Persephone took a shaky step away from Tripp. She was afraid he’d touch her, and she’d go to pieces. The room shrank around her, cutting off her breath. Her mind exploded with questions. Did Tripp know? Was he a part of this sick game?
Voices came to her, his and Brielle’s, asking what was wrong, but she couldn’t respond, couldn’t focus on anything other than the evil creature in front of her.
“I’ll help her,” Minerva told Tripp, then grasped Persephone’s arm. “Come, dear, let’s put a cold cloth on your head.” Persephone didn’t protest as Minerva led her into the bathroom. Once behind closed doors, the Sorrow Fairy wet a wash cloth and pressed it to Persephone’s forehead.
Persephone shoved it away. “I don’t need that. What I need are answers. What are you doing here? Is Tripp part of this?”
Minerva cut a look to the closed door. “Keep your voice down. He knows nothing about who we are.” Her tone was level, not menacing as Persephone was accustomed to.
“Then, what’s going on? How did you trick him into thinking you’re his mother?”
“I am his mother.”
“It was during the Christmas season, thirty-five years ago.” Minerva played with the edges of the wash cloth as she spoke. “I was visiting a hospital—“
Persephone’s lip curled. “No doubt to spread poison to the souls of the weak and sick.”
Minerva grimaced without acknowledging the comment. “I found a baby on the stoop outside the hospital doors. My heart just…melted. One look, and I fell in love. That baby was Tripp. I decided to become human and raise him as my own.”
Joy Fairies and Sorrow Fairies resided at the North Pole year round, but just before Christmas, they traveled to various cities and towns, each set on their particular tasks. They could choose to become human at any time, but once they made that choice, they could never go back.
Persephone arched a questioning brow. “If you are human, how did you release me from the statue?”
“I retained my powers, but only related to acts I’d previously performed. You were a loose end, you might say.”
Was it possible she’d changed? Persephone studied the gracefully aging woman. Her dark hair was streaked with gray, the classically beautiful face now delicately lined at the corners of her eyes and around her mouth. She wore designer glasses and an elegant black pantsuit with a red blouse beneath. She looked…normal, benign, and Persephone was dismayed to find she almost believed her…and felt sympathy toward the fairy who’d stolen her life. “So, this is why you want me to succeed, because you actually love them?”
Minerva squeezed her eyes shut as if stemming a flow of tears. “They are everything to me. I can’t bear seeing them so unhappy, especially this time of year.”
“What if I tell them the truth?” Even as Persephone said the words, fear shivered over her skin. Minerva held all the control. Centuries ago, a dark wizard who despised Kris Kringle had endowed Sorrow Fairies with capabilities that Joy Fairies didn’t possess. Joy Fairies were skilled at spreading joy, but had no magic powers. The threat was idle…and dangerous.
Minerva’s eyes blazed with anger, and her mouth pinched. When she spoke, her voice bore a malevolent hiss, as if the hounds of hell resided within her. “You would break their hearts, and I would devise a much, much more torturous eternity than you could ever imagine.” She poked Persephone in the chest with a manicured red nail. “Don’t test me.”
Persephone’s limbs went numb, and she shrank from the venom in Minerva’s expression, in her touch. Fear coiled in her belly, and as much as she wanted to be brave, terror stole her ability to do so.
“Everything okay?” Tripp spoke from the other side of the door, and with his interruption, all evil drained from Minerva. Her face alit with love.
“Fine, darling. We’re just having a little girl talk. We’ll be right out.” Minerva smiled at Persephone, but beneath the smile lurked a threat. She slowly extended her hand. “Feeling better, dear? Shall we join them?”
Two nights later
Persephone sipped her wine and stared into the crackling fire, mesmerized by its beauty. But like so many other things in the world, the beauty was deceptive. In an instant, the flames could destroy and devour.
“More wine?” She started at Tripp’s voice. She’d begun lingering after Brielle’s bedtime, having wine with Tripp and talking until the wee hours. They’d never touched, never shared a kiss, but Persephone often sensed longing in his intense green eyes.
Once the shock of her encounter with Minerva had worn off, Persephone had settled back into her task of restoring his and Brielle’s Christmas joy. But her efforts had been in vain. A deep sadness still hovered over them. Neither was interested in anything holiday or happiness related.
Tripp returned with her wine and handed it to her, then settled on the sofa beside her—much closer than he usually sat. He was so near, she could feel the warmth of his thigh next to hers. Tingles slithered through her stomach. She sipped the Merlot, but could barely swallow over the lump in her throat.
Silence fell between them, broken only by the sounds of the crackling fire and the ticking grandfather clock. She dared a look at him. His gaze roamed over her face, settling on her mouth, and she stopped breathing. The air grew heavy with tension.
