I’m thrilled to present the next installment in L.C. Conn’s epic One True Child series, Stones! Please read on for an exclusive excerpt, and a chance to win a copy of the book!
Also, for all you fantasy loving book reviewers out there, the entire series is available in exchange for honest reviews. Contact R&R Book Tours for more info!
Stones (One True Child #5)
Publication Date: March 5th, 2019
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Publisher: Between the Lines Publishing
Deep within the New Zealand bush, lies a plateau with a clearing, covered in the many years of fallen leaves, it is damp and dark. Hidden just under the surface are the stones, green and still polished, placed by the Guardians of this land. There is power in them still and they are about to bear witness to a great battle between light and darkness. Claire Drummond is in danger, her very life depends on the actions and help of her husband and family. Also, the man she thought had left her life for good, Tony Benning. Caught up once more in the heavy turmoil of good vs evil, Claire has much more to fight for than just a set of stones in the highlands of Scotland. This time it’s personal. This time he has her daughter
The house was deathly quiet, and it suited the moment as Claire Drummond hung up the phone with a frown. She had always known that this time would come, but it still made her heart feel heavy. He was the last of his generation, and now her Uncle Geoff was seriously ill and in decline. The last four years had felt like one long funeral, as her grandparents had passed away one by one. But Lynnette, Grace, and Malcolm had all been there for the two most important moments in her life since meeting them when she was seventeen: her wedding to her wonderful husband, Matt, and the birth of their daughter Breena a year later.
No matter how much she had come to love her grandparents, Geoff held a special place in her heart. It was her uncle who had taken her in and cared for her since she was ten years old after her parents had been murdered. He had been her strength and support when at seventeen she had learnt about her past, her Talents, and the truth of where she had come from. Then again with her ordeal both in Scotland and back home, until Matt had found her again—even though she had not appreciated it at the time.
Quickly she glanced at her watch; it was almost time to collect Breena from school. Claire grabbed her jacket and scarf and headed out into the bitter cold southerly wind. Clouds, dark and threatening, raced overhead; she shivered as the cold winter air blasted around her, creeping under the layers she was wearing. The walk was only a short one, but today her feet felt heavy, dragging as she made her way down the street. She stopped for a moment as the news finally sunk in; a tear escaped her eye and she let it fall.
Steadying her breathing and calming not only her mind but also her heart, she carried on. Claire brought forth the image of her daughter—her long, dark curly hair that refused to stay in a ponytail for longer than a few minutes, the bright blue eyes so much like her father’s, and the image of her namesake—Matt’s long-passed sister. Sometimes when they were alone together, Breena would look up at her and smile. It had a depth to it that suggested something to Claire, but she always put it out of her mind as soon as she thought it, refusing to face what might be true.
The gates of the school were already open, and children of all sizes streamed out of them into the waiting arms of parents or walked together for the trip home. The noise of their chatter and squeals of delight turned to shouts and calls of farewell. Claire smiled and waved at friends, promising to get together for a coffee or a playdate with the kids while she waited for Breena to skip out of the narrow entrance. Normally her daughter was very punctual and the wait at the gate was a short one, but today there was no sign of her.
Glancing around frantically, Claire could feel panic starting to rise inside her chest. Today of all days, Breena had decided to tarry. She searched for her daughter in the still-moving crowd of little people, but she was not there. Claire headed in through the gates and made her way to Breena’s classroom; her teacher was at the door, talking to another mother. She smiled as Claire approached, then pointed inside. Looking through the door, Claire found her daughter still sitting at the table, drawing.
“Bree, what are you doing, sweetheart? School has finished,” Claire said as she entered.
“Hello, Mum. I just wanted to finish this.” Bree indicated the paper she was drawing on. The little girl turned back to her task and the long, wavy black hair fell over her face, free from the hair ties Claire had put in that morning.
“We have to go; you can’t stay here after school. How about you bring it home and finish it there?” Claire knelt down and pushed the hair off her daughter’s face. “What are you drawing?”
“It’s a picture for my friend,” she told her mother.
Claire looked at the picture; it constantly surprised her how well Bree could draw, knowing full well she had inherited it from her father and her grandmother. The picture Bree was so determined to finish before going home was clearly of her and a very tall person.
