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Grim and Bear It
Author: Juliette Cross

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When I was little, I often escaped to the garden behind my father’s sprawling fifty-acre estate. Like everything else in his life, he kept pristine gardens. Toward the center, there was a long bed of wildflowers that attracted a particular kind of butterfly. The wings were yellow with delicate black trim. Beautiful. For some reason, this happened to be a place where I was never disturbed by the dead. I’d watch the golden-winged insects flutter about happily, mindlessly, and bask in their effortless beauty.
Certain Native American tribes said that a yellow butterfly was a spirit of hope and guidance. I wasn’t so sure about guidance, but they’d always lifted the weight of my gift as a necromancer. For a short while. I’d found solace in the butterfly garden far too many times to confess to anyone. When I’d had to leave my father’s house, I went into a period of mourning, bereft of my yellow butterflies.
Then one day, while I was standing outside of Ruben’s bookstore on Magazine, a woman stepped out of a shop and walked down the street, her lengthy blond hair streaming down her back. I’d felt it like a punch to the gut. I remember sucking in a painful gulp of air the second I laid eyes on her, knowing at long last I’d found my butterfly garden again.
Only, she wasn’t a garden. She was a woman. A witch. A breathlessly stunning, beguiling one who began tormenting my dreams with aching frequency from that very day. As I watched her now, I wondered, not for the first time, if she was in fact my hope and my guide. Because wherever she went, I helplessly followed.
Chapter 1
* * *
This was it. I was totally doing this. No going back now.
I marched up the shaded walkway of Henry Blackwater’s two-story mansion on St. Charles Avenue, the imposing front door drawing closer.
Well, maybe a little going back.
I turned around and paced down the pavement away from the house, weighing the possible outcomes.
What’s the worst thing that could happen anyway?
He could say no. Or he could tell me he wanted nothing to do with me. I could discover that I’ve been completely wrong that he feels the same.
Then you know what would happen? I’d fall into a deep abyss of utter despair. I’d lock myself in my carriage house apartment and cry myself sick while eating praline ice cream and peanut M&Ms and watching Ever After on loop. Then I’d never venture out into public, much less daylight, ever again. I’d curl up in a fetal position and wither away in my chocolate-stained, pink satin pajamas.
But that wasn’t going to happen. No, ma’am.
An elderly woman peered over the roof of her car and the hedge separating Henry’s front yard from hers. Her concern for me, or possibly my mental state, rolled over the shrub and wafted right into me.
I waved and smiled. “All is well,” I assured her with a sharp nod, though that didn’t seem to allay her worry for me, the woman muttering and pacing up and down her neighbor’s walkway, holding a pastry box.
Exhaling a breath and widening my smile, I walked past the Greek columns onto the portico and up to the regal wooden door engraved with tree branches and birds along the edges. A raven was carved in the top corner, a sentinel observing visitors on this doorstep.
I smiled at the wooden raven and gave him a wink. I was not wrong.
Balancing my box of cupcakes in one hand, I readied myself to ring the doorbell, smoothing my magenta mini-skirt and hardening my resolve. Step one in Clara-gets-Henry was about to happen whether the universe was ready or not.
Or maybe tomorrow will be better.
As I was about to return to my car, I jumped as a bolt sounded on the other side and the heavy wooden door swung open. The jarring sight of him slugged me hard in the chest, but I somehow remained upright.
Every time I saw Henry, my body’s immediate response was to wilt and melt into a puddle at his feet, which were bare at the moment. Dear Goddess above, even his bare feet were beautiful.
“Hi, Henry.” I beamed brightly, admiring his deep purple aura that seemed to match his brooding intensity.
“Clara,” was all he managed to say, his dark eyes wide with surprise, that deep, smoky voice of his threatening to tangle my tongue into knots.
But before I could become an inarticulate dummy on his doorstep, I spilled my intentions.
“I hope you don’t mind me showing up at your home. I asked Gareth, and he gave me your address. There’s something important I wanted to talk to you about. May I come in?”
For a moment, he simply stared and blinked at me. I reached out with my Aura senses, but still…nothing. My magic had been a wonderful companion throughout my life, always showing me who needed help and guiding me by revealing the emotions of others in my vicinity. But Henry? Not a thing. Not a tiny inkling of emotion other than what I can read on his expression. Like normal people had to do. It was horrendous.
At the moment, the emotion I was discerning was sheer shock, which wasn’t a surprise as I had just bombarded my way into his home. After all, he hadn’t invited me. But that was the problem. He was moving too slowly, and I had no patience, so like Jules had advised me several months ago, I was taking matters into my own hands.
Rather than wait for him to answer my request to enter (the way it was looking now, that might be a rejection), I stepped up and into the doorway. Henry took a sudden step backward, widening the door.
“Come in,” was all he managed to say, his brow pursed in confusion.
I loved analyzing his emotions, trying to absorb them the way I did others. Though my magic never once tingled to reveal what I could see in everyone else, my skin still zinged in response to his nearness. There was an energy around Henry that drew me like a dragon to her golden treasure. I wanted to swoop in and hoard this sensation for eternity.
When he closed the door, I took a moment to look around. His house was bigger and grander than ours in the lower Garden District. Even though Henry’s personal exterior—typically well-worn jeans and a black t-shirt like now—never screamed money in any way, he apparently had some. And this house suited him.