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Crystal Inman* Bestselling Author

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Short Story-Second Chance

Love will always find a way

 

 

 

 

He watched her turn out the light in the living room and head towards her bedroom. His heart ached. She had no idea who he was now. Dayaneira had seen to that. And she had been dealt with. Severely. His father had stripped her of her power for a year. She had cursed and wept bitterly. Blaine stood there, watching. The satisfaction was cold and empty. His beloved Tara no longer remembered him.

Dayaneira had wiped her memory clean. Her jealousy of Tara forced her to do the unthinkable. She had altered Tara’s memory and given her a false life. Her name was new. Her house was new. And she had no recollection of her lover or her past life. Dayaneira had flatly refused to reverse the spell. Blaine’s father had cursed her then. Blaine thought back to the desperation on her face.

“I will give you everything you need, Blaine. She is nothing to you. And you will never get her back.” A vicious smile played at the corners of her mouth.

Blaine had to be restrained by the counsel. How could he ever explain to any of them what his beloved Tara meant to him? She had been cast aside, thoughtlessly by the jealousy of a woman he had not even liked.

“I vow to bring her back,” he stated.

Dayaneira had thrown back her head and shrieked with laughter. “Bring her back? Bring her back to what? A coven of witches and warlocks? A life she will never accept again? A lover she no longer even remembers?” Her eyes were cruel and delighted. His father had held him back. The fury had swept through him. She had taken his soul with one fell swoop. And now he would reclaim it.

He sent his mind out to touch hers, but pulled back abruptly. He didn’t want to hurt her. There was a time when all he had to do was to think her name, and she would appear. He took a deep breath. It had taken him six months to find her. He would need to be careful now. He needed a plan. Blaine looked longingly at the house and disappeared.

* * *

Tara picked up the book she was reading and walked to her bedroom. She pulled back her covers and slid inside. It had been a long, hard day. Mondays usually were. She let out a breath. The shelter had taken in two new families. One was just a mother and child. The other was a complete family. It was complete with an abusive father and husband.

She had taken the wife aside to speak with her but didn’t get two feet without the husband making himself at home in the conversation. His eyes roamed over Tara, and she had scowled at him. His eyes widened, and he stepped back a foot. His wife watched him in surprise. Never had she seen him back up from a woman.

Tara nodded, satisfied and had led the woman into her office to sign papers. No one intimidated her. She didn’t allow it. The wife had followed her, dazedly and sat down. Tara didn’t waste a minute asking about how the family was being treated by her husband.

The woman stammered, clearly embarrassed. Tara gently lay her hand on the woman’s and squeezed. “Nothing will happen to you. I promise. But I cannot have you and your children in an abusive situation. I am here to help you begin a new, better life.” She touched the fading bruise on the other woman’s cheek. “A man who hits you cannot love you.”

The woman bit her lip, struggling. “It was my fault. I burnt dinner. The baby was crying, and I forgot I was cooking. Mark was upset and worried.”

Tara nodded. “And that gives him the right to hit you, exactly why?”

The woman’s eyes filled with tears. “He is a good husband. He tries to work. To provide for us. I do nothing but stay home all day with the children. I should have paid attention to what I was doing.”

Tara inwardly sighed. She was getting nowhere. But she would continue to try and help Lily. She had two children who didn’t need to see their Daddy beat their Mommy. Tara nodded slowly and smiled. “You sign these papers, and we’ll set you up in your own room. You can use the garage to park your car. Please feel free to find me anytime you need to talk.”

The woman had hurriedly signed the papers and scurried from the office. Tara had watched her rush over to her husband and assure him everything was all right. He had looked up then. Tara met his eyes evenly. He had turned on his heel and stormed off to unload the car. Tara had walked over and taken the baby from Lily’s arms. Such a beautiful child. Hair as black as night and deep, blue eyes. A girl. Tara hugged her tightly and said a prayer the mother would come to her senses.

The man would harm no one at the shelter. There were security cameras everywhere, and Tara would not tolerate any abuse of her guests. She kissed the baby gently on her head and walked back towards her office. She sat the baby on her lap and shuffled through her paperwork. They needed a mechanic. The van they employed was on its last leg. And they couldn’t afford to lose their only mass means of transportation.