“Who’s that with you?” Claire asked her.
“That’s my friend—I told you about him. He’s funny. He asked me to draw a picture of us.” Bree smiled and stood up. “Can I really take it home to do?”
“Yes, of course you can. Come on.” She held out her hand for her daughter to take and they collected Bree’s bag from the hook outside. As they walked up the street, Claire pondered the person in the picture with a little concern. “So does this friend have a name?” she asked Bree curiously.
“No, he won’t tell me what it is, so I call him Mr Man. He laughs when I call him that.” Bree smiled.
Claire took her daughter’s hand, and she started to skip beside her mother. Her backpack bounced on her back, and Claire could hear something rolling around inside.
“Did you eat your lunch today, Bree?” She looked down at her.
“No; I told you I don’t like cottage cheese and cucumber. It’s yucky.”
“But you liked it last week.”
“Now I don’t. What I do like is peanut butter and…” Bree stopped skipping while she thought, making Claire come to a halt as well.
“What do you like with peanut butter?”
“Shh; I’m thinking.” Her little finger was pressed against her mouth as she contemplated.
Claire waited, starting to feel frustrated. It seemed her daughter’s taste in food changed from one minute to the next, and trying to keep up was becoming difficult. Fat raindrops started to fall, landing heavily on the path around them, leaving dark splatter spots on the pale concrete.
“Come on, Bree, otherwise we are going to get drenched!” She tugged her daughter into movement and they raced down the street together, laughing and squealing whenever they got hit by a raindrop.
After they reached their front door, Bree raced inside and dumped her bag in the living room, then headed straight for the kitchen. Claire picked up the bag and pulled out the lunchbox. Everything she had put in it that morning was gone, except for the offending sandwich. The picture Bree had been so busy drawing caught her attention.
Taking it with her, she walked into the kitchen. Already strewn across the countertop were bread, butter, peanut butter, and three different types of jams. Bree was attempting to spread the peanut butter on the bread, but she seemed to be smearing it on everything else as well.
“You make the mess, missy, you clean it up.”
Claire pinned the picture up on the notice board and looked at it clearly for the first time. It was beautifully done, and Breena had captured her own face very well, but the drawing of her daughter’s mysterious imaginary friend gave her an uneasy feeling once more. He was not quite finished, but already she could see some of his features and they seemed almost familiar.
“Mum?” Bree called her.
“Mmm?” Claire broke her gaze at the page and turned to face her.
“Can we go see Granddad soon?” she asked, taking a bite from her jam-dripping sandwich. As soon as Bree could talk, she’d refused to call Geoff by any other name than Granddad; it had made him so pleased that Claire never corrected her.
Her question stunned Claire, especially after the phone call she had received. “Why’s that, Bree?”
“I just get this feeling we should go see him.” Jam was now smeared on her face, not just the countertop.
“As a matter of fact, my little oracle, we are leaving in an hour and will be there tonight.” Claire grabbed a cloth and handed it to Bree. “So when you have finished eating that sandwich and cleaned up your mess, then go and find some things to take with you. And I don’t mean half of your toys.”
Claire finished packing their bags and dropped them at the front door on the way to the kitchen as she listened to Bree chatting about her day. The evidence of her daughter’s cleaning was still on the bench, with smeared lines of peanut butter and jam heading towards the sink. Claire shook her head and picked up the cloth, rinsed it off and finished the job, then went looking for her daughter.
In her bedroom Bree was sitting in the middle of the floor and staring at a couple of her dolls. She picked one up very carefully and then whispered to it. “I’ll take you; I think you will be good on this trip.” She placed the doll carefully into the bag at her side and then put the other away on her bed. “You can come on our next trip, to Scotland.”
“Come on, Bree; we have to go pick up Dad.”
“I’m ready.” Bree picked up her bag and put it on her shoulder, then took one last look around her room.
Claire hated the rush-hour traffic that was already starting to build and knew that getting out of the city would be a nightmare—even more so now that the rain had set in. She threaded the small car in and out of the lanes and waited impatiently for the many traffic lights that were determined to delay her. Finally, she made it to the university, pulled into the car park, and took out her phone.
