|Books > Night Magic > Chapter One
Drew Tremaine shuddered. It wasn’t from the chill night air. All afternoon she’d had a feeling of impending doom. She came in from the terrace and turned out the light in the kitchen, her husband, Michael, right behind her. Looked like she and Michael were last to bed. Why was she so anxious? Tomorrow the Breakers would host a wedding. A happy union of her sister and the surprising man who was her Destiny. Not bad. Not horrific.
Kemble Tremaine watched his little sister Keelan smile at her groom. There was so much love in that smile and in the one Devin gave her in return, it cut Kemble’s heart out.
“I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride,” the minister said.
Devin didn’t hesitate. His unruly shock of blond hair flopped over his forehead as he bent to the kiss and took his new wife in his arms. The gathering on the lawn of the Breakers this spring day wasn’t large, but they all cheered the couple’s kiss. One of their friends, Jane Butler, snapped pictures from the sidelines with a professional-looking camera.
He slipped the small velvet pouch back in his pocket, empty and useless now that the ring he’d handed Devin was placed securely on his sister’s finger. Why had Devin picked him as best man?
He sighed. He felt like an outsider in the family these days, a disappointment. He glanced over to Tremaine Senior, dapper in his dinner jacket, the image of a powerful man. He was beaming, and Kemble’s mother was gazing up at him in total trust. Senior didn’t disappoint, unlike his eldest son. Case in point: how the hell would Kemble get through the stupid toast he was supposed to make? Everyone would expect him to be funny. He wasn’t the funny type at the best of times. The guests were in for a letdown. What a shock. He took a breath and gazed out past the pergola covered with magenta and orange bougainvillea to Catalina Island drifting in a blue haze over the Pacific. All of this “true love and destiny fulfilled” stuff was killing him.
I’m thirty-seven. It’s not going to happen for me. The damn gene must be recessive in him. This wedding brought up all the old yearning and resentment.
“Get a room,” his brother Tristram growled. The newlyweds broke their kiss and Keelan blushed.
“Hush, Tris.” Tristram’s wife, Maggie, elbowed him in the ribs. She had that beatific look all women get at weddings. Kemble turned away.
The bride and groom headed up the grassy aisle between the rows of white chairs. Everyone rose and trekked back up to the flagstone terrace for food and champagne. His little sister’s big black dog, Lancelot, barked excitedly. The air was rife with the scent of his mother’s roses. His little brother Lanyon provided the swelling music at the grand piano they’d moved out onto the terrace. Kemble had hired staff for the day so their majordomo, Mr. Nakamura, could be a guest instead of an employee. It was a risk to let strangers into the Breakers, but Kemble had checked and rechecked the background of each server. He was still on edge. The family was in danger these days.
Kemble fell in beside Jane, automatically guiding her over to the jacaranda tree. Its purple blooms dusted the terrace. He’d known her since his oldest sister, Drew, brought her home when they were both eleven. Jane was always more comfortable in the shade. Probably something to do with her peaches-and-cream complexion. Bagheera, the black cat, opened his large chartreuse eyes in indignation as Kemble chased him off the table.
“Isn’t the dress Drew designed for Keelan lovely?” Jane sighed. Kemble glanced to the bride. Dress was fine. Sort of a sleek, strapless thing. The lacy veil was so long it dragged along the ground behind her. All he’d heard for weeks during the design phase was Drew promising Keelan she wouldn’t look like a merengue. It was funny Jane and Drew were BFFs. Drew was on a first-name basis with all the important fashion designers, while Jane’s taste ran to gray-browny-beige colors like today’s sensible suit of pale gray, and comfortable shoes.
“It’s great.” His tone was perhaps a little flat.
Jane gave him a pointed glance. “This is the right thing for them. You do know that.” Jane’s reproof was restrained, like everything about her.
Kemble waved a dismissive hand. “The last six months have left no question about that. I’m just glad the remodel of the third floor is finished so they can get out of Devin’s room.”
Jane gave an amused chuckle. “Hard to sleep next door?”
