Laughing, she nudged the cat away. “Samantha, move.” The human pressed more dirt around the violet, then stood and walked away, returning a moment later with a new sound accompanying her.
“I hope I know what I’m doing.” The end of a snakelike object appeared on the soil beneath him, spewing water from its mouth. Hoping to avoid the flood, Glendon climbed to the next leaf.
She walked away again, leaving the spitting snake behind. After a moment, the water stopped and the human returned.
“There, that should hold them until Lisa casts her spell—I mean mixes her formula. Of course, I’d love to use some real fertilizer, but I promised.” She sighed. “I’d better wash up and check on the lasagna.”
Glendon stared after the human’s retreating feet and the cat’s bushy white tail as one of the words he’d heard became agonizingly explicit to his muddled mind.
“Spell?” he whispered.
“This is crazy,” Penny repeated as she watched Fred mix the benign concoction of spices. “Fertilizer? Toss in a little oil and vinegar and you might have a pretty decent vinaigrette.”
Lisa looked over Fred’s shoulder and shook her head at Penny. The silent communication came through loud and clear: Shut up, Penny.
Mr. Wonderful was a nerd in hippie skin. Penny would bet her last dime that he’d traded his slide rule for his Tigereye pendant. The amber-colored stone, she’d been informed, was Yang—male and active. So from that bit of evidence she’d completed her appraisal of Fred Simon. He was a nerd-turned-hippie—Rush Limbaugh in John Lennon’s clothing. A man who preferred spinach to meat in his lasagna.
Lisa’s rancher-father might have shot Fred on sight.
Penny didn’t object when Fred asked for a book of matches and headed for the fireplace. How could she? Weird as he was, he looked at Lisa with devotion. This man loved her best friend—how could Penny hold that against him?
Within a few minutes, they were all seated in the living room with a small fire burning in the hearth. Why not? Outside it was only ninety in the shade and, for a small fortune, the air conditioning maintained seventy-six degrees in the house. Thank goodness Dad’s not home.
Sighing, she turned her attention to Lisa and Mr. Wonderful.
“So the spices work with the soil’s nutrients?” Lisa asked.
“Right, with a little compost and some earthly assistance.” Fred chuckled and pushed his wire rimmed glasses higher on his thin nose. “After this little blaze burns itself out—”
—and raises the temperature twenty degrees in here—
“—we’ll gather the ashes and mix them. Together.”
Penny rolled her eyes as she watched Lisa slip her hand into Fred’s and beam at him. Only a miracle prevented Penny from commenting.
Giving herself a mental pat on the back for pulling off that miracle, she took a step closer. Thankfully, the fire was already dying. Fred swept the ashes into a bucket.
“We’ll have to be careful of the hot embers,” he said.
Maybe she’d sold Fred short. At least he seemed to know a little something about fire safety.
“I’m sure positive thoughts will prevent disaster, though.”
“We’ll need some gardening tools.” Fred carried the bucket into the kitchen and out the back door.
Shaking her head, Penny followed her best friend, Mr. Wonderful and Samantha out to the greenhouse. She retrieved her hand shovel from a peg and passed it to Lisa.
Fred and Lisa stood there holding hands, the bucket of smoldering ashes in his free hand. The expensive florescent plant lights bathed them in silver.
Get a grip, Penny.
Still, they made a cute couple. It almost gagged her to admit it, but it was true. She sighed and moved closer.
Fred took the shovel from Lisa. “I’ll just put a little of the mixture in the soil around the plants.”
Penny drew a deep breath and decided to intervene before Mr. Wonderful killed her Highland wild flowers. She was more than capable of doing that without his assistance. “I’ll do this part. After all, I have to learn sometime.”
She took the bucket of vinaigrette fertilizer and the shovel. Kneeling beside the planters, she loosened the dirt and gently mixed in the ashes. With any luck, the damp soil would smother any hot embers.
I can’t believe I’m doing this.
“Save some ashes so we can mix a spray,” Fred urged. When she looked over her shoulder at him, he shrugged. “It’s a scientific experiment. The untreated flowers will be our control group. Right?”
Yep, a nerd. She couldn’t argue with his pseudo-logic, though. They were testing how far sane people would go to pacify the insane. The experiment was complete. She’d passed the point of no return the minute she dropped to her knees.
