Here is the little e-series I’ve been running in my monthly newsletters, starting from first chapter and continuing onwards. When this is finished, I might look at putting it together into a proper book but for now, here it is – just for you!
Savannah Whitehaven curled her fingers deeper into the dirt, relishing the feel of the damp earth against her skin and the warmth of the sun at her back. Nothing relieved stress quite like rolling up her sleeves and getting down on her knees in the garden.
Although, it was also the perfect time for inappropriate itches, her glasses to slide too far down her nose, or her hair to escape it’s elastic and stick in a sweaty mass to her forehead.
Win some, lose some.
“V? You out here?”
Drat. Drat it to dratty dratland. Clenching her teeth, Savannah called; “I’m in with the carrots, Gideon.”
A scant few heartbeats later, a pair of sneakers and the bottom edge of faded jeans wandered into view. Refusing to look up into his freckled face with it’s auburn hair and piercing blue eyes, Savannah dug more viciously into her carrots, thinning out those who’d grown too close together so the rest could thrive.
“Doesn’t your father have a gardener for this sort of thing?” Gideon asked, crouching by her side so she had no choice but to acknowledge his presence.
“Of course,” Savannah rolled her eyes. “Far be it for the esteemed Lady Whitehaven to dirty her perfect manicure in the vegetable garden. Come on, Gideon, this is the twenty-first century.”
He rolled his shoulders in a shrug. “It’s easy to forget, when the Whitehavens’ empire spans hundreds of years.” Silence stretched between them, until he ventured, “You’re still mad?”
“Of course I’m still mad,” Savannah snapped. “You keep turning up like a bad smell every time I round a corner. I thought I told you – and my father, and my Uncle – I’m not interested in an interview, or a photographer, or a-”
“Savannah.” He cut her off, normally smooth voice sharp with irritation. “I’m your assistant, not some door to door salesman. I know it’s hard, but it’s been weeks since Pippi died. You need to start thinking about putting your life back together.”
Mention of Pippi stole her breath and bought tears to her eyes. “I can’t. I don’t want to. I – ow!”
Pulling back in surprise, Savannah stared down at the drop of blood on the end of her finger. Then, brows drawn low in a frown, she scrabbled through the now loose earth until she produced the item which had wounded her.
It was a ring, or at least it had been, once. The metal was so dirty and tarnished it was impossible to tell the colour and a section of the band was entirely missing. The setting was enormous but empty, leaving several sharp, clawlike spikes – one of which, no doubt, was responsible for puncturing her finger.
“Are you okay?” Gideon took her dirty hand in both of his, squeezing her finger until several drops of blood dripped into the dirt. “Wound seems clean. What is that?”
“A ring, obviously,” Savannah muttered, tugging free of his grip to lift the object closer to her face. “One that’s seen better days.”
Her first instinct was to throw it aside, but there was something forlorn about the piece of shattered jewellery which tugged at her heart. Reaching into her coat pocket, Savannah drew out a tissue and began rubbing grime off the metal.
Gideon laid one of his pale hands on her wrist, sending tingles of heat racing across her skin. “May I look at it?”
Savannah frowned and shifted her arm away, but after a moment sighed and released the ring into his care. “Sure. Look, I’m sorry I’ve been such a pain lately. It’s just that Pippi… well, you know.”
“I do,” he agreed quietly, “But unfortunately, as much as dogs love us and we them, their lives are much shorter than ours.”
Unable to compete with the truth of his words, Savannah instead rubbed the back of one wrist across her sweaty forehead. Pippi had been her constant companion for almost twenty years, never more than a sharp whistle away. She didn’t want to think about the aching loneliness which had haunted her these past weeks, or the responsibilities that pain had sent her scurrying away from. “I just need time to mourn. That’s all.”
“Yes, but you’re also niece of the famous Lord Whitehaven, and current Lady of this estate. As much as you might resent it, your responsibilities won’t just disappear into thin air, V.” Gideon flicked a pointed look up from beneath dark auburn lashes. “I’m not your enemy. I was hired to help, remember?”