“You’ve no idea.” The last thing he wanted to talk about with shy Jane was the young couple’s sexual appetite. He cleared his throat. “Uh, how’s your mother?”
“I got a nurse to stay with her but I have to be back by five.” She looked up at him then glanced away. “Thanks for asking.”
He grabbed a couple of champagne glasses from a passing waiter and handed her one. He’d never noticed, but Jane had lines of strain around her eyes, and the corners of her mouth were tense. “You . . . you don’t need to spend so much time there.”
“She’s my mother.”
Kemble knew he wouldn’t get very far with this tack, but he had to try. “Let us get her a full-time caretaker. Then you can get away whenever you need a break.”
“That’s very kind, Kemble. But you know I can’t let you do that.” Her tiny purse buzzed. Jane flushed. “Sorry.” She fumbled the purse open. Kemble rescued her champagne glass just before she dumped it all over her suit. She gave him a grateful glance and retrieved her phone. “I had to leave it on, in case. . . . Hello?” Kemble saw her face fall before she righted her expression. “Please don’t go, Mrs. Jensen.” Jane paused. “Just until I can get there, then. I’m only two miles away.” She took a breath. “Please?” She sighed in relief. “Thank you.”
Jane put the phone away, her glance darting around, distracted. “I’ll . . . I’ll give the camera to Drew. She can finish taking pictures.”
Jane’s mother strikes again. Kemble had no doubt the old bat drove the nurse away just to deprive Jane of an afternoon among friends. She’d been getting more demanding, as if making Jane miserable would change the slow collapse of her liver and stave off the mental illness slowly engulfing her. Jane had almost disappeared from the Breakers recently as she ferried her mother to appointments with doctors whose advice was never taken, and stayed home because her mother couldn’t be trusted alone. His plan to get a full-time caretaker seemed silly when a nurse couldn’t take even a few hours with her.
Kemble took the camera gently from a frantic Jane. “Drew looks like she’s having a bad day today.” He grabbed his youngest sister as she skipped by, red hair flaming like a phoenix trailing fire. “Tamsen, you’re on camera duty.”
Tamsen glanced to Jane and then saluted with two fingers, pulling the camera strap over her shoulder. “On it, big brother.” She hurried off.
Kemble took Jane’s elbow, his mouth pressed into a grim line. If ever there was a damsel in distress, it was Jane. “Come on. I’m taking you home.”
“Oh, no,” Jane protested, trying to extract her elbow. “What about the toast?”
“Your car will be buried behind several others.” He guided her firmly to the French doors. “We’ll take one of Edwards’ security vehicles. I’ll get somebody else to make the toast.”
The two miles to her house seemed like an eternity to Jane. Mr. Edwards had sent a security detail to follow them, since the Tremaines didn’t leave the Breakers without one these days. Kemble looked so handsome in that tux it made her want to cry. His silence was worse than usual. He looked so distraught. She didn’t think the scene likely coming up at her house would put him in a better mood. She’d just have to make sure he didn’t come in with her.
She knew what the problem was. The wedding was bringing up all his insecurity about his place in the family. She’d seen his despair coming on for some time now. Just little signs that apparently only she noticed.
His brothers called him the Prince of Wales because he was the heir apparent to Tremaine Enterprises and the future head of the family. Very few people other than Jane knew exactly what that meant. It was a big load to carry.
But if any Tremaine had magic his genes, Kemble did. He just had to be patient.
Not all the Tremaine kids wanted the magic that came down in their blood and their bones through the centuries from Merlin of Camelot. But Kemble did. He wanted to make a difference. He did anyway, of course. He was essential to the good work the family did through Tremaine Enterprises. But he didn’t see it that way. It was difficult to have a father like Brian Tremaine. Brian was an Adapter. He could do anything, really well, after just reading about it or hearing someone talk about it. Brian wasn’t a bad father—far from it. After he’d nearly sent Devin into an emotional tailspin by learning to surf in about an hour, he didn’t try to share his children’s enthusiasms, lest he show them up. And he’d patched up his relationship with rebellious Tristram in a way that showed he had a big heart.