Samantha stuck her nose in a small violet and purred. “Beat it, fur ball,” Penny said affectionately. She didn’t want her pet to get burned.
After a few minutes, Penny stood and brushed the dirt off her hands. “All right, I’ve saved enough for a spray. Let’s do it.” She laughed and reminded herself this was all perfectly harmless now that the burning part was history.
“Oh, Penny, this is going to be wonderful for your flowers.” Lisa stepped closer and pointed at the violet Samantha’d been exploring. “I think that puny one looks perkier already.”
Perkier? How scientific. Somehow, Penny had trouble thinking of imported wild flowers as perky. However, she managed a smile and retrieved the sprayer, emptied the last of the ashes into the container, then filled it with water.
“I’m going to spray the same plants I treated the soil around,” she said, beginning the process as she spoke. “We’ll compare them with our control group in a week. How’s that sound?”
“Perfect,” Lisa said, still holding Fred’s hand. “Like Jack’s magic beanstalk.”
Where do I find the blood of an Englishman?
Penny swirled the spray bottle to distribute the last of the ashes, then gave the “puny” violet an extra good dose. Now all she needed was a giant to go with the beanstalk.
Or a goose that lays golden eggs?
Smiling at her own foolishness, Penny straightened and turned to face her guests. “All done. Now we’ll have to wait to see what happens.”
“Right.” Fred looked down at Lisa and smiled.
Penny turned away, embarrassed by the intimacy in his expression.
Lisa yawned and stretched. “My, it’s getting late.”
“Yes, I suppose it is.” Penny put away her tools, then faced her guests. “Thank you both for coming to dinner…and for the fertilizer.” She forced a smile, though the feelings creeping through her could only be called bittersweet.
They mumbled thanks for the meal and Penny escorted them from the greenhouse and around to the side gate. Lisa looked over her shoulder and waved. The security light on the front of the house made it impossible to pretend Penny hadn’t seen the question in her friend’s eyes.
Swallowing her guilt and reminding herself how happy Lisa looked, Penny gave her a thumbs up sign. It was incredible, but after that Lisa looked even happier. And Penny smiled inside and out for the first time all evening.
A part of her past was gone—no doubt about it. Fred was strange, but he seemed basically good and he adored Lisa. Nothing else really mattered.
With a sigh, she returned to the greenhouse to make sure nothing was on fire. Samantha’s fascination with the puny violet continued. The cat buried her face in the plant again, then screeched, leaping back as if something had bitten her.
Or burned her nosey nose. “That does it.” Penny had to make sure the fire was completely smothered. She retrieved the garden hose and put the fan sprayer on the end to make a gentle mist. After turning the water on low, she dragged the hose over to the planters and started to sprinkle all the flowers, including those that hadn’t been fertilized.
Whatever happened to plain, old-fashioned manure? That used to be enough to pacify the organic gardeners, and they had plenty of it right here on the Lazy B. Lisa hadn’t said Penny couldn’t treat the other plants with manure. Now that was natural. Penny moved to the other side of the planter, giving the violet Samantha’d been exploring an extra good dousing.
A rumbling, cracking, groaning sound suddenly erupted. Penny took a step back, still clutching the sprinkler. She stared into the darkness, watching the fertilized plants shoot toward the top of the greenhouse like a scene from a cheap movie.
Heather and lavender spiraled upward. Penny took another step back as a vine snaked toward her with spindly green fingers. Swallowing hard, she held her breath.
Something shiny and orange crawled from the jungle—strangely familiar black spots covered its back. It was a ladybug, much closer in size to a good-sized turtle than an insect. The hair on Samantha’s back stood on end, then she wisely retreated through the open greenhouse door.
Penny dropped the sprinkler and clutched the base of her throat. This couldn’t be real.
“What in the name of all that’s Fae has befallen me now?”
Penny blinked. Forget the mutant ladybug. The organic fertilizer. The cat. The flowers.
A man stepped from the myriad of vines and blooms, shaking water from his hair. He paused a few feet away, glowering down at her.
The plant lights formed a golden halo around his head. Shock suppressed Penny’s fight or flight instinct, leaving her no alternative but to stand frozen to the ground.
He was beautiful. Muscles rippled along his arms and shoulders; taut golden flesh stretched across his abdomen. Her mouth went dry and her heart slammed against her ribs.
