Light and the Darkness
Erica Wellstone is a painter and a witch. When her brother makes a bet with vampire Jordan Castle and then tries to skip out, Jordan offers her a deal: honor the bet, and her brother will live. The catch? She must work out the wager based on Jordan's hints.
Yet Jordan Castle doesn't have it his own way. Erica evokes feelings he thought long dormant and he knows he'll stop at nothing to keep her, whether she wins the wager or not.
Erica blinked at the man. He was tall, his build on the thin side, but instinct said not to underestimate his strength. Brown hair framed a chiseled face and she sensed he wasn't entirely human. Not a witch, like she and William were, but something else.
William seized on Castle's words in an attempt to keep his sister safe. "Erica! Don't! Don’t let him in! He's—"
Castle grabbed William's neck and squeezed, forcing him into silence. The tall man turned to Erica, who swallowed but stood her ground against the intense, angry expression on his face.
"Miss Wellstone, if you do not invite me in, your brother's life will be very short."
She studied him and he thought he knew the moment she understood. "All right, Mr. Castle. You may come in. Please, let William go."
He stepped over the threshold, dragging the other man along, and let him drop to the floor once he was in. Erica glared at him, knelt down to check on her brother, and stood up again.
"You're here. What do you want?" She met his eyes, projecting confidence, but he could sense the fear underneath. To his surprise, he found he regretted that she was scared of him. He ignored it.
"Your brother is a gambler."
"He made a bet with me, and he lost. It seems he's not in a position to honor the debt."
Erica gritted her teeth but kept her eyes on his. "I'm sorry about that. I can't help."
"I believe you can. William bet me a painting. One of your paintings, specifically." At the last minute, Jordan omitted the detail of what kind of painting. "I believe he tried to get one without your knowledge, and he failed."
"Oh." Erica spared a glance at her brother, who was now standing and leaning against the wall, rubbing his hand over his neck while he avoided her eyes. She drew herself up. "I have a number of paintings in my studio, Mr. Castle. You're welcome to any of them."
"No, no." Jordan shook his head, a plan forming in his mind. "That won't do."
"It will have to," Erica snapped. "This is not my debt. Take more than one, then. Whatever you think will settle it. Then I want both of you out of this house."
"You misunderstand." Jordan stood in front of her and she took a small step back. "He promised me something…special. Something unique that only you can deliver."
"He had no right to do it."
"Perhaps not, but he did. So here's the deal, Miss Wellstone. You come to my home, and you paint. When you have painted the picture I want, you can go. And your brother can live." Jordan had no idea where the words came from, but couldn't retract them.
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