Tara made a mental note to contact some local garages and see if someone would work pro-bono. She relaxed back in her chair and grinned as the baby began to talk to her. Well, maybe talk was being optimistic. It was more a series of coos. She watched out her window as Mark and Lily unloaded their small car. You’re safe here, little one, she thought. And your Mama will be, too.

* * *

Tara got to work Tuesday morning and checked in on her guests. Each family was assigned chores to work on. Each meal was served at a specified time, and all guests met each morning in the kitchen for breakfast. Tara watched the way Lily avoided Mark’s eyes. There were no new bruises where she could see them. She took a deep breath. “Lily. I may have found you a job.” The hope that leapt into Lily’s eyes heartened Tara. “I happen to need someone to help me in my office. You are more than welcome to keep Sarah in there while you work.”

Mark’s voice interrupted. “That was pretty quick. But I’m usually the one that works in this family.” The hope died in Lily’s eyes.

Tara appraised him, coolly. “Be that as it may, I’m offering Lily employment. And I will make an excellent reference.” Lily looked at Mark hopefully.

“We could use the money,” she said softly.

He scowled and jerked his head. “Fine. Whatever. I’ll be out today looking for a job. Jessie can stay here with you,” he motioned to the three year-old boy.

Tara smiled. “Wonderful. Now that it’s settled, I have more calls to make. Lily, as soon as you’re ready, come to my office with the children. Everyone, please enjoy your day.” She stood up and smiled all the way to her office. Her plan had worked out far better than she had hoped.

Tara sat and bit back a groan as she flipped through the yellow pages. A knock on her office door brought her head up.

“Come in,” she said. Her breath caught as she watched the man walk into her office.

He looked at her and grinned. “I’ve come to see about the auto work.”

Tara looked at him blankly. “Auto work?” she echoed.

She eyed him slowly. He was beautiful. His dark brown hair was pulled back into a short ponytail, and his green eyes smiled into hers.

“You did need help, didn’t you?”

Her mind raced while she tried to put together what he was saying. This man worked on cars?

Tara stood up and extended her hand. “I’m Tara Banner. Could you please tell me who let you know I needed some auto work?”

The man grinned. “Blaine Connor. Your cook I believe. I was behind her at the grocery store, still in my uniform. She mentioned you were looking for some help here.”

“We are. But it’s not a paying position. I’m sorry if you were mislead to believe it was.”

He shook his head and smiled at her. “I’m volunteering my time.”

Tara took a minute to catch her breath. He was the answer to a prayer. She studied him in silence. “Are you licensed? You do know your way around an automobile, don’t you?”

He threw back his head and laughed. “Ma’am. I can fix anything. I brought my references with me.” He handed her a piece of paper. Her eyes skimmed down the paper. He was more than qualified.

Tara held out her hand, grinning. “Mr. Connor. You are more than welcome here.”

He smiled softly and moved forward to grasp her hand. A small current ran through her fingers. Tara’s eyes widened.

She shook her head. “Have we met?”

His eyes dimmed for a minute. “I would remember a beautiful woman such as yourself.”

She took her hand back. “I appreciate that Mr. Connor. But I have no interest in any extra-curricular activities. Just fix the cars, please.” She turned briskly back towards the desk. By the time she turned around, he was gone. She let out the breath she had been holding.

Beautiful, indeed. Tara rolled her eyes. She would have to keep an eye on him. She could not have a flirt loose on the grounds with these vulnerable women. He could do more harm than good. Tara had just stood up when Lily appeared in her doorway. She stood there, uncertain, until Tara motioned her inside.

“This is very nice of you, Miss Banner. Are you sure the children won’t be in the way?”

Tara smiled. “Positive.”

She turned and opened a cabinet and took out several toys. “They can play while you try and arrange the paper mess I’ve left. Do you mind if I take Sarah with me to check on something? Just on the grounds. I’ve got a new mechanic.”

Lily nodded. “We’ll be here when you get back.” She immediately went to the stacks of paper and began sorting through them. Jessie was whooping and hollering on the floor with his cars and trucks. Tara picked up Sarah and headed for the garage. She would straighten Mr. Connor out now. He would need to understand the situation.

When Tara arrived at the garage, it looked like the van was devouring her new mechanic. The hood was open, and he partially climbed inside. Tara held her mouth to her hand, trying not to giggle. Sarah made a noise and Blake popped up, looking around. He smiled when he saw the two females there.