She jerked her gaze back to his god-like face. “Wh—who are you?” Her voice was a strangled whisper. Imprisoned by his probing gaze, she could only stare and wait helplessly for his answer.
He placed a fist on each bronze hip and straightened—tall, imposing.
Terror plundered through Glendon as he stood soaked and staring at the beautiful witch. He was proof of her awesome power.
Most faeries possessed the ability to achieve human form for limited periods of time, but only with much deliberation. But this time, he was trapped.
“What have you done?” He took a step toward her, noting her wide blue eyes were filled with fear.
“N-nothing.” She shook her head. “Who…?”
He straightened. “Prince Glendon.”
“Aye.” Something didn’t feel right and he reached behind him. His wings! Fury replaced his fear. “What evil sorcery is this? Why?”
“All I did was—”
“Reverse the spell.” Glendon glowered down at her. “Reverse the spell.”
“Where is this place?”
“Kansas.” Her voice was soft and lilting. Deceptive. “Who are you?”
“How did you get here?” She lowered her gaze. “Naked?”
Unashamed, Glendon lifted his chin. “Faeries don’t embrace the cumbersome—”
“Faeries?” She laughed quietly, holding her fingers to her lips. “Did you say faeries?”
“Aye.” He placed his fists on his hips again. “I require your name, witch.”
She pursed her lips together and her eyes snapped. “Penny Basinger and I’m not a witch.”
A witch would not have given her name so easily, unless she was certain of his helplessness. She turned as if to leave, but Glendon grabbed her arm and pulled her hard against him. The shock of her softness meeting his body stunned him. For a moment, all he could do was gaze into her beautiful, deceitful eyes.
His sense of reason surged forth and he placed some distance between them, though he didn’t release her. She was powerful, and he had no doubt her spell had made him respond to her. Why else would he ache to touch her?
Sweat dripped from his brow and his mouth went dry. Why had she summoned him here and made him human size? He swallowed hard—only one reason made sense.
She wished to mate.
Penny’s life was complete. How many women had greenhouses boasting flowers and faeries, after all? Not to mention the mutant ladybug.
I don’t believe this.
Not only did the naked hunk think he was a faerie, but he was the sexiest man she’d ever seen. A faerie god? Get real. She hated the way his touch made her bones feel heavy and liquid.
She couldn’t drag her gaze from his magical green eyes, nor could she deny the hunger she saw there. Well, she hated to burst his bubble, but she didn’t sleep with strangers.
Faerie or no.
Trying to avoid his gaze, she looked beyond him at her colossal flowers, replaying the evening’s events. Lisa had said something about “Jack’s Magic Beanstalk.”
She looked the faerie prince in the eye. “Jack?” she whispered.
“Glendon,” he corrected.
“You’re hurting me.”
“Forgive me.” He dropped his hands to his sides and genuine remorse filled his eyes. “But I must know what happened.”
“I’m not sure, but I’ll help if I can.” Anything to make the naked faerie prince go away.
“You refuse to reverse your spell?”
Penny threw up her hands. “I’m not a witch.” She blinked several times. Could Fred have cast a spell?
Of course, that was ridiculous. Faeries and giant ladybugs didn’t exist. This was all nothing but a bad dream. In the morning she’d laugh about it.
Except for Glendon’s bod. That was no laughing matter. If only all her dreams were like him. She lowered her gaze again.
Drawing a deep breath, she looked him in the eye. “Tell me what happened, and maybe I can help,” she said, no longer frightened. “And maybe you should put on some clothes.” She couldn’t think straight with all this naked testosterone around.
With a sigh, he reached behind him and plucked a giant leaf and wrapped it around his waist. “Better?”
No. “Yes, thanks.” Penny cleared her throat. “Come to the house and I’ll make tea.”
“Do you have milk and honey?”
“Sure.” Wary, Penny stepped out the door and led her uninvited guest to the back door. Thank goodness her father wasn’t here to meet her faerie prince—just in case he wasn’t a dream.
Glendon followed her into the house, squinting up at the bright kitchen light. He walked around the room, touching appliances. He discovered the light switch and flipped it on and off several times.
“Have a seat.” She hurried around the kitchen. “Do you want your milk warm or cold?”
“Cold in this heat?” He sat in a chair at the table and watched her fill a glass. “What kind of milk?”
