Matt sat in the living room of their new home and studied the chessboard for a moment before making his move. He would have to speak to her about it today. She needed to know.
He was turning into his father and he had no way to stop it. For the last six years, he’d been trying to hide it but it was getting worse. He’d thought that moving to a new town and getting away from the bad memories would help. It hadn’t.
Sighing, he stood up and stared down at the pieces. Quite calmly, he swept the entire section in front of him off the board before walking upstairs. Knocking softly on their bedroom door, he walked in to find her lying in bed. “Eva,” he began.
She opened her eyes and stared at him. “Hi,” her voice was throaty from sleep but she was alert.
“Can we talk?”
She sat up and patted the side of the bed. Taking a deep breath, Matt walked over and sat down. “There are a few things we need to discuss.”
She smiled tightly and said, “Oh?”
“Yes. I know you’ve been…anxious. About me, about getting married. I wanted to explain a few things.” She looked down at her hands but said nothing. Okay, she wasn’t going to make this easy then. “I think I might be suffering from…that is, I…” He stood up and moved across the room before whirling around to face her. “I think it’s time you met my parents.”
Her face, blank while he’d been speaking, now looked shocked, her mouth open to form an O before she snapped it shut and shook her head. “What?”
He walked over to her and sat back down. “I think it’s time that you met my mother and father. There are things you don’t know about me, that you need to know before we get married.”
“Like what?” She asked quietly. He could tell that wasn’t what she’d been expecting him to say.
“Do you remember what I told you about my dad?” He used to call her and leave voicemails on her phone. Even then, while he was trying to get back in her life, the fear of his future had been there. He’d tried to warn her of what it meant to love a man like him. “I need you to understand what you’re signing up for, what our future will look like.” She started to protest but he cut her off, “No. I need this Eva. Okay, fıstığım?”
His pet name for her, something he hadn’t used in a long time, seemed to snap her out of her daze. Her eyes studied his face for a long time before she finally nodded. “Okay.”
“Okay Al, Mel or Una will be here tonight but if you need anything…” Eva pulled her son in for a tight hug.
“Mom, I’m almost an adult, I can handle a day with Stephanie alone. We’ll be fine!” He hugged her back though and that made her feel slightly better. Al was a good kid but still.
“It’s time to go,” Matt said from the doorway. He and Al exchanged looks and she frowned. She was outnumbered.
Turning to Stephie, she gave her daughter a hug too. “Be good Stephie and listen to your brother, okay?”
“Yes mom.” Stephanie reached up to grab Al’s hand and he glanced down at her, his face smoothing into a soft smile.
Finally, with Matt practically dragging her by the arm, she left the house. She’d never been away from her children for longer than a night. She and Matt would be gone for a week. Dre was flying in to watch them and Mel would stay the night, but still…
“Matt, perhaps…” She began, strapping herself in with the car seatbelt.
“Eva, your brother will be here tomorrow afternoon. Kieran can handle Stephie for a few hours. Take a deep breath.” Matt reached over and squeezed her knee.
She took three.
Eva looked at herself critically in the mirror. “What does one wear to meet parents?” She twisted, trying to get a better view of the back of her outfit. They’d landed in Dragon Valley the night before and were to meet Matt’s parents in a couple of hours.
“Have you never met your boyfriends’ parents before?” Matt stood watching her from across the room. He was dressed in jeans and sneakers. Should she try to match him?
“You’re not my boyfriend, you’re my fiancé.” She pointedly reminded him. “And no, I have not.” There hadn’t been many past boyfriends and Glasgow had never brought her home.
“Well,” he said at last, “my mother won’t care. What’s wrong with what you have on now?”
She gave a soft grunt and walked to the closet to change. Men, she thought.
They finally reached their destination ten minutes later. It was a small town but there were many one-way streets. Eva smoothed down her hair and wiped her suddenly sweaty palms down her skirt.
Matt touched her shoulder briefly, “You’ll be fine. Stop worrying.”
Then they were at the door and Matt was knocking. The sound of his fist against the wood echoed the thudding of her heart. She was going to pass out. Matt took her hand and squeezed and she felt instantly better. The tightness around her heart and throat eased and she could breathe again.