Barely aware of her actions, she leaned forward. He did the same. But just before they touched, he groaned and pulled back. Sitting forward, he thumped his wine glass on the table and covered his face with his hands. “I’m sorry.” The words were muffled, but the message was clear. “I can’t do this.”
Disappointment shafted through her, quickly followed by relief. She had no business kissing Tripp Evans. Nothing about her was true or real, and she could not get any more involved with this family than she already was.
She slid to the edge of the sofa and placed her glass next to his. “It’s okay.” Her voice was surprisingly steady. “We were caught up in the moment.”
He removed his hands and lifted his head, staring at her with tormented eyes. “No, I wasn’t caught up in the moment. It wasn’t some impulse. I’ve wanted to kiss you since the moment I met you.”
Her heart slowed, then raced. She wanted to take his beautiful face in her hands, tell him that everything would be okay, that she wanted it too and there was nothing wrong with their feelings. But that would be a lie. “I have, too, but we both know it’s not a good idea.”
“I know.” His voice was anguished.
He stared into the fire, his fingers linked and resting between his knees. He looked so alone, so forlorn, it made her soul ache. He and Brielle deserved a joyous Christmas, and she was determined to make that happen.
Like a lightning bolt from the sky, the realization hit her that the consequences no longer mattered. Curse or no curse, statue or no statue, she’d do whatever it took to make them happy. And then she would leave them, and her heart would be as heavy as the stone that had been her tomb for a century.
Persephone was pleasantly surprised when Brielle asked her to read The Grinch Who Stole Christmas for her bedtime story. It was the first time she’d shown an interest in the holiday. Maybe there was hope.
By the time the story ended, Brielle’s eyes were drifting closed. “I wish we could have Christmas,” she murmured.
Yes. There was hope. “Oh, sweetie. You can have Christmas.”
Brielle blinked her eyes open and frowned. “But it’s too sad without Mommy here.”
“I know.” Persephone swallowed against the hoarseness in her throat. “But your mommy is watching you from Heaven. She loves you very much, and she’ll always be with you.”
Brielle shook her head. “No, she’ll never be with me again.”
“Yes, she will.” Persephone touched a finger to Brielle’s sternum. “Right here, in your heart.”
She scowled skeptically. “Really?”
“Yes, really. When you think about your momma and you feel sad, where do you feel it?”
Brielle touched her chest. “Here.”
“And when you remember the good times, and it makes you happy, where do you feel it?”
“Right here.” She touched her chest again.
“See, that’s your mother’s love, her spirit, always living within you so you’ll never really lose her.”
A tentative, gap-toothed smile emerged. “I’ll never lose her?”
“That’s right. And your mother loved celebrating Christmas with you. Don’t you think she’d be happy if you could start enjoying it again?”
“Maybe.” Brielle yawned. “But I can’t. It makes my daddy too sad.”
“You don’t want Christmas because it makes your daddy sad?”
She nodded, and her small hand brushed her bangs off her forehead. “Every time he hears a Christmas song or sees a tree or stuff like that, he gets really sad and sometimes he cries.”
Brielle’s words pierced Persephone’s heart, and she blinked back tears. No child should carry so much sadness, especially during this magical time of year. Something had to be done.
She waited until Brielle fell asleep, then silently left the room and went downstairs to wait on Tripp.
He came in an hour later, weariness carving grooves in his face. He gave a tentative smile when he saw Persephone. “I’m sorry I’m late. How did it go?”
Persephone crossed her arms and leaned a hip against the sofa. “Not great, actually.”
Concern creased his features. “What’s wrong?”
“I found out why she wants nothing to do with Christmas.”
His mouth tightened. “Yeah, because her mother tragically died on Christmas Eve.”
Persephone shook her head. “That’s not all of it. She doesn’t want anything to do with Christmas because it makes you sad.”
He frowned. “What? What are you talking about?”
Persephone relayed her conversation with Brielle.
“Ah, hell.” Tripp’s shoulders sagged and he seemed to deflate. “Poor thing. I had no idea she was protecting me.”
His face looked so ravaged, so stricken, she wanted to smooth her fingers over his cheeks, kiss his lips, and erase his sorrow. She tightened her fingers into fists to keep them from giving in to the urge.
He dropped onto the sofa, brooding in silence, then lifted his gaze to hers. She was surprised to see a glimmer of happiness.
“If I have my neighbor come sit with Brielle, would you take a little trip with me?” He had the hopeful look of a small boy, with the rugged sexiness that was all man.
Persephone slowly nodded as a rush of love hit her so hard, her knees nearly buckled. She didn’t know what he had in mind, but she was certain that she would go anywhere, anytime, as long as she was with him.
I hope you enjoyed Part 2...tune in tomorrow for the conclusion.