“Here he comes, Mum!” Bree squealed from the back seat.
Matt Drummond was running down the steps from the administration building and splashing across the rain-soaked car park with his bag over his head. He jumped into the car and slammed the door quickly behind him.
“How’s my girls?” he asked and then leaned over to give Claire a kiss.
“We’re going to see Granddad,” Bree answered him from the back.
“Aye; I know, my wee angel.” Matt looked hard at Claire. “Have you had any word?”
Claire nodded instead of answering in case she started to cry. “Charlie rang,” she said softly, pulling back onto the road and into the madness of congestion.
“Do you want me to drive?” Matt placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
“No, you can take over after we stop for dinner.” She smiled weakly back at him.
After the stop-start congestion of the city and suburbs that surrounded it, the journey to the village was an uneventful one. The small family only stopped once when Bree started to complain about being hungry and then got back on the road as soon as possible. Once Matt was in the driver’s seat, Claire could relax and take a breath. She remembered the first time Geoff had taken her on this journey; it seemed then that her life had been turned completely upside down.
But that had been nothing compared to her first trip to Scotland, where she thought she was going to be on an ordinary excavation. The discovery of the heritage of The Community was still ongoing, thanks to what she had learned in Scotland, but also of her own heritage and learning the purpose for which she had been born. The Talents that the Guardians of the land had given her still had not found their limits, and sometimes that scared her—just as much as the death of Jack at her hands had. And always in the background—supporting and caring for her—was Uncle Geoff.
She had always hoped that one day he would find love again. He had told her once that he hadn’t enough time left to train a new wife. Claire knew this was only an excuse; he had found his love and lost her, and he didn’t want a replacement.
Claire looked over to her husband and thought the same thing. How on earth could she replace him? He was so perfect for her, always knowing when she needed extra love, when she needed calm. He made her laugh—a lot—and kept her on an even keel. The day she met him was still so vivid in her mind. The first thing she had noticed about him was his eyes, those beautiful, bright blue eyes.
It was a little bit after nine in the evening when they pulled up outside Geoff Brown’s house in the village. The porch light blazed a warm welcome with its golden glow, and a curtain twitched briefly, showing a patch of light from the living room. The door was opened before they even reached the steps, and her Uncle Ben and Aunt Charlie came out to greet them.
Ben pulled Claire into a big hug and welcomed her home, then turned to Matt and shook his hand. Charlie was next, with a warm smile and an even warmer hug, and then she guided her into the hallway, telling one of her tall sons to go get the bags from the car.
“Do you want to go straight up, or do you want a cuppa first?” Charlie asked her softly.
“I’ll go up. Matt, can you make sure Bree gets ready for bed?”
“Go on up; don’t worry about a thing, my love.” He gave her a kiss and watched as she climbed the stairs to Geoff’s room.
Claire hesitated at the door; taking a deep breath, she opened it quietly. The inside was lit softly by a single lamp at his bedside, and what she saw made her heart break. Geoff, who had been so full of life and vigour, now lay quiet and thin. His breathing was even and shallow, his skin a pallid colour. The full head of hair, which had stubbornly remained mostly dark with a couple of distinguishing bits of grey at the sides, was now almost fully white. His illness had ravaged his body, and he was now so wasted away she nearly didn’t recognise him.
A chair had been pulled up to the side of the bed, and Claire sat in it. She held his hand and kissed it, his skin dry and thin like paper under her touch. She brought it up to her forehead and did something she had never done with him before—she sought out his subconscious.
As she had expected, Claire found an orderly and tidy mind. Everything was compartmentalised and in its place. She found him with ease; it was almost as if he had signposted it for her.
“I wondered if you would,” Geoff said to her as she entered. He stood before her just as he had been when she was a teenager. Tall, with dark hair and eyes, and a grin from one large ear to another, stretched out under his equally large nose.
“Uncle Geoff!” She ran to him and before he could say no, she hugged him close.
“Claire!” Geoff tried to push her off at first, horrified, but she resisted until he hugged her back, wrapping those ever-reassuring arms around her once more. They stayed that way for some time, and by the time she did release him, her face was awash with tears.
