Craved (Gwen Sparks #1) by Stephanie Nelson

1

I had been seriously slacking on cleaning my shop, so I decided tonight was as good as any time to start. I was in the process of straightening a row of colorful vials. I dusted in between all the potions and was now making sure they were astutely lined up like well-behaved soldiers.

I didn’t need to look up to know that, Aiden Blake, the most infuriating vampire I’d ever met, had just stepped into my shop. I could feel his presence, as if a big flashing arrow was pointing straight to him. I watched him through the glass shelves and shifted my eyes when his gaze met mine. A smile grew on his perfectly kissable lips.

I couldn't deny that he was gorgeous. He was around six foot two with jet-black hair framing his face, that he often worn a little long. His bright blue eyes seemed to watch me with too much interest and his presence oozed with sex appeal. He’d been overly interested in me since I met him, two years ago. He wasn’t easy to ignore.

I straightened the last of the potions and looked in his direction again; he was sniffing the lavender oil and closing his eyes in pleasure. It just so happened I wore lavender oil, so the gesture didn’t go unnoticed. Deciding I would put an end to his games, I stood up and walked around the display shelf.

“What do you want, Aiden?” I asked, nonchalantly. He put the stopper back in the lavender bottle and walked, with all the confidence in the world, to where I stood with my arms crossed. It wasn’t easy pretending that seeing him again was no big deal.

He had the body of a swimmer, thin but muscular. He was dressed in his usual business attire, although it didn’t slip my notice that the top two buttons on his shirt were undone, as if to showcase his perfectly chiseled chest.

“I was in the neighborhood so I thought I’d stop by,” he said, his sly smile giving him away. My shop catered to many folks, but Aiden wasn’t my target customer. He hadn’t come here to check out my potions or enchanted knick-knacks; he’d come for me.

“I call bullshit. I’m about to close shop; what do you want?” I asked again as I walked over to flip the closed sign on the front door. I could feel his eyes watching my backside but I decided not to tense up. I didn’t want him the satisfaction of knowing he got to me.

“As clever as ever, Gwen,” he said, with humor in his voice. “It would make me immensely happy if you would accompany me to the Founders Gala this weekend.” Although I rarely saw it, nervousness showed in his eyes. He had been pursuing me for the past couple of years and I always came up with an excuse as to why I couldn’t date him, but his perseverance was astounding. Now it was my turn to grin, I knew he was uncomfortable at the thought of being turned down yet again, but I assumed that was why he kept coming around; he never met a female he couldn’t seduce. If I were smart, I would say yes and we’d enjoy the evening, flirting and dancing, and then he’d leave me alone. But I couldn’t bring myself to get involved with anyone at the moment, even if that someone was as mouth-watering as Aiden Blake.

“I appreciate your offer, really, but I don’t think so,” I told him as politely as I could. The man had his pride, after all, and I wasn’t going to be responsible for trampling all over it.

“Am I too late? Has someone else already asked you?” He inquired, revealing the tightness in his jaw. He was trying really hard not to be offended.

“No, you’re the first,” I told him as I deposited the till from the register into a moneybag. I risked looking up at him and felt a warm blush color my cheeks. Boy was he beautiful. My relationship with Micah had left me with trust issues. I didn’t want to get my heart broken again. He walked over to where I stood behind the counter and leaned on his forearms. His aura sizzled all around me, like tendrils of pure male energy poking and prodding my flesh.

“Stop it,” I protested. A soft chuckle escaped his lips but I refused to return it; the man got off by messing with me.

“A woman as beautiful as you should have an equally beautiful man to accompany her to the Gala,” he said. I had been totaling the store’s intake and was on my third try of trying not to lose my count. I could feel his eyes on me so I temporarily abandoned the money and gave him all of my attention, hoping he’d leave sooner.

“You’re right, I’ll be sure to find one,” I said with a smile. He grabbed his chest as if a stake had gone straight through his heart and despite my annoyance, I laughed. I rolled my eyes at his pathetic charades and walked around the counter to grab his arm and escort him to the front door. I held the door open and waited for him to get the hint, but he hesitated to leave. My eyes roamed the store, as if I suddenly had the urge to inventory everything to my memory. I was trying desperately to conceal that being this close to him set every one of my nerve endings on fire.

He leaned down slowly; his lips just hovering above my forehead, and softly pressed his lips against my skin. I momentarily closed my eyes at his touch but quickly regained my composure and pushed him out the door. “Night, Aiden,” I called over my shoulder as the door slammed shut. I could hear his amused laughter as I walked back to the office.

****************

I lived only five miles from my shop, Broomsticks, with my best friend and roommate, Fiona. Our apartment wasn’t the nicest but very affordable and that’s all we cared about. I pushed through the front door, which had a tendency to jam, and almost fell over Aura, my cat and familiar.

“Sorry, girl,” I said as I leaned down to pet her. Aura wasn’t actually a cat. She was a spirit that assumed the body of a beautiful black Persian in order to serve as my assistant, also known as a witch’s familiar.

She meowed and whipped her tail as if to tell me she didn’t appreciate me almost toppling over her. Did I mention she’s a grumpy spirit?

Our apartment looked like every other crappy unit. I tried sprucing it up when I moved in several years earlier, but the new items didn’t fool anyone. The kitchen was painted a grayish-blue and our kitchen table sat against a small window overlooking the street. White appliances gleamed in contrast against the blue walls and a small, globe light hung from the ceiling. Linoleum that was supposed to look like tile covered the floors. I could have used magic to make the apartment immaculate but I felt that was wrong. I wanted to earn my nice things, not create them out of thin air.

