From Face the Fire
From across the street, he studied Café Book. He should have known Mia would have taken what had been a neglected building and turned it into something lovely, elegant, and productive. The front window held a display of books and potted spring flowers scattered around a lawn chair. Two of her deepest loves, he mused. Books and flowers. She’d used them both in a way that suggested it was time to take a break from the yard work, sit down and enjoy the fruits of the labor with a ride in a story.
He stood where he was, hands in his pockets, until he realized he was procrastinating. There was little more turbulent than Mia Devlin in full temper. He expected her to lash out at him in blistering fury the minute she laid eyes on him again.
And who could blame her?
Then again, he thought with a grin, there was little more arousing than Mia Devlin in full temper. It would be…;entertaining to strike words with her again. Just as it would be satisfying to soothe that temper away.
He crossed the street and opened the door to Café Book. Lulu was behind the counter. He’d have recognized her anywhere. The tiny woman with a gnome’s face almost swallowed up by silver-framed glasses had, essentially, raised Mia.
Because Lulu was ringing up a customer’s purchases, he had a moment to look around the store. The ceiling was pricked with lights for a starry effect and made the prospect of browsing through books a festive one. A cozy seating area was arranged in front of a fireplace with a hearth, scrubbed and polished, used as a haven for more spring flowers.
Glossy blue shelves held books—an impressive array, he reflected as he wandered through, and as eclectic as he would have expected of the proprietor. No one would ever accuse Mia of having a one-track mind. His lips quirked as he saw that other shelves held ritual candles, Tarot cards, runes, statues of faeries, wizards, dragons. An attractive arrangement of another of Mia’s interests, he thought. He’d have expected nothing else there, either.
He plucked a tumbling stone of rose quartz from a bowl, rubbed it between his fingers for good luck. Though he knew better. Before he could replace it, he felt a blast of frigid air. Smiling easily, he turned to face Lulu.
“Always knew you’d come back. Bad pennies always turn up.”
This was his first barrier, the dragon at the gate. “Hello, Lu.”
“Don’t you hello-Lu me, Sam Logan.” She sniffed, skimmed her gaze over him. Sniffed a second time. “You buying that or do I call the sheriff and have you hauled in for shoplifting?”
He laid the stone back in the bowl. “How is Zack?”
“Ask him yourself, I don’t have time to waste on you.” Though he had her by a foot in height, she stepped forward, jabbed her finger at him, and made him feel twelve years old again. “What the hell do you want?”
“To see home. To see Mia.”
“Why don’t you do everybody a favor and go back to where you’ve been gallivanting these past years? New York City, Paris, and oo-la-la. We’ve all done fine without you taking up space on the Sisters.”
“Apparently.” He gave the store another casual look. He wasn’t offended. A dragon, in his mind, was meant to be devoted to its princess. In his memory, Lulu had always been up to the job. “Nice place. I hear the café’s particularly good. And that Zack’s new wife runs it.”
“Your hearing’s just fine. So listen up. Go on and get.”
Not offended, no, but his eyes turned edgy, the green in them deepening. “I came to see Mia.”
“She’s busy. I’ll tell her you stopped by.”
“No, you won’t,” he said quietly. “But she’ll know in any case.”
Even as he spoke, he heard the sound of heels on wood. It could have been a dozen women, descending the curving steps in high heels. But he knew. As his heart stumbled in his chest, he stepped around the bookshelves and saw her just as she made the last turn.
And the look, that one look at her, sliced him into a thousand pieces.
The princess, he thought, had become the queen.