“Kind?” Penny narrowed her gaze and set the glass in front of him, then retrieved the squeeze bottle of honey from the cupboard. “Cow, of course.”
“Many thanks.” Glendon stared at the honey, then upended it and squeezed the substance into his hand, where he tasted it with his tongue. “Clover.”
The sight of his tongue lapping honey from his palm made Penny tingle all over. She couldn’t prevent the image of him holding her. Touching her. Kissing her.
“Oh, God,” she murmured, turning away to grab a spoon. She hurried to the table and placed the spoon in front of him, grabbing the honey from his grasp before he could entertain her any further. She couldn’t handle the frustration.
He watched her squeeze honey into his glass, and she looked at him and said, “Say when.” He said nothing, which didn’t surprise her, so she decided when and dropped the spoon into his glass.
She sat across the table from him and watched him stir the mixture very slowly, his eyes wide with wonder as he lifted the spoon from the glass. He was beautiful, and if he was real, he was nuts.
But how had he appeared in her greenhouse? “Are you ready to tell me what happened and why you’re here?”
“Aye.” He lifted the glass to his lips, then hesitated, watching her over the rim. “You are not a witch?”
“No.” Penny sighed and slumped back in her chair.
He took a long drink, then wiped away his milk moustache with the back of his hand. “Very good. Thank you.”
He frowned. “You wish me to spill the milk? Why?”
“No, tell me what happened to you.” Penny mentally counted to ten and folded her hands demurely in her lap. Her temper and confusion mounted.
“This morn I was flying through the flowers and encountered a bee—”
“Excuse me?” Penny covered her mouth, struggling to keep from laughing.
“Do you wish to hear this?”
“I’m sorry.” Lisa would love this.
“I crashed into some heather and the pollen grounded me.”
“Go on.” Penny’s eyes grew round as she watched his expression. He believed his madness.
“Humans sprayed poison and harvested me with the flowers.” He leaned toward her. “Then someone cast a spell and made me big.”
Size matters. She put her head in her hand and groaned. Bad girl.
After a moment, she cleared her throat and faced him again. “There was no spell. Get that straight.”
“Something paralyzed me, then made me grow with the flowers.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Except for my wings.”
Penny leapt to her feet, rushing around behind Glendon to examine his magnificent back. His skin glistened like bronze, and she ached to touch the rippling muscles along his shoulders. “I don’t see anything,” she said, hating the breathy quality of her voice.
“In the center,” he said. “Please look closely.”
Penny leaned closer and saw two small protrusions, almost transparent, in the middle of his back. She touched one of them and felt it move. “They are wings.”
He sighed and slumped forward. “I fear this day has sapped my strength.”
My God, it’s true. Penny recalled the scene in the greenhouse, the way he’d appeared with the giant ladybug. His story made sense in a twisted way. Assuming faeries existed, of course.
She walked slowly back to her chair and sagged into it. “The stuff they sprayed must’ve been insecticide,” she said, trying to sort through everything. “Then we fertilized…and you grew.”
“Aye.” He sounded weary and his expression was pleading. “If you are not an evil witch, will you help me?”
His sincerity touched Penny. “I’m not evil or a witch, but I’ll try to help.”
“Thank you.” He smiled weakly. “I must rest.”
“I’ll show you the guest room.” How would she ever explain him to her father?
“Nay, I prefer to rest among the flowers.”
“Sure, I’ll grab a blanket and pillow.”
“I require neither.” He stood and walked to the door, pausing to look back. “You did not summon me for…anything?”
The expression in his eyes stole her breath—suggestive yet weary. He looked tired. Lost. Would he die? Guilt pressed down on her. That stupid flower show could cost this man—yes, man—his life.
“Are you all right?” She rose and walked toward him, reaching up to brush her fingertips along his cheek. She had to touch him. He felt real and warm. “I’m sorry.”
“You are good, and I regret calling you evil.” Gently, he cupped her cheek in his other hand. “And beautiful.”
Speechless, Penny stood rooted, savoring the feel of his hand on her face. Desire shot through her, sweet and fierce.
For this stranger. This faerie. This man.
He turned and walked slowly toward the greenhouse, his head bowed. Anger shot through Penny, and she vowed to see this situation righted.
An idea blossomed in her mind and she raced for the phone to punch in Lisa’s number. “Hi, I need you and Fred back out here tomorrow morning,” she said. “Bring every book you’ve got on faeries.”