Even if Kemble would never quite live up to his father, he had so much to be grateful for in his life. He was a gorgeous man, with his father’s black hair, fair skin, and blue eyes. Big, like all the Tremaine men. He worked out compulsively just to keep up with his brother Tristram. It showed in the bulk of muscle in his shoulders and thighs. He was smart, too. Nobody could beat him around a computer. And he was kind. Like taking her home today. Some woman was going to be the luckiest woman in the world to get him. Some woman with the DNA that made her his Destiny.
If anybody had a right to despair it was Jane. But she’d learned to live with despair a long time ago.
“There’s the driveway,” she said, pointing. Until today she’d managed to keep the Tremaines away. Even Drew hadn’t been to her house in years. Why should she? Jane was more than happy to come to the Breakers. At one time she’d been there almost every day.
Kemble swung the black Escalade into the driveway. Her mother’s house was modest. Not like the Breakers. But it was in a good neighborhood—a development on the bluffs above Palos Verdes Drive West. Some of the houses even had blue-water views. The security guys pulled up at the curb behind them.
Jane took a breath and let it out. She could hear the shrieking expletives from here. That meant her mother had not actually swallowed her meds this morning. Again. Mrs. Jensen, dressed in a white uniform and sensible white shoes and carrying a capacious brown purse, stood on the porch with her arms folded across her chest and her lips pressed into a line.
“Thank you for bringing me home,” Jane said to Kemble, hoping it didn’t sound too much like a dismissal, but still did the same job.
“Sit tight,” Kemble said as he got out of the car. He was reaching into his back pocket.
Oh, no, no, no. She got out hastily, but he had a long stride.
“This is for your trouble. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell the agency you took a short shift,” he was saying to the nurse’s aide as he pushed green bills into her hand. The woman’s eyes got wide at the number and the denominations. Didn’t he know Jane couldn’t pay him back? “And we’ll report that you worked a full shift as well. You just get the rest of the afternoon off. Deal?”
“Whatever suits you, sir,” the nurse said, stuffing the bills into her handbag. She gave Jane a glare and strode up the drive to her car, muttering, “You got your hands full with that one.”
Wasn’t that the truth? The screaming hadn’t let up. If she didn’t get her mother calmed down soon, the neighbors would call the police. Again. She hurried past Kemble. “Thanks, but you shouldn’t have done that.”
“Yes, I should.” She saw him flash the security guys a signal for ten minutes before he followed her to the door. “If she reports your mother, you’ll have to change agencies.”
“I’m on my eighth agency,” Jane said. She stopped, frozen, in front of the door.
Her mother’s voice was clear as a bell from here. “And you tell that shit-ass daughter of mine to get her lazy ass back here. Good for nothing.” Her words were slurred. Jane had checked the house thoroughly for booze. Where was her mother getting it?
“All the more reason you can’t lose this one,” Kemble said, a frown furrowing his brows at her mother’s diatribe.
She turned with as much dignity as she could muster. “I’ll . . . I’ll pay you back and . . . and I can handle it from here.” She was not letting him see this. “I’m afraid she’s having a bad day.”
“I’m not leaving.” He had that determined set of his mouth he probably wouldn’t even realize he shared with his father. Jane felt the panic rise in her throat and tried to swallow it. She couldn’t bear to let him in. He was already getting an earful. She felt her eyes fill. “Please,” she said. “Please go.”
“It’ll be better if I’m here. You’ll see.” He reached over her head, not hard since she was more than a foot shorter than he was, and pushed the door open for her.
The smell hit them immediately. Jane’s stomach rolled. Oh, no. Her mother’s hospital bed took up most of the space in the small living room. She sat in it like an inebriated queen, swaying and waving the large bottle of Bombay Sapphire around. The smell was from the human feces smeared over the walls. Her mother was confined to her bed only when she wanted to be.