Oh, she remembered. After a particularly pithy rant to her father several months ago, Gideon had turned up on her doorstep the next day bearing a suitcase, a ready smile and a letter of recommendation from her Uncle Luthier, head of the family and the Lord Whitehaven. And really, Gideon had done a stellar job of making her life run smoothly, handling her chaotic calendar with aplomb and making sure every I was dotted and each T crossed. He was the epitome of professional, with a healthy side of casual that made spending almost every hour of every day listening to his soft, persuasive voice not only a comfortable task but a pleasurable one.
“V? You in there?” That very voice filtered through her reverie and Savannah startled back to reality. Gideon’s face was inches from her own, blue eyes intense and lip curved. His scent, warm and comforting like hot, buttered toast, tickled her nostrils and for some odd reason, Savannah felt her cheeks heat with a blush. “Here.”
“Huh?” Savannah blinked, instinctively leaning back as Gideon took her hand and laid the ring in it, his fingers seeming far warmer than they had earlier. “What… what’s this?”
The ring was as familiar as it was alien. The dirt and tarnish was gone, revealing a beautiful, soft rose gold. The band was whole, thick and strong, and nestled comfortably in the once-empty setting was a deep, dark sapphire the likes of which – and, let’s be honest, the size – Savannah had never seen.
“A gift,” Gideon said, picking up the treasure and sliding it onto the middle finger of her left hand. It was a little loose and threatened to slide, but he closed both palms over the ring and Savannah felt a flare of heat. When he drew back, it fit perfectly. “For you.”
“I… Gideon, I don’t know what to say.” Savannah stared as though seeing him for the first time. Pale skin, deep freckles, sparkling blue eyes, dark auburn hair. Nothing looked different and yet somehow, everything did. “How?”
He shrugged. “Let’s just say your family’s not the only special one out there, eh?” Before Savannah could say more, Gideon pushed to his feet, dusting his hands on his jeans. “I can hear Raine tinkling the lunch bell. I’ll see you up at the house?”
“Sure,” Savannah managed. He stuck his hands in his pockets and sauntered away, as though the feat he’d just managed were nothing special at all. Once Gideon had disappeared around the corner, she dug out her phone and began dialling with trembling fingers, ignorant of the muddy smears she left on the screen.
“Hey, it’s me.” Savannah couldn’t help but stare down at the knuckleduster of a sapphire, now snug on her finger as though it had always belonged there. “I’m calling in a favour. Tell Faust I need a full background check on one Gideon Braybrook.”
Gideon crunched the paper printout in his fist, lips twisted in a silent snarl. A full background check? Really? The distrust inherent in the decision smarted – although it was probably a blessing considering what Savannah could have done after witnessing his little trick in the vegetable patch.
Serves you right for acting before you think. Gideon rummaged in his desk drawer, came up with a cigarette lighter one of his innumerable cousins had left behind, and set the paper on fire.
As he let it burn, he considered his course of action from this point on. The background check – either Above or Below – wouldn’t turn up anything that wasn’t already common knowledge; Gideon’s grandfather had seen to that. Which meant the only threat came from the Whitehavens themselves.
Would they send Savannah to do their dirty work? Ice trickled down his spine as Gideon considered the possibility. No, Savannah was an innocent in the Whitehaven empire – it was the upper echelons, the High Lords and Ladies, who were the problem.
Blowing out a long breath, Gideon released the final flickering embers of his brother’s missive into the sink, then flicked on the cold water to wash the ashes away. Luthier Whitehaven and his cronies had been a threat to Gideon’s people for centuries, slowly but surely crushing everyone in their path until the situation had become a matter of life and death.
Which was the reason he’d been trained and planted as Savannah’s aide in the first place. It was just a shame that after four months in her employ, he was dead certain she was nothing more than a pawn herself. It was even more a shame that he’d come to like her.