Matt suddenly opened the door and walked in.
“Matt!” Eva hissed. “You can’t just – ”
Matt raised an eyebrow. “This is my parents’ house. Of course I can. It’s alright, mom knows I’m here.”
Before she could ask how the hell he knew that, he tapped his forehead. Oh, right.
Eva walked in behind him and shut the door quietly. With the white noise of the street muted, she could very clearly hear movement coming from upstairs. Looking around, she tried to imagine what kind of woman Amanda King was. The house was done in muted browns and greens. Directly in front of them were the stairs, to the left, what appeared to be the living room and kitchen. She looked to her right and saw a narrow hall leading to a closed door. Her eye caught on a beautiful green egg sculpture on a side table.
“My father insisted on being authentic when they moved here,” Matt said, trying to explain his mother’s taste.
She brushed her hands over his. “It’s lovely. It seems so peaceful.” In fact, once she thought about it, it became obvious that a spell – or several – had been cast in the space. She stiffened but couldn’t detect anything that suggested they were aimed at her or malevolent in any way.
Footsteps on the stairs brought her head around and she watched as Matt’s mother walked down the stairs holding on to an older man. Matt’s father presumably.
Matt walked forward to help his mother but she waved him away. “I’m fine. Give me a sec.”
Eva and Matt waited while Amanda walked her husband over to a wheelchair. Once he was seated and comfortable, she walked back to them. Matt took a step forward and his mother opened her arms to accept his hug. “Hello dear.”
They sat for a few minutes in silence. Eva thought back to the introductions made earlier. Matt’s mother had smiled and given her a hug, something Eva hadn’t been expecting. She’d also insisted that Eva call her Amanda or Mom.
“Sorry about Jaime, he’s had a rough couple of days,” Amanda said.
Eva glanced at the sleeping form of Matt’s father and nodded. “Oh, that’s alright. Dad used to joke that his wheelchair was more comfortable than his bed.”
The sudden tension in the room stopped her mid-chuckle and she closed her eyes briefly. How stupid can you be? She chided herself. Michelle, Matt’s sister, was the reason why Connor was in the wheelchair in the first place. “I’m so sorry…I didn’t mean – ”
“Don’t fret, dear.” Eva felt a sudden warmth, as though someone was hugging her and she looked sharply at Amanda. The sensation stopped as suddenly as it had started. Amanda frowned. “I’m sorry, I’m so used to comforting, I didn’t think – please, forgive my forwardness.”
Eva shook her head, “No, it’s alright. It was nice. You’re a…” She let the sentence hang, afraid of prying.
“A Corpus Sagae. Yes, I thought Matt would have – well, either way, I am a witch of the body. Or a Bodybuilder, although I do not like that term. It brings to mind a sense of – girth – that I do not have.”
She certainly did not. Amanda King was extremely well-preserved but what would you expect from a witch with the power to heal almost any illness, including skin damage?
They talked for a little while longer, mostly about Eva and her life. Finally, Amanda stood up and glanced at the clock. “It is getting late; I need to get Jaime ready for bed.”
Summarily dismissed, Matt and Eva stood also. “It was so very nice to meet you Mrs. – I mean, Amanda.”
The corner of Amanda’s lips twitched. “I’ve prepared the guest bedroom upstairs for you two. It’s upstairs on your left.”
Eva frowned and looked at Matt. He just chuckled and leaned in to kiss his mother tenderly on the forehead. “I’ll go get our bags from the hotel and check out.”
And that was that. Eva found herself standing in a bedroom, as quaint as the rest of the house, waiting for Matt to come back. She’d undressed before realizing she had nothing to change into and was just folding her skirt, deciding to take a shower in the meantime, when she heard someone clear their throat.
Whirling around in surprise, she found Matt standing by the door, suitcases by his feet. “Hey,” she said.
She watched as his eyes took her in, starting with the top of her hair, back in its tight curls, down to her breasts, her hips, all the way to her bare feet. Eva hadn’t seen that look of hunger in his eyes for a while now. They’d been intimate, sure, but he’d always seemed distant, closed off from her. Suddenly feeling shy, she crossed her arms and said, “Your mother is very kind to let us stay here.”
