In one way it was a typical story that was repeated every year when there was a witch ready to be mated. ‘Typical’ for a colony of witches, that is. A new crop of handpicked young men descended on Wimberley to participate in a form of spring rites without understanding the real reason why they’d been invited. Of course, the winners would learn that it was not really a competition, as they’d been led to believe. Witches’ mates were selected by fate, not whimsy.
In another way Dash and Rachel’s story was entirely unique.
The year after Willem won Ravish’s handfasting, Dashiell Fonteneau was among those who came to Wimberley for a weekend of food and fun.
Dash had lingered in New Orleans for a few weeks to celebrate finishing his MBA at Tulane. And there was no place better to celebrate anything than New Orleans.
He was on top of the world. At his peak. Twenty-six years old with a prestigious degree from a prestigious school and a string of prospective job courtiers lined up to write him a golden ticket so that he’d never have to go to work for his family’s business in Denver. There were no lengths to which he wouldn’t go to avoid that.
He rationalized his extended vacation by telling himself that he’d spent most of his life in school, or promoting his family’s business, or his family’s charitable causes, and deserved some time for himself. So he wasn’t in any particular hurry to take the next step.
He told himself that any day he would to decide which lucky company would be honored to have him accept an offer. Then he would settle down and get serious. While he was busy mulling over the pros and cons of who to work for, he was even busier partying. Right up until the day he got the invitation to attend an exclusive dinner presentation on something vague, mysterious, but strangely intriguing.
Normally a suggestion that he attend a presentation without clearly defined subject matter would make him scoff and snort at the same time.
Like so many before him, he tried throwing the card away. Repeatedly. But it never stayed in the trash for long. He would always go get it and look at it again, turning it over and over, sometimes in the middle of the night when the compulsion wouldn’t let him rest.
That cycle repeated itself for three days before he finally called the number and agreed to see what they were offering, just so his curiosity would be satisfied and he could get back to sorting the seriously attractive offers from the can’t-refuse offers. In between leisure activities.
After attending the presentation, he agreed to go to choosing week at Wimberley for reasons he wouldn’t have been able to articulate. But that is neither here nor there. What is important is that he met Rachel.
Once he’d laid eyes on her, he wouldn’t have cared if he pursued a career as dog catcher in the world’s tiniest town. His perspective of the world had shifted such that the new priority was clear. Never be far from Rachel.
Mates destined to be with the witches always fell in love, but they didn’t always, or even often, fall in love at first sight. Dash was one of those who grasped what he’d always been missing the moment he saw Rachel.
He had a tendency to see things in patterns that largely consisted of numbers. Nature had balanced his business genius by giving him scant imagination and no reason to think he was missing out. So his perception of Rachel as a woman surrounded by light that was a symphony of sparkle and movement, was mesmerizing. Captivating in a way that would never get old or be taken for granted.
In a community full of couples experiencing the kind of marital bliss that was real bliss and not the kind intended as tongue-in-cheek snark, Dash and Rachel managed to stand out. It was generally accepted by the residents of the enclave that their relationship was conclusive proof of the theory of soul mates.
Dash had given up a career that might have eventually landed him on the cover of Forbes, but once he met Rachel, he no longer cared where he worked. He’d seen her across a crowded courtyard and knew instantly where he was supposed to be.
He didn’t need to wait to hear the way her voice slid over his spirit and soothed him like a favorite song. He didn’t need to wait to feel the electricity that arced between them when he first shook her hand. He didn’t need to wait to see her blush from the intense way he was visually devouring her. He knew at first sight.
As the first year of their marriage progressed, Willem was elected mayor and Dash was appointed comptroller of the colony’s assets, which were considerable. He was more than content to manage the enclave’s money and investments, which benefitted not only the witches and their families, but the residents of Wimberley as well. It was a good fit for his particular talent, skill, and interest. Satisfying to the core.
He’d made friends in the community, especially with the big burly Viking-like, ex-biker who was in charge of the yearly ‘competition’.
As was his habit Raider entered Dash’s office without asking, plopped down in one of the two guest chairs in front of the desk and put his booted feet up. His eyes went to the new name plaque.
“Dashiell Fonteneau,” he read. “Why do you have a name thing? Everybody here knows who you are.”
