Building on a Hope - Michele Notaro

Prologue

Raphael

ONE HUNDRED FIFTY YEARS AGO

I couldn’t be more grateful to have a week off. Working for the Conclave had been a great change, but it was exhausting. Being in a quiet, small town seemed like a good idea until I realized there was only one tavern. Hopefully, they had a good selection.

Walking inside, I took my hat off and walked straight over to the bar, sitting on the stool in the corner so I could keep an eye on the other customers. The bartender was at the other end helping another patron, so I tapped my fingers while I waited. With a quick glance around, I made sure no one was paying attention to the newcomer, but everyone was minding their own business. Good. I took the opportunity to run my eyes down the length of the bartender. He was slim, but I could tell he was fit. Not too skinny, and his rear was firm. Very firm from the looks of it.

When the man finally turned around, my breath caught. He was gorgeous with those bright blue eyes and light hair. His eyes shone even from across the long bar, but as soon as they met mine, I froze. I could feel his power from here. He wasn’t a human; he was a warlock. But… there weren’t any known warlocks living in this town. That was why I’d picked it as my home base. Close to work, but far from anything in the magical community.

The bartender’s face morphed from friendly to terrified in a millisecond, obviously picking up on the fact that I was a warlock as well. I wasn’t sure why that terrified him so much, unless he was on the run from the Conclave. For reasons I couldn’t explain, I didn’t want him to run. I didn’t want him scared. His blue eyes had snared me from the moment I saw them, so I sent him a soft, friendly smile in the hopes of mollifying him.

The terror on his face didn’t ease, but he did make his way over to me, albeit slowly.

When he stopped in front of me, he said in a soft voice, “What can I get you?” His shaky voice betrayed his fear.

“I’ll take your best whiskey.”

He nodded and went to turn around, but I wasn’t done with him yet, so I grabbed his sleeve for a second to stop him. When he looked me in the eyes, I let go and said, “I’m Raphael Leif Crane Bloodgood. Who are you?”

He swallowed thickly. “Isiah.” He didn’t give me a last name, and that was alright. At least he hadn’t run yet.

“It’s nice to meet you, Isiah.” I glanced around to be sure no one was listening, then lowered my voice. “I’d like to talk to you in private, if that’s alright with you?”

His eyes drew down, and I could feel his fear underneath his skin. His magic was rippling, and even though he was scared, his power had a calming feel to it, earthy and wonderful.

To put him at ease, I added, “I only want to talk, Isiah. I could… use a friend in this town.”

He searched my face for a few seconds before he nodded. “If you’d like to stay until closing time, we can talk then.”

I nodded and smiled. “That would be wonderful.”

“I’ll retrieve your drink.”

I stayed the rest of the night, expecting him to make a break for it, but other than shooting me glances and long looks, he’d stuck to doing his job.

At the end of the night, he closed and locked the door after the last patron left, then turned to me, and immediately, threw a shield up in front of himself. His earthy magic took on a vine appearance that was mesmerizing. If he wasn’t so scared of me right now, I would ask if I could examine and admire it.

“What is it that you want, Mr. Bloodgood? I have no obligation to the Conclave. I’ve broken none of your laws. I’ve minded my own business. Why have you come for me?” His words were strong, but I heard the small quiver at the end.

“Isiah, I’m not here on Conclave business. I came in for a drink because I’m renting a room in town and was looking for a place to relax.”

“If you’re not here on Conclave business, why did you want a word in private?”

I sent him a smile. “Because I thought it would be nice to make a friend here, and… you’re beautiful.” I couldn’t have said

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