Matt’s eyes flicked back up to hers, “We haven’t seen each other in over ten years.”
Oh, Eva thought. Not since Michelle poisoned her father. Not since he’d betrayed his sister to help Connor.
Matt turned away and stripped, the moment, and the gleam in his eyes, gone. “I’m going to take a shower.”
Eva nodded and walked over to the suitcases to start unpacking. Twice now, the thought of Matt’s sister had ruined the moment.
After pulling on some clothes, she put their things away and waited for Matt to get out of the shower. A sudden bout of nerves hit her and she squeezed her hands through her hair, straightening the strands. She knew he’d brought her here to tell her something. They’d been together for so long, engaged for almost half that time, but she couldn’t honestly say she knew what he wanted. Or that she knew what he was thinking or feeling. Oh, he’d been there for her, physically. He came home every night, spent time with her and the kids, made love to her – but he wasn’t there. He kept himself emotionally distant from them in a way that broke her heart to think about.
The sound of the water shutting off in the enclosed bathroom brought on a fresh wave of panic. He wouldn’t bring her all this way just to break off the engagement, would he? That seemed almost cruel. She laid her head down on her knees.
She looked up to find Matt in his pajama, standing just a few feet in front of her. He sighed deeply and walked up to her, holding his hand out to help her stand up. She rose and instinctively hugged him, burying her face in his warm chest, still damp for the shower. She was trembling. She wanted to beg and plead. Cite the children, their love, and her need for him as reasons why he should stay.
So she was just a bit shocked when he tilted up her head and kissed her. “I love you, Eva.”
“I love you too Matt,” she said hoarsely, the tears clogging up her throat.
“Why are you crying, fıstığım?”
He brushed a tear away from her cheek and she shook her head. Hearing his pet name for her just made the tears flow faster. “I don’t want you to leave me.”
He smiled gently down at her. “I’m not. I won’t, ever. But you might leave me.”
She immediately shook her head. “No,” she said vehemently, “never!”
He kissed her again. “I’m glad to hear it. Sit down and tell me why you’re so upset.”
He sat on the bed and pulled her onto his lap. She curled around him and soaked in his body heat, the trembling slowing down as she relaxed. She played with his chest hair, feeling shy. “Matt?”
“Hmm?” He was stroking her hair and neck.
“If you didn’t bring me here to break up with me, why are we here?”
He stopped stroking. “Eva, I would never be so cruel. I brought you here so you could meet my parents.”
“Your mother is very nice,” She said tentatively.
“Yes, she is. It’s my father who’s the problem.”
She frowned. “Your dad? He doesn’t seem too bad.”
Matt laughed humorlessly. “That’s because he was sleeping. Wait until tomorrow.”
“No, Eva. I can’t let you bind yourself to me without showing you how our life might be.” He looked down at her. “I’m going crazy, Eva. I’m turning into my father. ‘In sickness and in healthy.’ Those are very real vows and there will be more sickness than health. I just – I don’t want that life for you.”
She reached up and stroked his cheek. “In sickness and in health. If I wanted easy, I would have stayed single, Matt. I – I know that sometimes I’m reckless and inconsiderate, and I’ve paid dearly for that. With Ste – with the baby and with you a bit, I think.” She smiled at him sadly. “I want to fix things. I need you, more than anything else in the world, I need you. I just hope I’m not too late.”
Matt kissed her lightly and her heart swelled with hope.
The next few days brought home just what Matt had tried to prepare her for. His father was a crotchety old man with a foul mouth. The first time he’d called her a filthy slut, she’d had to step away from the room for fear of smacking him. She found Matt in the kitchen, fixing the garbage disposal. “Your father is the rudest person I’ve ever met,” she had said.
“Just wait,” had been his only reply.
The situation had steadily become worse. Jaime had lost his mind completely. He was abusive and those moments of clarity – where he knew who they were – were so rare that she wondered how anyone could put up with him. She just wanted to shake him most times. But the one person who could calm him, who he always recognized, was Amanda. That was something, right?