“That was a foolish thing to do, Kid,” Geoff told her as he held her at arm’s length. “But I thank you.”
“How are you? Are you in pain?”
“No, I’m fine. I find that I am quite comfortable and happy. It’s my time, Kid, and nothing you do is going to stop it.”
“I know.” She nodded.
“Now, have you brought that little firecracker with you? I would like to see her one last time.”
“Bree is with us. She even asked this afternoon if we could come and see you.”
“Good. She reminds me so much of you. So full of energy and enthusiasm. And Matt—has he been well, not missing Scotland too much?”
“No, he is going back in a couple of months. His mother isn’t too good.”
“Oh, that’s not good. I liked Leana; I’ll keep an eye out on the other side for her.”
“But you don’t believe in God and the afterlife.”
“Ahh, a human failing it is to change one’s mind when the end is nigh.” He laughed, then his mood changed. “There is one thing I would very much like you to do for me before I go.”
“Anything, Uncle Geoff. Just name it,” Claire promised.
“I would dearly love to see John and Jess one last time. Can you call them here?”
She nodded with another trickle of tears chasing each other down her cheeks. Claire closed her eyes and sent the call into the dark reaches of her own mind, and she heard the answer at once.
On either side of her, a man and a woman materialised. John, her father, was in black, and Jess, her mother, in white. They greeted her with a kiss each and then went to meet Geoff. Claire had to swallow a lump in her throat as she watched them greet each other and stood back to give them some time together.
Sitting on a large green leather chair, Claire waited while they talked until she felt a tug at her mind. She grasped onto it and brought it in, and she found she was holding on to Matt’s hand.
“I didn’t want to disturb you,” he said quietly, taking in the scene before him.
“That’s all right, Matt. I was feeling a bit alone.” He wrapped his arms around her, both mentally and physically, and she cried into his shoulder.
“Hey, I don’t want tears in here, thank you; you’ll make everything wet,” said Geoff’s deep voice, and he grasped Matt’s hand and pulled him into a hug. They became close while they stayed at his family’s home in Scotland and had remained just as close when Matt came to New Zealand.
“Thank you for looking after her; make sure you keep it up. And that gorgeous girl of yours,” Geoff told him.
“I will always. I promise,” Matt vowed.
“Now, I thank you all for visiting me, but I would very much like to wake up for a second and tell Bree goodnight. John and Jess, I have missed you, and it was a very great privilege and honour to look after your daughter. She is the daughter of my heart.”
“It is us who should be thanking you, Uncle Geoff. You have raised her to be such a fine woman.” John shook his hand and hugged him one last time.
“Thank you, Geoff,” Jess said and kissed him on the cheek.
“Right—the lot of you, out,” he said gruffly, trying to hold back his own tears.
Slowly John and Jess faded out, and Matt gave Geoff another handshake. They spoke no words to each other, just nodded.
Finally it was just Claire once more, and Geoff gathered her up again in his arms. “I meant what I said. You are the daughter I never had, and if you were truly mine I couldn’t have been prouder, Claire.”
“I love you, Uncle Geoff, and I am proud to be called your daughter. I am so lucky to have had two fathers who have cared so much for me.” She kissed his cheek and then pulled away.
“Go get Bree; I want to see her one last time.” Claire felt him push her away and she left, very carefully, and finally detached her mind from his.
Geoff’s eyes fluttered open, and Bree was by his side in her pyjamas and ready for bed.
“There she is! How are you, my firecracker?” he asked softly and smiled at her.
“I’m good, Granddad. Are you just about ready to go?” Her voice was very low, almost a whisper.
“I do believe that I am, but I waited till I could see you again.” Bree climbed up on the bed and gave him a hug.
“Matt, can you go get Ben and the others? It’s nearly time,” Claire whispered to her husband. He nodded in reply, gave her shoulder a squeeze, and left to go downstairs.
When Claire turned her attention back to the man who had raised her and the child she loved, she noticed that Bree was whispering something to him. Geoff’s eyes widened, and he looked at his granddaughter with surprise and love.
Ben, Charlie, and their two boys, Oliver and Owen, filed into the room, followed by Matt. Ben sat on the other side of the bed and held his uncle’s other hand. Geoff smiled and took one last look around the room at all who were left of his family. Bree, still at his side, rested her head on his shoulder, and he closed his eyes.