She had to help him.
Pennywatched Fred pitch the tent at the back of the greenhouse, wondering how she’d survived this past week. At least she’d managed to convince Glendon to wear shorts and a T-shirt. Not typical ranch attire, but enough to convince her father he was an expert who’d accompanied the wild flowers. After mumbling something about his late mother’s eccentricities, Big John Basinger had turned his attention to other matters.
“Your friends are kind,” Glendon said, giving her one of his looks that made her blood turn molten.
Penny shivered, despite the soaring temperatures inside and out. “If anyone can help you, they can.” Glendon made her want things she hadn’t experienced in far too long.
Correction, he made her want him.
But her feelings for him were far more than sexual. She liked him. Despite his ignorance about her world, he was intelligent, witty, and kind. She loved talking to him, and he made her think about nature and things she’d taken for granted all her life.
“Did you really talk to the cows?” She had to ask.
“Will you laugh again?” He folded his arms across his taut abdomen and his eyes twinkled.
“No, I’m sorry about that.”
“Aye, and their plight distresses them. And me.”
He lifted an eyebrow. “You can get much milk from one cow.”
Penny bit her lower lip. This was uncomfortable territory. “I’ll speak to my father about it,” she said. Eventually.
“Good.” He took her hand and squeezed it.
Penny loved the feel of Glendon’s large hand surrounding hers. She looked up and met Lisa’s suggestive smile. Her friend insisted Glendon had been sent here for Penny. Fate.
“I saw a dog this morning,” Glendon said, jarring Penny from thoughts of hand-holding and fate. “Yours?”
“Maybe.” She didn’t want to explain hunting dogs to Glendon. She smiled, trying not to dwell on the fact that he was still holding her hand. “We have several.”
“Small and white with curly hair.” Glendon squeezed her hand, then released it.
Penny suppressed her disappointment and lifted her chin a notch, trying to ignore Lisa’s not-so-subliminal messages. “Must be a stray.”
“I thought, for a moment…”
“What?” The worried tone in his voice tugged Penny’s thoughts from Lisa. “Thought what?”
“Ah, ’twas nothing.”
Uh-oh. “All right, let’s see how Fred and Lisa are coming with the chamber.” She took a step, but felt Glendon’s hand on her shoulder.
Ignoring Lisa, Penny turned to face Glendon. “What is it?”
“If this works, I’ll…”
The expression in his eyes unnerved her, but she couldn’t drag her gaze from his no matter how hard she tried. “What?”
“I’ll miss you.”
The confusion in his eyes gave way quickly to what could only be called genuine regret. He cared, and that knowledge made her want to throw herself into his arms and kiss him senseless.
“I’ll miss you, too,” she whispered, blinking back the stinging sensation in her eyes.
“Come on over so I can show you this,” Fred said, shattering the moment.
Penny wrenched herself from Glendon’s gaze and rushed toward Fred. “Okay, how does this work?”
Fred grinned. “It’s just a tent with a vaporizer.”
Penny couldn’t imagine anything this simple restoring Glendon to his faerie state, but something equally simple had made him human. Who was she to argue with this special brand of magic science?
“Glendon, you’ll sleep in here every night, and Penny will fill the vaporizer with a mixture similar to the fertilizer.”
“How will that work?”
“I’ve left out one ingredient, and I think it’s something faeries might produce themselves.”
How could Fred possibly know anything about faeries. Then she reminded herself that her friends were trying their best to help, and she nodded. “Maybe Glendon’s body will produce whatever this is and return him to normal?”
Fred shrugged. “It’s worth a shot.”
“Thank you.” Glendon stepped forward and extended his hand the way Penny’d taught him before he met her father. “I’m most grateful.”
“I’d love to hear more about your world before you leave us,” Fred said, his eyes shining with eagerness. “Humans have much to learn about living in harmony with nature.”
“Aye.” Glendon looked at Penny from the corner of his eye, earning a giggle from Lisa. “I’ve spoken with the cows.”
All eyes turned toward Penny. “So did you write down the list of things I’m to put in the water?” she asked, determined to change the subject.
“Yes, right here.” Fred handed Penny an index card. “Fill the vaporizer every night.”
“Thank you both for everything.” Penny squeezed Lisa’s hand. “I owe you one.”