She was a Whitehaven. She wasn’t allowed to be nice.
Yet it was pure, simple affection that had led to him revealing his powers in the garden yesterday, mending that ancient ring and gifting it to her like some awestruck fanboy.
Gideon sighed. He’d have to fess up to his family about the ring sooner or later. The moment one of them saw it – and he knew Savannah better than to think she’d take it off – they’d recognise his energy signature. Of course, that same energy signature allowed him to track her better than any GPS ever could, particularly when standard technology had a habit of malfunctioning around anybody with Whitehaven blood.
His desk chimed with an incoming video call, and he recognised Savannah’s unique tune. Pasting what he hoped was a convincing smile on his face, Gideon accepted the request.
“Savannah,” he said, pleased that his voice reflected nothing of his tumultuous thoughts. “You’re up early.”
Her brow furrowed behind the frames of her glasses. In sharp contrast to many of her paler relatives, Savannah bore luminous caramel coloured skin that was testament to her Brazilian mother, thick, dark hair the colour of bitterest chocolate and eyes of a rich midnight. Full lips accented sharp cheekbones, the sunlight from her bedroom window highlighting the limber frame that had made her millions – in her own right – as a yoga instructor to the rich and famous.
“It’s not that early,” she said, her voice like honey over his skin. “It’s almost seven.”
Gideon chanced a look at the blinds, where the first rays of sunlight were peeking through. “Did you salute the sun?”
Interesting. She hadn’t done that since Pippi died, preferring instead to stay in bed with her head under the pillow – until Gideon stomped in, yanked the sheets off and bullied her into the shower. Something he’d been intending to do in a couple of hours, in fact. Squashing a flash of disappointment, he said, “That’s great, V.”
“Thanks.” Her cheek dimpled with the hint of a smile. “Anyway, I was wondering if – didn’t you have those clothes on yesterday?” Savannah’s dark eyes sharpened and she leant closer to the screen. “Gideon Braybrook, did you sleep last night?”
“I caught a couple hours on the chaise in my office.”
“You did not! You hate that chaise.” Covering her mouth with one hand, Savannah shook her head. “You’re working too hard. This is my fault.”
True – since Pippi died, she’d been a ghost, leaving Gideon to clean up the media mess, soothe and reschedule her clients, and generally try and keep the ship afloat via any means necessary. Still, he hated the vulnerability in her face, so he forced another smile. “Don’t be silly, V. I’m just doing my job.”
“You have bruises under your eyes!” Temper sparked, something outsiders rarely saw, and Savannah waved a finger in front of the camera. “This ends now, you hear me? Take the rest of the day off and sleep. I mean it.”
Gideon pinched the bridge of his nose, fighting the warmth that curled in his chest. “That’s not practical. I’ve got a million -”
“No, you don’t.” Drawing herself up, Savannah planted both hands on her hips, the sapphire in her ring flashing. “I’m taking your duties for the day. Rest, then come see me and we can work out how to get this circus back in order. The time for wallowing in my own self pity is over.”
Brave words, but he could see the way her lip trembled. As much as Gideon needed her back on deck – both to satisfy his family and to lessen his own workload – it’d be irresponsible to let her take everything on her shoulders so quickly. Besides, if he could wrangle a face to face with her, he could better judge her reaction to his powers and the call for a background check. Smarting all over again at that slap, he growled, “A nap, that’s all. We can meet after lunch.”
“Why don’t we meet over lunch instead? My shout.” Savannah’s smile sparkled in the morning light.
“Yeah, all right.” Gideon nodded, smoothing his expression. “Lunch. I’ll see you then.”
Her smile widened until it filled the entire screen. “I’m looking forward to it.”
After several knocks on Gideon’s door went unanswered, Savannah gathered her courage and cracked it open. Though they both lived in the manor house which sprawled lazily over the grounds of Whitehaven Estate, their suites were on opposite sides of the building, separated by a myriad of empty rooms and the sloping perfection of Manuel’s manicured lawns.
