More Than Magic

First Book of the Kindling

Excerpt #3

MoreThanMagiclg Even with that stupid hat on—with wisps of dark red hair escaping from the brightly colored knit to flutter against her cheekbones—she was mesmerizing. And those vivid green eyes regarding him so intently. She was actually interested in this nonexistent book that he wasn’t writing. And despite the fact that she sounded like a professor, he did like the sound of her voice.

A drop of moisture slid onto his chin and he jumped. Was he drooling while he stood here gaping at her? He swiped his jacket sleeve across his sweaty face.

“You look like you are running quite a fever.”

Her concern was sincere. Either she was the best damn actress in the world or…he was back to his conclusion that his instincts were shot to hell and he needed to get out of here.

Maybe he should go write a book before it was too late. He had enough stories to tell.

Before he had time to react, she had pulled her hand out of her glove and reached for his face.

When her fingers touched his temple, a cool cascade slid through him, like water over long-parched ground.

Not exactly the sensation he had expected—

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As Grace had expected, his skin was hot—he even shivered a bit at her touch. And with that telltale shudder, she almost pulled away. But beyond the obvious heat from the fever she could sense something else—a brooding pestilence slithering away from her touch. If she closed her eyes, she was sure she would see some malignant darkness lurking at the edges of her vision.

For a moment she hesitated. Every impulse told her to retreat, but another, stronger instinct held her there, calling on her to close her eyes and delve deeper. Only a little bit deeper—

“I’m sorry—”

She heard Nick’s voice as if from a distance, but it was enough to wake her. Jerking her hand back, she was surprised by how cold the air suddenly felt against her skin.

As if he realized he hadn’t really done anything to warrant an apology, Nick looked down at himself in confusion. “What happened?”

Steadying her whirling head and queasy stomach, Grace said, “You have a fever. You need to take something—”

“I know that. But what happened just now?”

“You know that you have a fever? And yet you came out— Of course you know. You—You are either stupid or insane. I can’t tell which.”

“Wha— Why are you yelling at me?” Nick reached up and touched his forehead, right where her fingers had been.

Grace softened her tone. “I’m not yelling.” For a moment her fingers tingled with the memory of his shivering response to her touch. She yanked off her other glove. Taking off her pack, she sifted through the contents and pulled out a packet of powder. “Do you have any problem taking aspirin?”

“No, but it doesn’t usually…I mean…no.” He stuttered to a stop.

She refrained from glaring at him as she handed him the packet. “These are some fever reducing herbs. Unless you have some unusual allergies, you should be okay to take them.”

Nick looked at the packet, clueless. “How?”

“Dissolve it in water.”

“Actually, I feel a lot better now.” He rubbed his hand across his brow and looked utterly confused.

“It won’t last.” And that so-called parasite in there is much bigger than one packet of herbs. She pulled her gloves back on and hefted her pack. “Your fever seems to have broken for the moment, but you should still take it.”

He obediently pulled out his water bottle and unscrewed the top. He held the unfolded packet over the opening. “All of it?”

She nodded, folding her arms to calm her skittering nerves and hide her hands, which had started to shake. Dammit, dammit, dammit. Why did I touch him?

Nick made some rather comic faces. “Gah. Why does it have to taste so bad? Couldn’t you mix some sugar with it?” But he resumed drinking, his eyes on her the whole time.

For a moment, she saw Tink, sitting in her hospital bed, her brown eyes far too big in her pale face. “Dr. Grace, why does the good medicine taste bad sometimes?”

“Are you all right? You look a little pale yourself,” he said after he had finished.

“I’m fine.” But I shouldn’t have touched you.

“I guess I may have overdone it, huh?” There was a hint of apology in his voice.

“I think that’s an understatement.”

“I swear, the doctor said I could resume normal activities,” Nick said, then looked a bit sheepish. “I suppose that means hiking in the mountains isn’t ‘normal’.”