“I’ll be back tomorrow to help you choose the flowers for the show.” Lisa looked over Penny’s enchanted garden and whistled low. “You’re a contender.”
“Thanks to you.” Penny gave Lisa a quick hug.
“Okay, we’ll check back tomorrow.” Fred and Lisa walked to the door. “Page me if anything weird happens.”
“Weird?” Penny called as the door closed behind them. “Cowards.”
“Cowards?” Glendon placed his hand on Penny’s upper arm. “Nay, your friends are good and brave.”
“They’re the best.” Heat radiated from Glendon’s hand and into her. Her flesh tingled and her insides clenched in anticipation. She wanted him to kiss her. Desperately.
“You are good and brave, too,” he said, inching closer. He brought his fingertips to her face and gently stroked her burning cheek. “I find myself…wanting things I’ve never known before. With you.”
“Never?” she whispered, wondering where all the oxygen had gone. This was crazy—she barely knew Glendon, and he wasn’t even human. Yet, in many ways, he was more human than anyone she’d ever known—kind, gentle, good. And she wanted him. Now. Her virgin faerie prince.
“Never?” she repeated.
“Never.” He barely brushed her lips with his.
Penny threw her arms around him and clutched him to her. She met his kiss with all the pent-up passion she’d felt since that first night. He tasted sweet, like honey.
Groaning, he parted his lips and welcomed her kiss. Penny had never gone on the offensive with any man before, but there was something about this one….
And he could be gone by morning.
She pulled away to gaze into his eyes. Naked desire burned in their depths, mirroring everything she felt. Penny made her decision. If morning took him from her, she vowed they would have this one night together.
A night to last forever.
Glendon opened his eyes in a fragrant fog, slowly remembering where he was, and with whom. His heart slammed against his chest as he gazed down at the warm, beautiful female curled against him.
Joy and love washed through him and he smiled. His heart felt too full for even his human size, and he ached to join with her yet again.
Then he realized the full impact of his actions. They were mated for life.
He gazed upon Penny again and her eyes fluttered open. A slow smile appeared on her face and his love crowded his guilt aside again. For now.
“Good morning,” she whispered, stretching languidly.
Glendon’s breath caught as she wriggled against him, warm and naked. “Good morning.” His voice sounded husky, foreign to his own ears. Of course, he was no longer the faerie prince awaiting marriage to twenty virgin brides. He swallowed hard.
“You feel good.” She buried her face against his shoulder.
“Penny,” he whispered, trying to understand everything. If he could never return home…. He wrapped his arms around her and just held her. How could this be wrong?
A scratching sound came from the greenhouse door. “Oh, no.” Penny leapt to her feet and pulled on her discarded clothing. “My father.”
Glendon understood and pulled on the clothes Penny had brought him. He followed her through the jungle of giant flowers. Seeing the ladybug reminded him they’d forgotten to put it inside the tent last night. They’d been distracted.
Penny fluffed her curly hair, then grabbed a gardening tool from the cupboard near the door. “Look busy,” she whispered, then opened the door.
But instead of Penny’s tall father, the small dog Glendon had met yesterday trotted into the greenhouse and sat up on its haunches before him. He stared deeply into its eyes. A curious spark of green flashed in the canine’s honey-colored eyes, then a shower of glittering dust surrounded the white fur.
“What the—” Penny slammed the greenhouse door and leaned against it.
Glendon recognized the identity of the faerie before her transformation was complete. “Mother.” Her crown was slightly askew, but he’d know her anywhere.
“Mother?” Penny repeated, then slid to the floor, still staring.
“Aye,” Glendon said.
“A dog?” Penny’s eyes grew wider as his mother transformed herself to human size.
“Shape-shifting is a skill only very powerful faeries possess.” Glendon knelt before his mother and kissed her hand.
As he straightened, his gaze met hers and he realized she knew. A hot flush crept into his cheeks and he lowered his gaze, but for only a moment. Penny deserved his respect.
“Turn,” his mother commanded, and he obeyed.
She lifted his T-shirt and examined his wings. “I’m not too late.”
Penny scrambled to her feet, but said nothing.
“It is too late, Mother.”
“Aye.” Glendon turned again to face his mother. “What will become of our race if I cannot—”
“Does she know?” His mother looked at Penny.
“Aye.” Glendon reached for Penny’s hand and drew her closer. “I love her,” he said, and meant it.