“Ah, two lovely ladies. What do I owe the honor of this visit?”

Tara kept a straight face. “We’ve come to check on you. And there’s something we really must discuss.”

He stuffed the rag he’d been holding into his back pocket. “I’m all yours.”

Tara took a deep breath before speaking. “I’m glad you’re friendly. It’s a wonderful trait, but the women here don’t need to be subjected to such blatant flirting. Most are at a crossroads. They don’t need any more complications. I’m afraid you intentions might be misconstrued.”

“Ah...,” he drew out the word. He moved closer and lightly tugged on Tara’s hair. “And what if I told you, Tara, you’re the only one I’m interested in flirting with? What would you tell me then?”

Her breath caught in her throat. She looked deep into his green eyes and felt longing. The sensation skittered along her nerves, leaving her shaky. She could lose herself in those eyes. They had darkened to a forest green. Come with me. Come back to me. The words seemed to be coming from a distance. Tara closed her eyes momentarily and then slowly opened them. “Did you say something?”

Blaine got himself under control again and smiled lightly. “I just asked what would happen if I only flirted with you.” How could he explain to her being this close and not touching her was slowly killing him? He longed to take her away from this place. To love her with every breath in his body as long as he lived. And she had come to take him to task for flirting.

Tara eyed him, warily. “I would ask why you chose me. I don’t know you. We’ve never met.”

He studied her in silence. “Because you are beautiful, Tara. Because your beauty is not only on the outside, you are filled with it on the inside.” He touched the baby on her head. “You care about these people. They matter to you.” He stepped closer. “And you matter to me.”

“Let me guess,” she said, sarcastically, “you want to take me away from all this and marry me and have me bear your children.”

It was so close to the truth, he winced. Her eyes began to glow. Blaine watched in amazement as her temper gathered. Some things apparently had not changed. And she was not even aware what she was doing. He watched in fascination.

There were amazing parallel lines running through her life then and now. Tara was a healer. She also healed people here. Dayaneira had let her keep her first name but changed her last.  But what had she put in the spell that kept Tara from him? A little post-note to beware of overfriendly men? A defense mechanism if someone got too close? Blaine stepped back and watched as her eyes slowly returned to normal.

“Are you dating anyone right now?”

Tara’s eyes widened. “Of course not! Why would I do that?” Blaine barely restrained his temper. Apparently Dayaneira had worked her spell to keep Tara away from men. Period. Gee, he thought. At least I know it isn’t just me. He raked his hands through his hair.

“Would you please do me the honor of accompanying me to dinner this evening?”

Tara stood there. “You’re asking me out on a date?”

He nodded and let himself brush up against her mind. Please, he whispered. Please.

She nodded, jerkily. “Dinner would be nice.” She gave him her address. “I’ll be ready at eight.” She turned on her heel and walked away.

Blaine watched her go, smiling. She wanted to say no. He could see it in her eyes. But she had agreed. He turned back to the van, grinning. He would loiter around here another hour or two and then prepare himself for this evening. He was laying everything on the line. He had to make her remember. Blaine made plans while he tweaked with the van. Mortals had the most interesting toys.

* * *

Tara looked in her closet, and cursed Blaine for the seventh time. Why had she agreed to this date? She honestly had no idea. Something in his eyes and pushed her. She snorted and threw herself back on the bed. When was the last time she’d been on a date? Tara cocked her head to the side and tried to remember.

Panic began to set in. She couldn’t remember ever dating. That couldn’t be right! It wasn’t possible. An odd feeling of deja vu swept over her. She had dated a boy named Jon when she was sixteen. She was positive. Tara let her mind wander. Jon Selton. She closed her eyes and let the memory play over her. They had gone swimming.

The water was as blue as the sky. It was a hot day. The sand was sparkling and soft. There was a group of them. Jon had made the beach ball appear and knocked Tiffany on the side of the head. They had all laughed as she stood up and scowled at him. She mumbled a few words and his shorts fell down. Tara started laughing. They had a good time that day. She was wiping her eyes as she stood up.

And then it hit her. Her butt hit the bed with a thud. The memory couldn’t be real. It wasn’t possible. Jon conjured a beach ball? Tiffany put a spell on Jon’s shorts? Tara put her fingers to her throbbing head and went into the kitchen for a drink. Nonsense, she muttered. Nonsense. It wasn’t real.