His breathing, which had been so shallow when Claire first stepped into the room, now began to falter and become ragged. They watched over him into the small hours of the morning, until his last breath escaped his lips and he became still.
“Owen, can you and Oliver take Bree out of the room, please?” Charlie asked her son.
Bree reached up and stroked Geoff’s face. “Goodbye, Granddad. I love you.” She stood up and went around to Owen and held his hand. Before Bree left the room, she took one last look at Geoff and sighed.
Claire was still holding Geoff’s hand in hers, and she didn’t want to release it. One of the most important men in her life had just left her for the last time, and she felt that a piece of her heart went with him. Tears coursed down her face and dripped onto her lap. A tissue was produced in front of her, and she took it. Finally she let go of Geoff’s hand and laid it gently back on the bed by his side.
Matt was there immediately to gather her up into one of his comforting embraces, holding her gently and letting her cry. He stroked her hair and kissed her head. When she was ready, he led her out of the room and down the stairs, followed by Ben and Charlie.
The bottle of whiskey was produced from its high cupboard in the kitchen, along with some glasses. With a measure each, they raised them in salute to the man who had meant so much to all of them. Bree climbed onto her mother’s lap and cuddled in, as she had when she was a baby, and fell asleep.
The next few days were a whirlwind of emotions, endless tasks, and cups of tea. And skipping through it all and giving bright smiles and cuddles was Bree; she made sure that everyone benefitted from her sunny nature. Claire had often observed when she was with her friends that this child could make anyone smile.
The day of the funeral, Bree stuck close to her mother all day. Whenever Claire turned around, there she was, slipping her small hand into her mother’s larger one. Claire would instantly feel calmer as she looked into her daughter’s beautiful eyes.
It was a simple service; Geoff had insisted on that. He hadn’t wanted anything too over-the-top or sad. The elders each got up to speak; Claire thought this would have horrified Geoff, as he had often complained about how long their meetings were each month. Claire couldn’t face standing up in front of the large crowd that had gathered in the hall, and she had asked Ben to do the eulogy on behalf of the family.
Ben stood up behind the podium on the stage with a few notes in front of him and cleared his throat. Claire noticed how much he had grown to look like his brother, her father, and reminded herself to tell him. He looked out at the crowd and began. Tales of Geoff from a nephew’s perspective garnered laughter from the gathered mourners. Ben spoke eloquently and long, something he seemed to have inherited from his uncle. He touched a little on Geoff’s relationship with Claire and their history without going into too many details, which had Claire both grateful and a little teary.
The wake was held in the village hall, and it was full of people; he had touched many lives, and they had come from far and wide to farewell him. But the core was the family, and Claire watched them carefully. The boys were now young men; Owen, Oliver, and Hunter, now nineteen, were all at university. The twins were studying architecture, and Ben had great hopes of them joining his construction company. Hunter was following in his father’s footsteps and was studying agriculture. He had declared at the age of twelve that he wanted to take over the farm from his father, much to the horror of his mother. The oldest of Claire’s cousins was Jasper, and he had just graduated with honours in teaching.
As she talked to them, she realised how much they were like their parents. Owen had his mother’s gentle nature and also her Healing Talent, but he confessed to having a phobia of blood. Oliver was more like his father, ready for a good laugh and a joke; he had the Seek Talent. Hunter had Flight and regaled Claire with his exploits in freerunning, something he had long loved, having been taught by her. Jasper, now twenty-three and with Light Talent, told her he had had enough of study for a while and was about to embark on his own adventures overseas before taking up his first teaching job.
Adam and Addy and their two children had come from the city the day before, and Claire was glad they had. Their twin boys, Cameron and Dominic, were great friends with Bree, and they took her mind off the serious and sad nature of the gathering. She decided she still had a great and supportive family.
At one point, Claire found herself sitting in the corner alone, watching everyone as they mingled. Beth was there, but now the laughter and smiles were no longer forced. She talked to everyone with ease, so unlike the Beth Claire had first met that night all those years before. And she had a flashback to the welcome party and Jack approaching her.
“Claire? You okay?”