“Gideon?” Frowning when he didn’t answer – again – Savannah slipped into the room and let the door whisper closed behind her. “Are you here?”
The living area’s sparse yet comfortable furnishings were covered with discarded clothing, piles of paperwork and more empty coffee mugs than any one household should own. Frown deepening at further evidence he’d been overstretching himself, Savannah wandered over to inspect the closest stack of papers.
Bank statements, appointment schedules, interview requests. An editorial requiring approval, with several large red circles around relevant paragraphs and Gideon’s familiar scrawl in the margins.
Why had she ever doubted his motivations? Savannah’s eyes dropped to the enormous sapphire in the ring Gideon had mended. Just because he’d displayed a magic power she’d not seen before didn’t make him a bad person – as his squeaky clean background check had proven. Faust was the best at what he did; if he said there was no dirt on Gideon, then there wasn’t. His reputation Above was impeccable, with a long list of administrative and aide positions before he’d taken his job at her side. His reputation Below was more subtle, but no less important – Gideon was the second son in a family of accomplished magical healers and his power, though rare, had been noted on his official records since kindergarten.
Savannah played her fingers over the ring, admiring the soft rose gold and the deep, pulsing heart of the sapphire. A gift, freely given, and she’d immediately assumed the worst. Was it the loss of Pippi which had awoken such abnormal suspicion in her, or were her Uncle’s conspiracy rants finally sinking in to her subconscious?
A soft thump disturbed her thoughts and Savannah crossed to one of the closed doors and eased it open, concern foremost in her mind – and froze.
Gideon lay sprawled asleep in the middle of his four-poster bed, auburn hair a sharp contrast to the white pillowcase and his face relaxed in a way she’d never before seen. The sheet was wrapped around his waist, leaving his bare chest in full view, along with part of one leg. Knowing she should leave but somehow unable to make her feet move, Savannah inspected the lines of his body, skin a creamy almost-white that went hand in hand with his auburn hair and freckles. Gideon was built slim, with a subtle musculature that was usually hidden beneath his clothes and augmented by the steel of his will.
Heat crept over Savannah’s cheeks, breaking her out of her reverie. She stepped back – and struck the door with a thump.
“What?!” Gideon sat bolt upright, brilliant blue eyes heavy with sleep and the sheet pooled around his waist. Savannah caught a glimpse of the waistband of his underwear before she forced her gaze upward, the blush on her cheeks progressing down her neck. He stared at her for almost a full minute before clarity kicked in and sleepy softness gave way to the cool, collected Gideon with which she was familiar. “Savannah? Is everything okay?”
“Oh. Er, well…” Pressing her hands to her heated cheeks, Savannah cleared her throat. “I just… um. We were going to meet for lunch.”
He blinked at her, brows beetling for a moment before he glanced at the clock. “Damn. I overslept. Sorry, V.”
“It’s fine. When you didn’t show up for lunch, I got worried and came looking. I heard a noise in here and I…” she trailed off again, caught between the urge to flee and the even crazier urge to fix his tumbled hair. “I didn’t mean to intrude.”
Gideon searched her face for a long moment, then his frown dissolved and he offered a lopsided grin. “You own the house, V.”
“My father does,” she corrected, “But this is still your room. It’s just, after Pippi, I worried…”
“I get it,” he said, cracking a yawn. “I appreciate you cared enough to check in. If you don’t mind waiting a few minutes, I’ll shower and we can head out.”
“Sure.” Fumbling with the door, Savannah tore her eyes away from his half naked body and fled to the relative safety of the living area.
She didn’t dare breathe until the ancient pipes in the walls signalled the shower running. Flopping into the nearest armchair and tugging her glasses off, Savannah rubbed fiercely at her face. Talk about breaching professional boundaries! Gideon was her aide. She had absolutely no business seeing him like that – and even less in appreciating the sight of him so sleep mussed and approachable. Not that he was a distant person, she reflected. From the day he’d arrived, Gideon had been nothing but friendly; sweet in a quiet way but with a core of strength that surprised many. It was just… for a few moments, she’d glimpsed not an aide but a man.