She poured a small glass of wine with shaking hands and stood there in the kitchen. It was a dream. It had to be. But it felt so real. Tara drank her wine and went back into her bedroom. Forget about it, she told herself. Blaine would be there in half an hour. She needed to find what in the blazes she should wear. Something bold, she thought. Dramatic colors.

Tara was just thumbing through her closet again when her hand brushed across the dress. She pulled it out of the closet with a gasp. The sapphire blue dress shimmered brightly in the light. It was sleeveless and low-cut. There was a slit on the left side up to the middle of her thigh.

It was exactly what she was wanted. Tara stood there a minute, lost in thought. When had she bought this dress? She looked down and grinned. The matching heels peeked out of her closet. No matter. It was perfect. She changed in record time and looked at herself in the mirror.

Tara left her hair down. It swung to her waist in ebony waves. She had applied her make-up carefully. Not bad, she thought, grinning. She picked up the matching blue clutch and went into her living room to wait. At precisely eight, her doorbell rang.

She took a deep breath and opened the door. Blaine’s eyes widened as he took in the sight of her.

“Beautiful,” he gasped.

Tara bit her lip to keep from laughing.

He was looking very closely at her. “That dress,” he said, “where did you buy it?”

Her brow furrowed. “I don’t remember. It’s probably been in my closet awhile. Why do you ask?”

“I knew a woman who favored a dress exactly like the one you’re wearing. It was my favorite.”

Tara cocked her head and arched her eyebrow. “And does it bother you I’m wearing it?”

He grinned. “I couldn’t be happier.” He reached down and picked her hand up. He gently brought it to his lips and kissed it.

Tara felt the shock through her whole body. She stepped back, eyes huge in her face. “I know you,” she said. Blaine stepped inside and shut the door. She held her hands up. “I have mace. Stay where you are.” Her heart beat frantically, fear showing clearly on her face. “Why don’t I remember you?”

Blaine held up his hands. “Someone made you forget me.”

Tara’s skin lost all its color. “Drugs?” she asked.

He looked her in the eye. “A spell.” He rushed forward and caught her before she hit the floor. Blaine carried her to the sofa and lay her down with her head in his lap. He stroked her hair, thoughtfully.

Tara slowly regained consciousness and scrambled quickly off of the couch. “Don’t touch me,” she said desperately. He watched her fight for control. “I don’t know you,” she muttered.

He stood up. “We know each other. You are Tara Blackthorn. I have loved you since we’ve met.” He would leave out the part about her being a witch for a little while longer. He didn’t want to push her over the edge.

Her hands clenched. “Get out of my home. I don’t care who you are.”

Blaine stood his ground. “Have you ever loved someone so deeply you would die for them? Given them all you had in yourself? Been lost without them?” He touched her again. “That is who I am, Tara. I am lost without you.”

The minute he touched her, she saw them. They were on the grass in the woods. He had spread a blanket on the ground. A picnic basket lay nearby. He slowly undressed her and lay her down. Then he had undressed and joined her. His mouth and hands exploring her body and pleasuring her. She hungered for him. She trembled as he took her.

Tara’s head snapped back. She looked blankly at Blaine. “You hypnotized me,” she said faintly.

“I made you remember,” he corrected her.

“Get out!” she shouted, trembling. “I don’t know what you’re playing at, but it won’t be with me.”

His head dropped. “As you wish,” he said hollowly.

She watched him leave and tried to breathe. It had been so real. The images of them in the forest made her body throb in memory. He must be one hell of a hypnotist. She walked on shaking knees back to the couch. I’m losing my mind, she thought. Rest. She needed rest. She was so weary.

Tara lay down on the couch and closed her eyes. Sleep came quickly. The images swam before her eyes. Blaine. Always Blaine. She twitched on the couch, moaning. Too much. Too quickly. She was lost. No light. Running. A woman’s laughter. Tears. Loss. Shadows.

Tara sat bolt upright on the couch, dazed. Her throat was closed to the scream that was trying to escape. Her eyes wide in fear. What was happening to her? Her heart ached. Blaine. He had the key. He was the key. She quickly changed out of her clothes. When she had put on shorts and a T-shirt, she thought of him. He appeared instantly.

Tara stepped back. “Tell me who you are.”

Blaine steepled his fingers. “I am yours. No more. No less.”