She looked up and found David standing before her. He was her mother’s twin brother and a great support to Claire; she had taken to him at once with his easy nature.
“Just going down memory lane,” she said and smiled.
He sat down beside her. “A lot has happened.”
“It has indeed. How’s the farm going?”
“Oh, you know, still the same. I can’t wait for Hunter to be finished with his studies so I can take a bit more of a back seat. I thought I might take Beth on a trip to Scotland.” He winked and smiled at her.
“Do you think she will be able to handle all the midges?”
“She’ll be all right. Do you think Gerry, Leana, and Gran would welcome a couple of visitors?”
“I’m sure they would love to see you. They always ask after you and your family. You made quite an impression on them.”
“We get a card from them every Christmas. Even though it was such a strange trip, I really enjoyed myself.”
Claire spotted Addy and Beth talking. “So are they getting on any better?” she asked him with a small grin.
“No, they still have arguments on how to raise the grandkids. I still can’t believe that I am a grandfather!” He laughed at the thought.
“Just remind Beth that her mother-in-law also had small issues with her. That might change things a bit.”
“Are you kidding me? That would be like a red rag to a bull. Just keep that nose of yours out of it, Kid.” He watched his wife a bit more then stood. “I’d better get over there and split them up before it gets too heated. Come for lunch tomorrow; I know Beth would love to fuss over you for a bit.”
“We will. Thank you, Uncle David.” David smiled at Claire; she hadn’t called him that in years, and he left her with a warm heart.
The afternoon dragged on, and Claire kept herself occupied by cleaning up cups and plates in between talking to the elders about the work she was carrying out for them. With everyone gone, she shooed out those who had volunteered to help clean up, declaring that she needed a bit of time to herself and would finish cleaning the hall on her own. She asked Matt to take Bree back to the house; he kissed her after making sure she was all right and left her to it.
The kitchenette was scrubbed and the rubbish bags tied and waiting by the door to go out. Out in the main hall, she held a broom in her hands and started to sweep; it was a great time to be lost in her thoughts in the quiet. Memories of Geoff made her smile and cry in turn. The peace and silence of the large room was just what she needed, having had people constantly around her for the last three days. Her defences were down as she reminisced, and she didn’t hear the silent footsteps enter the foyer.
She turned in front of the stage to make the final run down the length of the hall when she saw movement. Standing in the doorway was a tall figure with wavy dark hair, now with the touches of time showing, and dark brown eyes that stared at her with such intensity.
“What are you doing here?” Claire asked.
“I came to give you my condolences.” He started to walk towards her slowly.
“I don’t think you should come any further, Tony.” She leaned on the broom as she watched him get closer.
“I really am sorry for your loss, Claire, for all your losses.” Tony stopped and never took his eyes off her.
“Have you been following me all this time?”
“No, I took your advice. I got a job overseas and got back about a month ago. I’ve only checked up on you once since I returned.”
Claire gave him a small smile. “I’m pleased to hear that. And have you gotten over your obsession?”
“I did hope so, but then I read that Geoff died and I found myself halfway out the door to come see you. You seem to be a hard habit to break.”
“Maybe you need to go see someone, get some therapy for it.”
“Oh, I did that too; I ended up in a relationship with her, and she accused me of transference and then broke up with me. So even that didn’t work.” He chuckled.
“You’re a hopeless case, then.”
“Probably. Or maybe I’m just crap with women.”
“So you couldn’t just stay away, stop yourself from coming all this way. A card would have done.”
He stepped closer to her involuntarily. “I needed to see for myself that you were okay. No matter how hard I try, I still care very deeply for you.”
“Ah! You said care, not love,” she told him. “There is a difference.”
“Yes, there is, but I try not so say it, because if I do…” He trailed away. He was closer now, and Claire did nothing to stop him.
“Your daughter is beautiful.”
“Stay away from her, Tony.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not interested in her.” He smiled down at her; he was close enough to touch her now. “I still remember that night—it haunts my dreams. That kiss.”
“This is not helping.” She took a step back from him, unsure whether he would hurt her. Slowly she gathered her energy around her and held it in place, ready for anything.