“My wife gave it to me when I took this job. It’s not really about whether or not you know my name.”
“What kind of name is Dashiell anyway?”
“What kind of name is Raider?”
The big man smiled good-naturedly. “The kind I took for myself because I didn’t like the stupid ass name my daddy gave me.”
“My mother is a Dashiell Hammett fan.”
“Mystery writer. Maltese Falcon?” Raider looked blank. “You know, I’d love to shoot shit with you, but I’ve got to knock some stuff out this afternoon.”
“You don’t look busy.”
“Thanks to these things called computers, it’s no longer easy to tell how busy a person is. The stacks of paperwork are now virtual files that only the person on this side of the desk can see.”
“Yeah. Well, I like Dash better. Sounds kind of like a super hero. Come to think of it, so does Raider.”
Dash shook his head. “The only super character with ‘raider’ in the name is ‘Tomb Raider’. And it’s a woman.”
“Huh,” Raider said with a slight frown, looking way too thoughtful about the subject of comic books.
“Is there some reason why you’re here?”
“Harmony wants y’all to come to supper.”
“You know I can’t accept an invitation without talking to my wife. They’re the keepers of the calendar. Right?”
“That’s what I said. She wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
“Why didn’t she ask Rachel herself?”
“I guess Rachel’s on lockdown. Harm musta thought you could answer for both of you.”
Dash laughed at that. “Nobody around here thinks any of us is in charge of anything.” He paused. “Except I guess you’re in charge of the spring rites. How’s it going?”
“Believe it or not, it’s not as hard as it sounds. Qualifies for contribution though. As long as I herd the hopefuls around once a year, I can spend the rest of my time fishing or whatever.” He grinned. “Life is good.”
Dash nodded. “Can’t argue with that. I’ll leave a message for Rachel to call when she’s available.”
Raider ducked his chin and disappeared.
Seconds later, the phone buzzed. It was Willem.
Dash answered by saying, “Mr. Mayor.”
“Yeah. That never gets old. What are you doing?”
“Working. Unlike everyone else in the world it seems.”
Willem chuckled. “Got a burr under your saddle blanket? As they say around here.”
“Just a lot to do. The girls are always wanting to do more. But more costs money.”
Willem was always amused by the way Dash referred to the witches as ‘the girls’. “Tell the steering committee that, if they want to do more, they need to spend some magical energy. Mundane methods only go so far.”
“So I hear. They think we’ll reach a tipping point. People from the outside will start asking questions about why Wimberley is the best place in the world to live and why that’s the best kept secret.”
“As usual, they might have a point.”
“I know. I might be aggravated about that if I wasn’t so…”
“Yeah.” They both chuckled. “Hard to argue with happy,” Dash said. “So did you just want to inquire as to my level of, ah, satisfaction? Taking a survey?”
“Funny. No. There’s a city planners’ convention in Denver in two weeks. I want you to take a look at what they’re offering. Might be some tips worth looking into.”
“I want to, but can’t. The Lady Wyverns volleyball team is going to state in Austin and I’m expected to be there. Just in case they win.”
The children of the colony were ‘home schooled’ and only appeared in town when they were closely chaperoned. Usually. Although exceptions were made occasionally.
Typically, the girls were approved for interaction with townspeople close to puberty or whenever the adults deemed them to understand what topics of conversation were suitable for the colony and nowhere else.
“You suspicious?” Willem asked.
“Why? Just because five of the team members have that extra little something?” Dash chuckled.
“Crossed my mind and mentioned it to Rave. She insists the girls on the team have been read the riot act and understand that they have to advance on physical skills alone.”
“Well then. No problem. I know that, when I was seventeen, I did everything my elders told me to do.”
Willem sighed. “I hear you, brother. Gonna make sure a more responsible contingent is keeping a close eye.”
“That’s the real reason you’re not going to Denver.”
“A state title is high profile stuff for Wimberley. It’s a lot more attention than we like to have trained on us.”
“But if the kids really are good you can’t deny them their chance at glory.”
“Exactly. Rock. Meet magical hard place. I’m sending you a link to the conference. Take a look and see if you think it’s worthwhile.”
“I don’t like being away from Rachel.”
“Take her with you.”
