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Happy New Year

Wow. I can't believe another year is gone. Time really does seem to fly by as you get older. It's freezing in Florida. My blood is too thin for this weather. #Floridagirl

I hope you had an amazing New Years Day! Stay warm, friends!

CHAPTER EIGHT (continued)

Dacian straightens to his full height, and I imagine a huge smile is on his face.

We pass under the arched branch and step into a small clearing. Wisteria trees surround the area, perfuming the air with its sweet scent. White flowery vines wrap around the trunks of the trees, and the ground is covered with a thick layer of floral shrubbery. My slippers sink into soft flowerbeds as we move to stand in the center of the small meadow.

Dacian stops and faces me. Excitement radiates from him. I can feel it charging the air. "What is your favorite color?"

Ever since Mother died, I've answered that question with yellow, but the color I love more than any other belongs to the Plumerias that grow in the gardens at the manor.

"Bright pink," I tell him, eager to see what he does.

"Close your eyes."

I scan the green and white scenery one last time and then do as he says.

"Now open them."

The leaves, the vines, the thick shrubbery on the ground are all pink, bright glorious pink. The color is everywhere, except for some green leaves sprinkled throughout and what little bark you can see.

Beaming, I twirl and take it all in. "How did you do this?"

"Do you like it?"

"I love it!"

"Pick another color." His breath is as heightened as mine.

Thinking of the girls, I blurt, "Lavender. Do I have to close my eyes again?"

"No. Just the first time so it would be amazing."

He lifts his arms to the side. The fog swirling his body turns lavender. Then he snaps his arms at the elbows as if to release the color into the air. In a blink, everything is lavender.

I giggle, smile, and come so close to shedding a tear. "This is the twin's favorite color." It makes me miss them even more.

"What are their names?" Dacian asks.

"Calyssa and Carys." Before I can stop myself, I babble, "Calyssa is headstrong and too curious for her own good, while Carys is as soft as a summer breeze but loyal to her sister to the point that she'd follow her anywhere." I make a soft laugh. "They have so much of my mother in them, like they each took half of her personality."

"You loved your mother dearly?" he asks as if this puzzles him.

"Of course, I did." I shrug. "Don't you love your mother in some way?"

He draws in a deep breath, and the color fades from the trees, returning to white and green. "We should go."

Worried I upset him, I don't dispute his need to leave, even though I want to stay here longer.

The trip back to the cottage seems shorter than it did on our way to the wisteria garden. The sun stays hidden behind clouds the entire way. The straw roof comes into view first. Though dirty, the yellow color stands out against all the greenery. The wood framing of the exterior looks as gloomy as it did when we left. I assume the inside is the same.

Dacian stops at the door, mist swirling his tall form. "This is where I leave you."

"What? Why?" I blurt, only then realizing how dramatic I sound. "I mean, why are you leaving now? We just got back, and I thought we could read the book together, or rather, I could read it to you."

"It's easier if I leave here. I'm cloaked, so you don’t have to keep your head down," he explains with a lift of his shoulders.

"Is it because of what I said about your mother?" I’m convinced this has something to do with his sudden desire to part ways. "I meant no harm by it, no judgment. She's your mother," I say with compassion. "You must have some emotional connection to her, whether you want to or not."

He doesn't say anything, but I can feel his eyes on me. To know their color would be wonderful. Maybe he could tell me.

"Dacian?" I reach up to touch his face.

He catches my wrist, his grip soft yet firm. "Read. Rest. If death chooses another victim, I'll come for you at sunset."

"And if it doesn't?"

"Then I'll see you in the morning."

I force my feet to stay in place when he walks away. He follows the big tree to left like he's headed for the back of the cottage.

"Thank you for today!" I call out before he vanishes from my sight. "It was kind of you to share that with me."

Again, he pauses but only long enough to say, "You're welcome."

Then he's gone.

The woods are quiet and dim like the sun has set, even though it hasn't. In the summer, an orange glow always appears before it does. Part of me wants to explore the area and see if I can find where Dacian goes. Does he visit his mother? What does she do during the day? Hang out by the river, or return under the water until dusk? Perhaps these are the questions Dacian referred to and the answers are in the book.

When I turn to enter the cottage, the door is open. Fear flashes through me but fades when I notice the inside is light and cozy. The cottage is happy with me again. Why? Because I'm calm, because I want to go inside, because I was kind to Dacian and thanked him?

It's all such a mystery.

"Thank you," I tell the cottage as I climb the step and cross the threshold.

Everything inside appears clean and new. A fire crackles beneath the stone hearth. Even though it's summer, the warmth is nice, not too hot.

On the table, a glass of juice, a cup of tea, bread, and a bowl of soup wait for me. My nose tells me it's chicken soup, and my stomach rumbles.

Something shimmers on the other side of the room. The gold etching of the book ripple as if calling to me. I bring it to the table so I can read while I eat.

When my stomach has had more than enough of the delicious food, I move to the chair and nestle into the soft cushions. The lights dim slightly, making the room even cozier.

I set the brooch on the table and continue reading. So far, I haven't found anything new about Bretta and her jealousy for Queen Alys. Even as a child, Bretta acted spitefully toward her older sister.

The next page shows a portrait of them. The original hangs in the castle hall. I saw it from a distance long ago when Mother and I were in town.

It must have been hard for her, looking so different from everyone. I imagine it didn't earn her any favor with the people. Maybe that added to her bitterness toward her sister.

My mouth opens wide with a yawn. I rub my eyes. How long have I been reading? Outside the window, it looks black. Night has fallen.

Dacian never came for me. No one will die this evening. I should be relieved, but tomorrow is a new day with the chance of another victim, and I've yet to find anything in this book that can help.

I let out a frustrated groan and slam the book closed.

The lights flicker and turn off, leaving me in the dark.

"Sorry," I say quickly. "I didn't mean it. I'm frustrated, and I shouldn't have done that. Please forgive me."

The cottage remains dark. I can't even see my hand in front of my face. I could apologize again, beg for forgiveness, but it wouldn't be genuine, and I'm certain the cottage would know.

The truth is, I'm tired, homesick, and desperate to see my family. And now I can't even read more because this overly sensitive cottage is angry with me.

A chill spreads through the room. I shiver and draw my legs close, huddling in the corner of the chair. It no longer feels soft and cushy. The cottage must have turned back to its rotted self. Will I ever be enough to please it? Is that even possible?

Instead of working to charm the cottage into its cozy state, I accept the punishment as payment for not being honest with my family about Tristin, for allowing them to think everything would be fine, and for not being there now to take care of them, like I had promised Mother I would.

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