Jane and Kemble stood like statues in the little front hall, staring. Her mother’s gray hair fell in greasy strings around her lined face. If only she’d let Jane wash it for her! Her eyes were small red-rimmed holes in her wrinkled face. There was a trail of spittle at the corner of her mouth. How old she’s gotten, Jane thought. Her skin was almost gray. It looked opaque somehow, like paper. Her eyes were clouded and flat too. The wrinkles around her mouth from years of smoking made her look like some kind of a tide-pool creature when she pursed her lips. It was as though the state of her mind was being reflected in her body.
Her eyes got a wicked gleam. “Well, well. A Tremaine. Never thought you’d land one, with how mousey you are.”
“Kemble is just a friend, Mother.” Jane was so ashamed she was afraid she might faint. “Give me the bottle.”
“Hope you had the sense to let him knock you up. Man like that’d never stay with trash like you otherwise. If you got yourself a brat he’ll have to pay and pay good. Trust me. That’s how I got Aurie Butler to tie the knot. And you weren’t even his.” She cackled.
What? She was illegitimate? Her mother had never said anything like that before. “If you were actually taking your meds, the liquor would be very bad for you.” Jane tried to grab the bottle. She could feel that her face was bright red.
“Not taking my booze,” her mother muttered, snatching the bottle away.
“Where did you get it?” Jane asked, trying to distract her attention.
“Think I can’t order delivery?”
“I told Stefano’s not to take orders from you.” Jane reached across her for the square blue bottle, and got a corner of it right across the cheekbone. “Oh,” she gasped, stepping back, her hands darting to her face. She blinked, trying to keep her balance, as her vision darkened around the edges. She held on to the railing of the bed to steady herself.
“Called the Liquor Mart.” Her mother’s grin was smug and, well, Jane couldn’t call it evil. But there was no trace of a mother’s love there. Had there ever been?
Kemble stepped up to the other side of the hospital bed and grabbed the bottle.
“Hey,” her mother protested, flailing for it. “That’s mine.”
“I don’t think so,” he said firmly, glancing to Jane. “You all right?”
“Little bitch deserves what she gets,” her mother slurred. “Always been a busybody, controlling little bastard girl. Doesn’t want me to drink. Wants me to take those stupid pills.” Jane wanted to sink into the floor. Her eyes were filled with tears from the pain. She could feel her cheek had split. Warm liquid ran down over her hand.
“Enough,” Kemble barked. His voice had all the authority of a real Prince of Wales in it. “You will not talk to your daughter like that, Mrs. Holmby. Look at this place. What’s wrong with you?”
Uh-oh. Kemble didn’t know he was punching a button. He tossed the bottle into a corner and rounded the foot of the hospital bed on his way over to Jane.
“What’s wrong with me?” Her mother’s voice rose. “No-good Irish bastard husband who left me. The money he paid wasn’t near enough for my trouble. Pedrino in jail off and on for years. Then I married Holmby. He was gonna cross the finish line. But the bastard left me and married some slut and then made his pile. All I’m left with is a bastard daughter I never wanted and this house.” She was shrieking now. “Nobody ever valued me like I was worth. All my life, nothing but crap. Crap, crap, crap from everybody. . . .”
Kemble took Jane’s hand gently from her face. “Let me look.” He got out his handkerchief and daubed at the streak of blood.
“You’re ruining your handkerchief,” she protested as her mother raged in the background.
He ignored her. “We should get you over to Mother. She can take care of this.”
A knock sounded on the half-open door and two patrolmen in navy blue uniforms and black leather belts, holsters, and boots leaned into the room. Jane saw on their faces the moment they smelled the feces.
“Jesus Christ.” The younger one looked around and held his nose. He was a handsome young Hispanic man.
Jane hurried forward, holding Kemble’s handkerchief to her cheek. “I’m so sorry.”
“Ms. Butler.” The older man with the salt-and-pepper hair nodded to Jane. “You know you have to keep your mother quiet.”