Penny looked up sharply, her eyes glistening. “You do?”
She pressed her fingertips to her lips and a tear escaped. Glendon captured it on the tip of his finger and held it out to the morning light. “Beautiful.” When he met his mother’s gaze, he saw tears in her eyes as well.
“My son,” she said. “Even if I restore you to faerie, you’ll be unable to wed, for you’ve chosen another.”
Glendon lowered his gaze, saddened about the fate of his race. “Is there no way…?”
His mother’s lower lip trembled and she drew a deep breath. “It is within my power to strip you of all that is Fae, and to return your faerie dust to our burgh.”
Glendon clenched his teeth. “And the pollination can commence without…?”
His mother nodded. “Since you’ve chosen a mate, you cannot wed your twenty virgin brides.”
“Twenty…?” Penny coughed. “Virgins?”
The queen smiled at Penny. “It is our way, but the pollination can commence without Glendon.”
“Pollination?” Penny lifted a brow and held up a finger. “Let me get this straight. We’re talking faerie sperm bank here?”
His mother shook her head. “I do not understand your human ways.” She looked at Glendon again. “With your faerie dust there will be more babes, and we will survive.”
Glendon swallowed hard. “And I can remain?”
“Aye, but you will be human, Glendon,” his mother warned.
“Glendon.” Penny’s voice quivered. “I don’t want you to do this.”
He smiled and cupped her cheek. “’Tis my wish.”
“As much as I love my son,” his mother said, “this is for the best. If he were to return, he would live in solitude. He could never mate in the true sense.”
Penny coughed again. “I understand.”
“If it’s permitted, I should like to visit my son and grandchildren.”
“Grandchildren?” Penny released a long sigh. “Of course.”
Glendon met his mother’s gaze. “I am ready.”
Penny placed her trophy in the case beside her grandmother’s numerous awards. Her father’s shadow loomed behind her, and she turned to smile at him.
“I’m proud of you, Pen,” he said, handing her a long envelope. “My will.”
Penny took the envelope with trembling fingers. “You couldn’t have had time to change it.”
He grinned and put his arm around her shoulders. “Honey, that was just me spoutin’ nonsense. You’ve always been my heir.”
“What?” She pulled back and stared at him. “All this for nothing?”
Glendon walked into the room and her eyes blurred. Not for nothing. The award was now named in Grandma’s memory, and Penny had Glendon.
“Is Lisa bringing that weirdo to dinner,” her father asked, his eyes twinkling. “I kinda like old Fred, and that Glendon fella, too.”
“That’s good,” Penny said, stepping around her father to bring Glendon into their conversation. “Glendon’s staying.”
John Basinger’s brows met his receding hairline for an instant, then he smiled and gave a nod. “Fine. I’m planning to put more acres in alfalfa. We could use a good man.”
Penny took Glendon’s hand. “What would you say about converting part of the operation to dairy—”
“As a trial?” Penny finished.
Her father drew a deep breath, then he nodded. He pinned his gaze on Glendon. “Your idea?”
“Aye.” Glendon’s eyes twinkled.
John looked at Glendon again and narrowed his gaze. “You’re one of them tree-huggin’ types, too.”
“Tree-hugging?” Glendon blinked several times and cast Penny a questioning glance.
“I don’t know about tree-hugging,” she said, “but I know for a fact that he’s an expert on cross-pollination.”
Glendon cleared his throat.
“We’re…seeing each other, Dad. It’s serious.”
“I got eyes.” John put his hand on Penny’s shoulder. “I wish your Mother and Grandma were here.”
“Me, too.” Penny smiled. “They’d be shocked to see the chauvinist has surrendered.”
Grinning, John gave her a hug, then shook Glendon’s hand and excused himself. Penny pressed her cheek against Glendon’s shoulder.
“There’s much for me to learn,” Glendon whispered.
“We’ll have to hire a forger.” She bit her lower lip, knowing she’d do whatever it took to make Glendon “legal.”
“Don’t worry,” Penny said, snuggling against his shoulder. “I have a lot to learn, too.”
Glendon tipped her chin upward and covered her mouth with his. After a moment, he broke the kiss and gazed deeply into her eyes. “Such as?”
“The finer mating habits of birds, bees, and faeries.”
Copyright © 1999 by Deb Stover.
Heart's Kiss Magazine
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