“Not as easy as that sounds.”
“That’s a quandary then.” Willem paused. “Aren’t you from Denver?”
“Intellectually I think the answer to that question is yes, but it feels like that was another life.”
Willem chuckled. “I know what you mean. I know there was life before Rave, but it’s hard to connect to.” Dash was nodding his head as if Willem could see him. “Have you been home since…?”
Not only had Dash not been home, his family didn’t even know he was married. And, gods, how he wished he could keep it that way. He wished he could just hide out in Wimberley for the rest of his life and never have to set foot in that house or interact with those people again. But that was wishful thinking.
Rachel had asked about it once. He’d said they were the kind of people who believed in arranged marriages. She’d laughed, but let it go when she saw that he didn’t laugh with her. His quip about arranged marriages was only part joke. His family wouldn’t be happy with any bride whose name didn’t appear in the Social Register, if they were still printing a Social Register.
Dash couldn’t care less about such things, but he’d be damned if he’d let Rachel hear superiority in their tone or read it in their expression, or body language, or any of the other myriad ways they had of communicating arrogance.
The only way you can be sure someone loves you for you is to marry your match in means and standing.
He’d rather pretend to be a dropout from life than ever put Rachel through that.
“So they haven’t met Rachel?”
“Hmmm? No. Like I said, she doesn’t like being away and there are issues with having guests who don’t, ah, belong. As you know.”
“I do. Well, maybe it’d be good for you to go home for a visit.”
Dash set aside what he was working on and pulled up the conference schedule. It was mostly about urban development and planning. Still, with Austin steadily encroaching from the north and San Antonio steadily encroaching from the south, it couldn’t hurt to give some thought to making Wimberley seem less desirable to the outside world.
The conference might offer some inspiration on that in the sense of, whatever they suggested, Wimberley would do the opposite. He probably couldn’t even get in at that late date, but he’d fill out the form. Going to see his family felt more like a task to be checked off than a pleasure, but at least he’d kill two birds with one plane ride.
Like humans, the witches were different as could be, each having her own likes and dislikes, talents, and interests. Rachel’s particular talent was astral travel, which was why she couldn’t be reached to entertain a dinner invitation. Her talent meshed with his in the sense that she could sometimes pick up stock tips that would be considered ‘insider trading’ if astral travel was illegal. But since the world of stockbrokers was mundane as could be, no one believed such a thing was even possible.
None of those who enjoyed the fruits of profitable stock market manipulation considered Rachel’s contribution unethical. They believed that people, including witches, are given various talents for a reason.
Her extraordinary talent was identified when she was just seven years old. She’d been sitting in a warm bubble bath humming when her mother stepped out of the room to answer the phone. Luckily Rachel’s mother knew how someone’s body looks when they’re ‘away’ because her own mother, Elspeth, had been a gifted traveler.
Gale, Rachel’s mother, sat down cross legged next to the tub to guard her little girl until she returned. The return was dramatic. Rachel slammed back into her body so fast that she jerked enough to send a tsunami of bathtub water all over the room. When Rachel blinked her eyes open, her mother was still gaping from having been doused. It was comical enough to make the child laugh and, in turn, made Gale laugh with her.
Later, when the bathroom had been mopped up, Rachel was sitting at the vanity in her mother’s bathroom having her hair French braided.
As if it was the most natural thing in the world, Gale said, “Where did you go, Rachel?”
The child looked confused. “When?”
“When you were in the bathtub?”
“Oh. I went to see what Danny was doing.”
“A boy from town.”
Gale was curious about how Rachel had met a boy from town, but decided to leave that for the time being. “What was Danny doing?”
“He was fishing in the river with his dad and his older brothers.”
After a brief pause, Gale said, “Is this the first time you’ve gone wandering around? Out of your body?”
Rachel shook her head. “No. I’ve done it lots of times. Usually at night when everybody is asleep.”
“I see. Did you know that everybody can’t do that?”
Rachel stopped playing with the embroidery on the hem of her shirt. Her eyes locked on her mother’s eyes in the mirror. “No.”
“Well, they can’t. It’s kind of unusual. Only special people like you.”
“It is. Gram can do it though.” Rachel grinned. Gale tied off the ends of the braid. “It’s a marvelous thing. You’re so lucky. And I don’t want to scare you, but there are some, um, things to be careful about.”
