Page 17 of Villain

He knew what he’d done.

The day Faith had killed herself, when Gabriel had felt his whole world collapse and thought of ending his own life, he’d realized maybe his magic could have done some good, maybe his magic could have saved her.

Maybe his magic could still save her.

He’d taken all that magic then, gathered it in the very center of his being, letting its warmth spread out to his palms, the soles of his feet, as he made a single spell.

I will not age a minute until you come back to me.

Come back to me.

Come back to me.

He had released her soul, offering it to the wind, giving her the freedom she so envied of the birds, and hoped this time, he could do something good.

When she came back to him, he would let nothing keep them apart. He would let nothing harm her, nothing take her away from him.

“I’d die before he touches me,” Faith had told him, and God, how Gabriel regretted hearing those words. The first night of her forced marriage to that sonofabitch gangster, she had tied a rope around her neck…

Gabriel had gathered every single rope in town from then on, and spent years controlling them, moving them at his will, as if somehow that could bring her back.

It didn’t.

Sighing, he headed to the corner of the cave and reached out for the heavy, leather-bound book.

Sitting down on the ground and setting it on his lap, he traced the pentagram with his finger, whispered a prayer, and opened the Book of Shadows.

* * *

Stella should have known her mother wouldn’t let it rest after that confession. First, she became hysterical, then thoughtful, and then she called Kevin. Stella wanted to shake some sense into her mother, ask her why she insisted in pairing her with Kevin when her mother knew she was in love with another man. Then Stella realized her mother would never stop being a mother, even if what she thought was best for her daughter was the complete opposite of what Stella knew she truly needed.

So instead Stella asked Kevin to walk with her to the park, thinking she might as well tell him she wasn’t interested in marriage—at least not to him—and be done with it.

She found it rather hard to bring up the subject when he didn’t say anything personal, only went on and on about technology in the world, and how he planned to slowly modernize the town.

Several cars drove by, people returning from work in the city mostly, the motors humming softly. When Kevin signaled a bench under an oak and asked her to sit, Stella suspected the direction the conversation was heading. Finally.

“Stella, we’ve known each other since we were kids,” he said, and instead of sitting by her side, he went down on one knee before her.

Which was not good.

“Yes, you’ve been a good friend to me, Kevin,” she said cautiously, stiffening when he took her hand over her lap and gently squeezed.

Kevin was handsome, in his own way. Not sinfully handsome like Gabriel, not big and dominant and breathtaking, but there was a calm, simple look to Kevin that wasn’t altogether displeasing. His eyes were warm, a deep honey color, his light-brown hair neatly trimmed and soft.

“I’ve always liked to think of you as more than my friend, Stella,” he countered, his eyes searching her own.

Quickly retrieving her hand from his, Stella suddenly regretted she was having this conversation in the first place. “Kevin, I’m sorry, but I—”

“Marry me.”

Having expected those words did nothing to keep her heart from plummeting down to her toes. “Kevin,” she said, sighing dejectedly. She hated hurting people; it wasn’t in her nature at all. Oh, Lord, now how was she supposed to phrase her rejection to minimize the blow a bit?

“Kevin, thank you, I—I’m really honored you would even ask. I’m sorry if I’ve given you the wrong impression but I…well, I just don’t love you in that way.”

He took her hand again, this time between both of his as he gave her an eager squeeze. “You will. I know you will. Just say yes, Stella. Say yes, and I’ll make you the happiest woman in town.”

Which wasn’t saying much at all, since everyone was so depressed around here; even the little dogs walked droopily across the grass. Oh, how she wished to disappear. Where was a witch when a woman needed one?

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