In an effort to derail her dangerous thoughts, Savannah shoved her glasses back on her face, grabbed the nearest sheet of paperwork and began to read it. At first the words were nothing, a senseless jumble of black and white print, but then –
She shot out of the chair, hands trembling as she waved the report at Gideon. “What’s this?”
“Show me.” Running a hand through water-darkened hair, he crossed the room to take the paper from her. Though back in the jeans, t-shirt and casual shoes she was used to seeing, he still appeared subtly different, as though now that Savannah had noticed his masculinity it refused to be ignored. “Oh.”
“Oh? Everly’s missing and all you can say is oh?”
Gideon set the paper down and caught hold of her waving hands. “V, it’s there to remind me to fill you in. I wasn’t hiding it; your father and Luthier asked me to wait until you were in a better frame of mind.”
“A better frame of mind,” Savannah repeated dully. “Was I really that out of it?”
“Yes.” When she snatched her hands from his grip, Gideon took a deep breath and perched himself on the arm of a faded leather couch. “Your cousin disappeared about a week ago. No evidence of foul play at first, but her phone was later discovered in the creek behind her house. A search produced some torn and bloodied clothing, with the sample confirmed as Everly’s DNA. There’s an official missing persons report now, and both Above and Below officers are looking for her.”
“Oh my God,” Savannah whispered, her throat closing over. She and Everly had grown up together, were closer than sisters. Her disappearance was a body blow, particularly so soon after losing Pippi, the tiny dog whose giant heart had meant the world to Savannah.
“Ah, shit.” Pushing up from the arm of his couch, Gideon brushed her hair back from her face. “I’m sorry, V. I know you two are close.”
Savannah trembled, tears gathering in her eyes. “I’m fine. I’m not going to fall apart on you, I swear.”
Even as she spoke, those tears escaped her eyes to tumble down her face. Her trembling intensified until her teeth clacked, grief and worry curling deep into her bones. Gideon cursed again but she didn’t really hear him, couldn’t think beyond the tears blurring her already imperfect vision. When his arms went around her she jumped but Gideon didn’t falter, dragging her smaller body against his chest. They were similar in height, with Savannah just short enough to make resting her head on his shoulder perfectly comfortable. When his arms – so much stronger than they appeared – tightened, his warmth all around her, she buried her face in the side of his neck and sobbed.
How long he held her, Savannah couldn’t say, but eventually Gideon turned his face towards hers and spoke softly in her ear. “If you need more time off -“
“No!” She drew back far enough to meet his gaze, blinking rapidly to clear her vision. “I can’t keep doing that to you. You’re exhausted.”
His face softened but he didn’t argue; a miracle in and of itself. “Well, what if we ease you back into things gently? If we work together, I can catch you up and you can make sure I don’t overdo it.”
“Starting with what we know on Everly’s disappearance.” Savannah nodded, pushing gently at his chest. Gideon released her at once and this time his mouth did open to argue, but she cut him off with a raised hand. “I know her better than anyone. I might be able to see something that could give Uncle Luthier a clue.”
“How do you know Luthier’s dealing with it?”
Savannah waved a careless hand. “He’s the public liaison for all our law-related matters, you know that. Both the Above and Below officers will be working with him.”
“That’s true.” Gideon gave a slow nod. “Well, why don’t we grab some lunch and start talking? I’ve got files aplenty to share… as long as you’re okay?”
“I’m okay.” Savannah forced a smile in response. “It was just a shock. Besides, the sooner you catch me up, the sooner I can talk to Uncle Luthier about Everly’s disappearance.”
“Lunch first,” Gideon said, his tone firm.
“Lunch first,” she agreed. “Would you mind if we ordered in, though? I don’t know if I can manage leaving the house yet.”
“That’s fine.” He offered his arm, and she took it. “Lead on, Lady Whitehaven.”