“Like what?” Rachel turned around on the bench so that she was looking directly up into her mother’s face, not her reflection.
“You know what? Let’s call Gram and see if she wants to go for ice cream. We can walk by the river and talk about it.”
Rachel jumped up. “Yay. Peach praline.”
Gale laughed. “Get your shoes.”
Rachel stopped at the door. “Can Char go?”
Gale shook her head. “No. Charisma can go another time. This time it will be just you, Gram, and me.”
Three generations of witches with triple dip ice cream cones sat down on a grassy bank that sloped down to the river.
“I need to talk to you about what happens when you fly away, sweet girl,” Elspeth said.
“Okay,” Rachel answered in between licks, completely unconcerned.
“Sometimes you may see things that…” Elspeth glanced at Gale, “are not nice.”
Rachel nodded. “The ghoulie goblins.” Elspeth locked gazes with Gale for a second. “Can I go down to the river?”
“In a minute,” Gale replied.
“Aren’t you afraid of the ghoulie goblins?” Elspeth asked.
Rachel shook her head. “No. I’m a lot faster than them. Can we do this every day?”
Ignoring that, Elspeth said, “You must be very careful to stay away from the ghoulie goblins, Rachel.”
“How is it that you know that, sweetheart?”
Rachel shrugged her tiny shoulders. “I just do. They’re sad.”
Elspeth and Gale exchanged a look again. “They’re sad?” Gale asked.
“Uh-huh. They think that if they can catch me they can be like us. Can I go down to the water now?”
Gale started to say no, but Elspeth put her hand on her daughter’s forearm to stop her. “Go ahead,” she said, “but don’t fall in.”
While Rachel ran down to the water, Elspeth said, “That was phenomenal. She’s like a golden child.”
After a brief hesitation Gale said, “The Eddie Murphy movie?”
“Yes. But witchy. Not Buddhist.”
They both snickered.
“How old were you when you started traveling?” Gale asked.
Elspeth barked out a laugh. “Twenty-two.”
“Well, that’s not going to give me much insight into how to raise a little flyer and keep her safe.”
“We’ll figure it out together. In this case, I think it really will take a village.”
Indeed the entire colony did worry over the dangers of Rachel’s magical specialty as she grew, but she was also considered a treasure beyond compare.
By the time she was an adult they had devised all sorts of means to keep her as safe as possible. When she was out of her body, it was critical that she not be disturbed because the result of moving her body, even a touch, might mean that she couldn’t find her way back. Because of that, precautions had been taken to insure that the risk was minimal. They’d built Rachel a vault that was, effectively, the world’s most state-of-the-art safe room.
Three other people had the code to enter. Dash. Harmony and Elsbeth from the elders council. They didn’t want to give Dash a code, but Rachel insisted he could be trusted with her body and soul. And in fact, that was exactly the issue. The danger of being trapped in a state of limbo, unable to either reenter her body, or cross to a higher plane.
Dash and Rachel were the furthest thing from party animals. They led a quiet life and reveled in it.
At the end of the day, they had wine and grilled on the patio. Sometimes they lay together in the canvas hammock that hung at the edge of their terrace, where it overlooked hill country cedar and cypress, and the river. Sometimes they would spend an hour or more quietly rocking in the hammock, not even speaking.
If Dash had been asked to describe his life, he might have said it was perfection. He hadn’t been asked that question, but that was certainly the way he felt. He loved his wife. He loved his work. He loved his home. He loved the community. So far as he was concerned, he’d put his full weight down and planned to grow old doing exactly what he was doing. With Rachel.
He would have loved to simply freeze the moment in time. Their days were spent in service to the community, which came with the reward of a heart filled with satisfaction. Their nights were spent tangled in white sheets and each other’s bodies, murmuring the sweetest of nothings, pressing the sweetest of kisses, delighting in the fact that their passion wasn’t waning, but growing with each new day together.
Rachel was perfect for Dashiell.
Dash was perfect for Rachel.
And both were determined to squeeze every ounce of enjoyment from their good fortune until they were parted by death. In bed together in the middle of the night they swore that even that would not separate them permanently, but only for a time.