“Matt, has he always been like that?” She was getting ready for bed, they were leaving the day after tomorrow and he had promised to go sightseeing with her the next day.
“Since I was three or four. It wasn’t so bad in the beginning though.”
“What?” He turned to look at her.
“Nothing, just thinking.”
She glanced up at him but didn’t respond. She was wondering if he would remember her if he ever got that bad. She jerked with surprise when she felt him rooting around in her brain. He hadn’t done that in a very long time. Their connection was a two-way channel and he’d kept himself carefully closed off from her.
“Sorry,” he said, retreating.
She stared at him. “Will we ever be okay, do you think?”
“I think we’re making progress, no?”
She walked over and gave him a hug, needing to be close to him. When he kissed her lightly on the forehead, she smiled a little. Yes, they were making progress.
Before coming to Dragon Valley, Matt had told her a little about the town. It was a lot like Moonlight Falls, a haven for those that were magically inclined. Unlike the Falls, though, the town was very strict about preserving their culture and their traditions. Eva looked out the car window at the passing scenery. The town of Dragon Valley was antiquated, with 17th century houses along the main shopping area. Several people were dressed in weird clothing and there were very few cars or electricity of any type.
Her eyes widened and she turned to Matt. “Matt?”
“Hmm?” Matt said, preoccupied with maneuvering around the town.
“Matt!” She hissed softly, although there was no danger of anyone hearing her in the car.
“Yes?” Matt glanced over at her before quickly looking back at the road.
“We just passed a man with blue skin!”
Matt laughed. He’d been doing that more and she was momentarily distracted by the deep, rich sound. “That would be a Dragonfly.”
“What?” Eva asked, startled. That didn’t look like an insect to her. While Matt snorted, a memory came to her of Siobhan talking about the history of magic. There were six houses of Faery. One of which was the Swirlys – Siobhan’s house and the current ruling family. Another was Dragonfly.
Siobhan had told her a bit about this place when she was younger. Most of the older Houses of Faery could be found in Dragon Valley, including Siobhan’s people. There were Six Houses, three Seelie or Light Fae and three UnSeelie – the Dark Fae. A purely genetic distinction, Siobhan had assured her. Eva couldn’t help shiver thinking of Dark Fae magic. A faery was casted based on the shape of their wings at birth, so it was very probable to have both Light and Dark Fae in one family.
In all other aspects, they were the same, any distinct qualities washed out after centuries of interbreeding. The Fae were notorious for being egotistical and not marrying anyone who was not also Fae. But she’d never heard of their skin being blue!
Eva craned her neck to get a better look at the man who was now well past them. “Are they all blue-skinned?” she asked.
“Mostly, it’s part of their genetics, some weird mutation from centuries ago. But there are a few that look normal.”
“Oh. Ok.” She didn’t know what else to say. A thought occurred to her then. “You grew up with all this, lived with these people?”
Matt shrugged. “Partly, but a greater part of my life was spent around ordinary people. We weren’t well liked by the magical community back then.”
They parked the car and ate sandwiches in a small park. It was a beautiful day and they were sitting on a blanket, her head on his chest, when Matt looked down and said, “Eva, marry me.”
She turned her head to look up at him. “I thought we’d already established that I would, in fact, marry you?”
He plucked some grass and they watched as the wind blew the strands from his open palm. She frowned when she realized that he was nervous. She could feel it. Tentatively, in case he hadn’t meant to open up to her, she poked around in his head.
She’d tried to explain this to Al, once. The feeling of looking into someone else’s mind. She hadn’t done a good job of it, but of course, Matt had known exactly what to say. He’d told Al that it was like rooting around in a treasure chest for the first time. Everything inside was precious but there was also a bit of fear of what you might find. But you knew that the owner of the chest trusted you with her treasures and even if some things were scary to see, you should feel honored to be the person she shared her secrets with.
That was before you knew. “Now you know.”
And here she was, feeling terrified but so grateful that he trusted her with his secrets. She sat up and looked at him. Yes. “Always, yes.”