She felt the tears fall from her eyes. “I don’t remember you. But I do. And it’s all mixed-up. And you touch me, and I’m not myself. How did you get here? WHO ARE YOU?”

He couldn’t tell her. He couldn’t break the spell. All he could do was watch her struggle. She watched him pace back and forth.

“I cannot tell you what you want to hear. It is forbidden. It is your fight to win. I can only be here to support you. To love you.” His eyes met hers. “Where there is no trust...there is shadow. Where there is no hope...there is darkness.”

Tara’s eyes blazed. Blaine watched in fascination. She was furious. Absolutely, deliciously furious. The glass vase on her coffee table exploded. She appeared to have heard nothing. She walked slowly towards him. “You tell me you cannot help me? You love me and cannot say a word?”

He held his ground. She wouldn’t harm him. Locked deep within her was the truth. Their love. Tara stopped within inches of him. She reached out and pull his head down to hers. Her lips traced his slowly. Blaine groaned but kept his hands to his side. He knew she was testing him. She deepened the kiss, moving her body against his.

“Tell me,” she murmured. Her body had a mind of its own. She arched against him, needing him. She was killing him.

“You know,” he whispered. “You’ll always know.”

Her arms were empty. Tara stepped back, slowly shaking her head. “I know nothing,” she said softly. She sighed and went to bed.

* * *

Tara looked out the window, preoccupied. Lily and the children were thriving. Mark disappeared for the entire day and came back around dinner. A knock on the door shattered her reverie. She motioned the woman inside. It was the single mother who arrived the same time as Lily’s family.

“Yes, Dana? May I help you?”

Dana smiled shyly. “I’ve brought you some tea, Ms. Banner.” Tara smiled and held out her hand. Dana put the cup in her hand.

“Dana. You don’t need to wait on me, but I appreciate it. Is there anything you wish to talk about?” Tara studied the petite brunette. She rarely raised her eyes from the floor. Sad, Tara thought. Very sad.

Tara’s eyes widened as Blaine walked right into the office. Dana seemed to shrink even further into herself. Tara stood up, eyes hard. “What can I do for you, Mr. Connor?”

Blaine glanced at the woman huddled up against the wall. “I’m sorry to disturb you, but I think I’ve fixed the van.”

Tara smiled, despite herself. “That would be wonderful. Excuse us a minute, Dana.”

The woman glanced at her helplessly, “But what about your tea, Miss Banner?” Tara smiled and brought the cup to her lips. The next instant, it was shattered against her wall. She stood there blinking. “What in the hell?”

Dana’s lips drew back from her teeth. Blaine growled deep in his throat. “Show yourself, Dayaneira. Show us who you really are.” Tara watched in disbelief as the small woman transformed into a willowy blonde before her eyes.

She was shaking with fury. She pointed at Blaine. “You have no right.” Recognition knocked Tara’s head back with sudden power. She blinked once slowly. Her gifts. Her lifeblood. She felt the energy course through her body. Tara’s hair whipped from side to side.

“You took from me, Dayaneira,” she said, slowly, measuring each word.

The other woman’s eyes widened in fear. “I am powerless. You would not harm someone unarmed, would you?” She held out her hands in front of her, pleading.

“Why not?” Tara retorted. “Why would I not do to you what you have done to me? How dare you!”

Dayaneira’s eyes grew flat with hatred. “You are not worthy of him. He will come to see that. He will know I am for him.” She spun around slowly. “This is what he wants. What he desires.”

Tara looked deep into her eyes. “You have taken what is mine. Be gone from here, this place, this time. You meddled where you should not be. Leave my sight, be gone from me.”

Dayaneira’s shriek echoed throughout the room long after Tara vanquished her. Blaine scooped her up, close to his chest, never wanting to let go.

“Tara,” he whispered, brokenly.

She lifted her head and looked deep within his eyes. “How did you know?”

He exhaled slowly. “Her eyes. They are like yours. Neither can hide what lies beneath. She would have killed you. The tea was poisoned.”

Tara burrowed into his chest. “So long,” she whispered. “I’ve been lost for so long, but you came for me.”

Blaine kissed her tenderly. “I’m never letting you go, Tara.” He tilted her head back and looked into her bright eyes. “Marry me. Bear my children.”

She laughed suddenly. “So, you were serious about that, huh?” He nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

“Yes,” she murmured against his lips. “Please.”

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