I set my purse and a bag on the kitchen table and made my way into the living room. Fiona was reading a magazine while the vacuum and duster circled around her, cleaning the room.

“Working hard I see,” I remarked with a smile. Fiona definitely loved being a witch; she used magic for everything, even something as simple as vacuuming and dusting.

“I’m not messing up my manicure to chase dust bunnies,” she replied. Fiona was the epitome of a diva. Her nails were always done; her closet stocked with high-priced fashions, and she would bite your head off if you touched her granola bars. I had learned that one the hard way. We’d been friends since we were teens though, so I was used to her high maintenance attitude. She came from a wealthy family, although they were not close, aside from providing her with money.

Our living room was painted in a sage green and our sofas were a dark tan and purchased from a neighbor woman who moved out. They weren’t very old, but they weren’t new either. A large coffee table dominated the middle of the floor, and on the far end of the room, a flat screen television hung on the wall. The carpet was an off-white Berber that had a few stains, probably unnoticed by most, but my eyes always seemed to find them. The two windows in this room bathed the small space with a decent amount of sunlight.

Fiona smelled one of those perfume samples you find in magazines, when she looked over the top of it and smiled at me.

“What?” I asked curiously.

“You got a package today. Something you want to tell me?”

“No,” I said in confusion. “What’d I get?”

“It’s in your bedroom.”

I turned to walk down the small hallway that led to my bedroom on one side and Fiona’s on the other and gasped when I opened my door. My room was filled with flowers and a white garment box sat on my bed, as if silently waiting for me to open it.

My bedroom barely contained my queen-sized bed but I had refused to downsize to a twin when I moved in. My bed took up one wall, while my closet with mirrored doors occupied the other wall. I painted the walls a warm tan and laid an area rug to cover a large stain on the carpet.

“What the…?”

Tall black vases with long stem white and red roses decorated almost every square inch of my floor while small bowls of pink and red roses sat on my dresser and desk. I looked back at Fiona as if she were responsible for my room being turned into a rose garden.

“There’s a card,” she happily remarked, pointing to the box. In a state of extreme confusion, I walked over to retrieve the card. I wasn’t currently dating anyone and hadn’t been for at least eight months. There was only one guy, one sexy vampire, who’d been making advances on me. My suspicions were confirmed when I flipped open the card.

Gwen,

Thought you should know I was thinking about you and that I’m very much looking forward to having the most beautiful woman on my arm at the Founders Gala this weekend. See you Saturday at 8 p.m.

Love Aiden

A blush rushed to my cheeks as I thought about Aiden’s maddening methods. I was almost afraid to see what was in the box, although I had a pretty good idea. I untied the red satin bow and lifted the lid to reveal a royal blue, strapless dress. The bodice was intricately detailed with Swarovski crystals, and it looked like it would outline every inch of my curves.

“When did you start dating Aiden?” Fiona asked, after swiping the card out of my hand. She sounded hurt that I hadn’t gushed about my new beau to her.

“I’m not dating Aiden, this is just a ploy to get me to go to the Founders Gala with him,” I explained. Damn him, he knew how to tempt a girl. I was dangerously close to falling for his white knight tactics.

“So why don’t you? I mean he’s gorgeous and he’s loaded, what’s not to love?” Fiona said flippantly, while reading the label on the dress. I shook my head at how shallow she could sometimes be.

After deciding not to answer her question, because honestly, she wouldn’t get why I wanted to avoid someone as charming and sexy as Aiden, I changed the subject. “When did all this arrive?”

“Fifteen minutes before you got home. Grace Parker stopped by to set it up.” Grace Parker owned Vines, a floral shop on Main Street. She’s an elf, so must have used her nature magic to arrange all the roses so quickly. That meant that Aiden set this up even after I had told him no. Like I said, he’s infuriating.

“Who are you going to the Founder’s Gala with?” I asked. Flora was a small town, with a population of only a thousand, all strictly otherworldly residents. The humans had accepted us, but still demanded segregation. Flora sat in the countryside of Missouri where magic permitted anyone human from entering, except during the Founder’s Gala, once a year. The humans thought of it as a tourist attraction.

Most humans had come to terms with us, but some were still threatened by our differences. We opened our boundaries to humans who filled out applications prior to visiting. This year, we had a whopping two hundred human tourists planning to visit this special weekend.

“Liam,” Fiona said with a satisfied smile. I should have known, Liam Fawns, a bigwig warlock that works with the board of Flora trustees. He and four other people were the creators of our little sanctuary, and he’d be one of the guests of honor this weekend.

“I didn’t know you were on that good of speaking terms with Liam,” I told her. She grabbed a hanger out of my closet and hung the dress Aiden had gotten me, as if she couldn’t stand for it to sit for one more minute in that cramped box.

“Daddy set it up,” she said nonchalantly, but I knew the relationship with her parents bothered her. Hearing her mention her father was more surprising than hearing that she was taking one of the founders to the Gala.

“Oh, you talked to your dad?” I tried to sound indifferent but my eyes betrayed me.

“Yeah, he called yesterday. Gave me some crap about how I’m too old to still be living with a roommate and that I should have a husband. You know how he is,” she said with a shake of her head.

Boy did I ever! Old money and old-fashioned, that was Fiona’s father. Fiona and I were both twenty-six, not exactly spinsters, but in his eyes, she should have been married and settled down already? What did that say about me? He had blown a gasket when he found out his daughter was living in my apartment, being that it was only nine hundred square feet and needed some repairs. But Fiona insisted and decided to move in with me anyway. Sure she was shallow sometimes, okay most of the time, but she was also a great friend and wouldn’t take crap from anyone, including her overbearing parents.

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