“I suspect not.” Either you don’t realize you aren’t in remission any longer or you do and you’re ignoring it. Either way, you shouldn’t be out here. Grace sighed. “Perhaps it would be best if you went back to your doctor to be checked out thoroughly. You don’t seem to have fully recovered—”

“No. They said I was fine.”

The answer was almost too quick. And a muscle in Nick’s jaw twitched, giving away his agitation. So, all signs point to stubborn.

“Well, I’m not a doctor, but, at a minimum, you need lots of rest. I can recommend some dietary changes that will help, plus probiotics and vitamins, if your doctor hasn’t already?”

He shook his head, looking like nothing so much as an animal caught in someone’s headlights.

Grace frowned. “Well, some doctors are a bit conservative about alternative medicine, but if you can tell me the name of the…parasite you have, I can recommend some herbs that might have a real benefit.”

Nick’s face was a study in concentration. “I told you. I have no idea, Grace. It was about twenty-seven letters long.”

The sound of her name tingled in her ear. It must be the way he said it, in that mellow voice of his. He had said her name before, hadn’t he?

“Well, that does make it a little difficult, but if you have any of your prescriptions, I might be able to surmise—”

“I don’t—I don’t think natural remedies are really my thing.”

Why in the name of all that is holy did you choose our mountain? You could’ve gone to any bed and breakfast around here, or another farm!

“But. You. Just. Swallowed. One.” She enunciated carefully, as if he was having trouble hearing her. He actually did seem to be having trouble focusing as he stood there shivering. And suddenly she felt cold.

“I mean—” Nick’s jaw twitched again, and he was looking everywhere around them except at her. “Let me think about it. It’s—it’s been a rough few months and I’m just tired of…I’m just tired.” He seemed to slump, standing there.

I shouldn’t have touched you.

When he finally looked up in response to her long silence, those lovely gray eyes of his had gone dull. Grace wasn’t sure if the sudden pang in her chest was empathy or something else, but she felt a desperate need to see that smile of his again.

“Tired,” she repeated. “Tired is understandable, given your idea of resuming normal activities. However, I’d say that a nice normal hot lunch followed by a nice normal nap in the sun would get things back a little closer to normal.”

The side of his mouth quirked and she smiled broadly at him, encouraged. “Perhaps tomorrow, once you recover from all this ‘normalness’, you could manage a soak in our mineral water. Trish did tell you about the hot tub?”

“You’re inviting me to take a bath?” he asked, then sniffed his armpits theatrically. “Do I need one?”

“Absolutely,” she responded, straight-faced.

He finally smiled, and that dimple returned in all its glory. “So, you have that healing water from the springs what—shipped up here? In barrels or something?”

She laughed. “No. There’re more than two dozen springs on the mountain, and two of them are warm mineral springs. We pipe it into the hot tub at each cabin and heat it up a bit. I’m afraid the ones in the cabins have been drained and disconnected for the moment, but we have one in our sunroom that you can use.”

He looked as if she had described heaven to him. “Sunroom?”

“Sunroom. It’s where the breakfast buffet is normally served, sort of a communal area for everyone staying in the cabins. Great views. It wraps around the back of the house and half of it is private. That’s where our hot tub is. It’s still hooked up.”

“Hot tub. Can I just stay out there for the rest of my visit?”

Grace smiled at his enthusiasm. “Well, that would be too much of a good thing. Short dips at first, I think. But our guests who’ve sampled both the water down in town and up here do tell us ours is more beneficial.”

“Lead on. I think if I envision that hot tub at the end of this trek, I might actually make it back.”

He did look much better, but Grace had no illusions that it was only the herbs.

She turned to head for home. “It smells like we’re going to get snow sooner than later.” And perhaps that will make you stay put, Mr. City Man.

“But I can still use the hot tub if it snows, right?” he asked.

Grace couldn’t help it. The man had a talent for making her laugh.

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