“No, it’s not.” He ran a hand through his thick, wavy hair. “Look, my offer is still there. If you ever need me for anything, call me.”
“I threw the card away. I found it when we were moving,” Claire told him.
He pulled his phone from his pocket, dialled a number, and waited. Over by the wall, Claire could hear her phone ringing. She turned automatically to answer it before realising that he had her number already. She turned back to him.
“Hi, Claire; just a gentle reminder that I am still around.” He hit the End button on his phone and put it back in his pocket. “There you are; you have my number now. I told you I will always keep tabs on you.”
“Are you ever going to stop this?”
“Probably not. If I haven’t by now, what’s the point?”
“I’d like you to leave, Tony.” She carried on sweeping down the hall and when she reached the end, she turned to find he had followed her.
“You are still the most beautiful woman in the world, Claire. Matt is a very lucky man; I hope he realises how lucky he is.”
She stood up straight; to her, it sounded like he was threatening her husband. “He does. Every day he tells me how much he loves me and how lucky he is, and I tell him the same right back.”
“Good. Because I have tried everything in my power to break you two up, and not once has he taken the bait.” He had a grin on his face that made Claire very uneasy.
“Please leave—before I do something I might regret.”
“Remember, Claire, I was on that hill top as well that night. The Talents given to me by the Guardians are still with me. I think we would be very evenly matched.”
“Why stand there and throw veiled threats at me, then? Why scare me?”
“I’m sorry if I have; it was never my intention.”
“Well, you did. You have said what you wanted to say; there is nothing more to talk about.” She leaned the broom up against the wall. When she turned back, it was to find him standing only inches from her.
Stepping back hurriedly, Claire tripped over the broom and started to fall. He grabbed her, wrapping his arms around her body, standing her up on her feet once more. She looked up into his eyes and had a hard job pulling away—from both his gaze and his touch—but finally she did both and moved away.
“Please, just go,” she begged him quietly.
“I think I should,” Tony replied. He turned, and Claire watched him leave the hall. He stopped at the door and looked back at her. “I know you were looking at my arse.” He smiled and left, his chuckle of laughter floating back to her.
Claire stood staring at the doorway and shook her head, a wry smile tugging at her lips. Her own parting words the last time she had talked to him came floating back to her. Walk away, Tony…stop watching me. My arse isn’t that great!
She finished cleaning, turned the lights off, and headed out of the hall, shutting the door behind her. Out in the cool wintry air, she shivered and pulled her jacket around her more tightly. She hoped the walk would help get rid of any thoughts of Tony that still remained. Just the thought of him made her look around; she could feel him still near and reached out with her mind.
Having already been inside his mind once before made it easy for her to gain access again. She walked through the various compartments, looking for one particular part. When she found it, Claire noticed that it had changed slightly. The white filigree box with golden coils was now very glossy and slightly larger. Slowly she felt the surface; it was warm and slick, and she trailed her hand around it.
“Now who is intruding on whose life?” his rich voice spoke from beside her. “And how did you get in here?”
“I just wanted to see it again, and it is amazing what I can do now. I can access any part of you that I wish, not just your brain. If I wanted, I could stop your heart. If you wanted, I could make you stop loving me.”
“But I don’t want that, Claire. I would rather you stopped my heart. But I know you. I know that you could not hurt me in any way. You proved it on the hill that night. In your own way, you love me.”
“Please leave the village; don’t stay.” Claire withdrew her thoughts from his and walked down the street. The wind was starting to pick up and the moon was rising over the hill. From behind her, she heard a car starting and then driving down the road in the opposite direction. She listened to it leave with a tear in her eye.
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L.C. Conn grew up on the outskirts of Upper Hutt, New Zealand. Her backyard encompassed the surrounding farmland, river, hills and mountains which she wandered with her brothers and fed her imagination. After discovering a love for writing in English class at the age of eight, she continued to write in secret. It was not until much later in life that L.C. turned what she thought was a hobby and something fun to do, into her first completed novel. Now married, L.C. moved from New Zealand to Perth, Western Australia, and became a stay at home mum. While caring for her family and after battling breast cancer, a story was born from the kernel of a dream. The first book of The One True Child Series was begun, and just kept blooming into seven completed stories.
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