“Hard to do when she’s being assaulted, officers,” Kemble said. He stood behind Jane. At least her mother had quieted down. She was muttering to herself and plucking at the covers.
The older officer peered at Jane. “It’s nothing,” she said. Kemble wasn’t helping.
“Doesn’t look like nothing to me. Do you want to press charges, Ms. Butler?”
“Of . . . of course not.” She looked around, feeling a little confused. Kemble stood stiffly off to one side. Her mother looked triumphant.
“Well, ma’am, you call her doctor and get her a sedative or something. You know we can’t have her disturbing the peace like this.” The older guy’s eyes were apologetic. “You need any help here?”
She shook her head. The officers turned to leave. The young one looked very relieved. Kemble strode past her and shut the door behind him.
Well, that was that. A little piece of her heart seemed to break off and flutter to the ground. Nothing new about that. Jane had been slowly losing pieces of her heart for years.
Kemble couldn’t believe this whole situation. “Wait, officers. Aren’t you going to do anything about this? She’s a danger to her daughter.”
“What do you want us to do?” The older officer looked disgusted. “Arrest an old woman in a hospital bed? The girl won’t press charges on assault. She never does. So she just has to keep the old bat quiet.”
“And clean up the house,” the younger one murmured.
“This has happened before?”
“About once a week,” the older officer said, shrugging. “Minus the shit all over the walls.”
“But you’ll file a report,” Kemble insisted. “At least note that Jane was assaulted.”
“Sure.” The older officer sighed. “For all the good it’ll do.”
Kemble watched them walk away. He’d never felt so frustrated in his life. He’d had no idea what Jane had been dealing with. No one at the Breakers knew. How could they let this happen to someone they considered part of the family? He should have checked it out. Jane had no one to protect her. And it sounded like Jane had been hit before. He’d fallen down on the job, as usual. But as of now this had to stop. The police wouldn’t do anything. Maybe they couldn’t, but what about social workers or something? Couldn’t the old witch be put in a home?
He turned back to the house, hesitating. Jane wouldn’t allow that. Taking care of your mother was what you owed for her raising you, she said.
But nobody owed this.
He pushed back into the house without even knocking. He had a feeling Jane might not let him in. It wasn’t lost on him that she hadn’t wanted him to see this. She was standing behind her mother’s bed, turned away toward the window, her back to Kemble. Her mother’s incoherent mumbling was punctuated by cursing and cackles. “Jane, come back to the Breakers. Let Mother take care of that cut on your cheek.”
“You know I can’t leave her alone.” Her voice sounded distant.
“Sure you can. Ernie and Ken can take a turn watching her.”
“And leave you unprotected?” She sighed, turning. “Go home, Kemble.”
“I’ll send over a cleaning crew. . . .”
“Kemble, no. I’ll clean it up.”
“Really, it’s just a call away.” He reached for his phone.
“No.” Jane actually raised her voice. “How would I pay for it?”
He shut his mouth when he found it hanging open. “You don’t have to pay for it, Jane.” He shrugged and tried to muster a grin, just to lighten things up.
Now Jane started wringing her hands. “Your father built me a darkroom at the Breakers, for goodness’ sake. I eat with your family, drink with you. I’ve been mooching off the Tremaines for . . . for years.” Her voice broke. “I’ve got to stop.”
“What good is having money if you can’t use it to help people you like?”
He thought that was a pretty good response. So when her hands dropped to her sides and her gaze got flat and bleak, he didn’t understand what had gone wrong. “You’ve always been the one to give,” she said. Her voice was too calm. “You don’t know how it is to be the one who has to take all the time.”
He had no idea what she was talking about. The whole family loved Jane. Even after Drew got married, nothing had changed. Jane still practically lived at the Breakers, at least until recently. She was as much a part of the family as. . . .
“Just go, Kemble. I mean it.”
He still hesitated. Whatever he said seemed to just make things worse. He ran his hand through his hair. His father would know what to do.
But Kemble didn’t.
He couldn’t just stand here forever, feeling useless.
So he turned around and left her there.