Another romantic short story chronicling the adventures of Red, an amorous faery imprisoned in a pane of ancient Irish glass. The realm of Tuatha de Danaan may be free of Red’s magicks, but the humans who come in contact with his glass prison find themselves in extremely compromising situations.
“Red’s Bower,” by Amazon bestselling author Debbie Mumford, is free on this website for one week only. The story is also available in an ebook collection, “Red’s Magick,” through various online retailers here.
RAYMOND O’CONNOR SWEPT INTO the Victorian bed and breakfast as though he owned the place. The dark-haired woman who opened the door fell back with a look of startled amazement on her face.
“Don’t stand there gawking,” he said, directing her attention to the man carrying his bags, “tell him where to put my things.”
“Upstairs, first door on the left,” she said, stealing a quick glance at Ray’s well- known face.
“Upstairs? That’s completely unacceptable. My cousin assured me she had a suite on the main floor.”
“She does, I mean, there is,” stammered the hostess, as frumpy a woman as Ray had ever encountered, “but it’s only for special guests.”
“Well, my dear,” he said, giving her his best prince-charming smile, “they don’t come any more ‘special’ than me. Now, where’s the main floor suite?”
She motioned to a pair of curtained French doors at the end of the hall. Ray strode forward and swung the doors wide.
“Yes,” he said, taking in the elegantly appointed king-size bed, comfortable seating area and private deck. He stalked across the room, opened a door to reveal a lavish bath, and then turned to stare through the vintage, green-tinged window to the immaculate rose garden beyond. “This will do nicely. I assume that’s the closet?” He pointed to the only remaining door, and the woman nodded. “Fine,” he nodded to the man, “stack my things over there.”
Opening the door to the deck, he stepped out into the late afternoon sunlight and took a deep breath. He savored the Rocky Mountain air, even if it was tainted by a whiff of Denver’s growing smog.
“The garden is lovely,” he said over his shoulder to the hovering woman. “I’ll take my breakfasts out here. Nine a.m. on the dot. I’ll be in the bath from eight-forty-five to nine every morning. You may set up during that window of time.” He stepped back into the bedroom. “Now, where is my cousin? I know she must be anxious to welcome me.”
Good lord. The woman looked so pale he feared she might faint. Why in heaven’s name was Maureen subjecting him to this person’s star-struck gawking? Maureen knew he needed a hide-away, somewhere he could be alone, prepare for his Denver concert without having to worry about tripping over fans every time he stepped off an elevator. She had assured him that her entire bed and breakfast would be at his disposal; as well it might, considering what he was paying his cousin for his privacy.
“I’m sorry, Mr. O’Connor,” the woman said, “Mr. and Mrs. Flynn are in Chicago. They had a family emergency. On Mr. Flynn’s side,” she added quickly.
“Chicago? You mean Maureen’s not here?” He sank down on the loveseat, stunned by the unexpected news. “She knew I was coming, and she left? Who’s going to see to my needs?”
“I’ll be here, Mr. O’Connor. I live just down the street and I have a key. Maureen asked me to stop by every morning and fix your breakfast. It’ll be no trouble at all.”
“Stop by?” he repeated. “You don’t work here?”
“Excuse me,” said the man who’d been heaping luggage next to the closet door. “I need to get going. That’ll be thirty-two fifty.”
Ray jumped to his feet and reached for his wallet.
“Wait,” said the woman. She turned to face Ray, and he saw that her eyes were bright with an emotion he couldn’t identify. “I really think you should have this gentleman move your things upstairs to the room Maureen prepared for you.” She took a step closer to Ray, glanced toward the deck, and lowered her voice. “This room has a, well, um, a reputation. They say it’s haunted.”
Ray stared at her for a moment, but failed to see the expected glint of laughter in her eyes. He glanced around the room and said, “Ridiculous. This is a perfectly lovely room and I have no intention of racing up and down stairs all day.” He paid the cab driver and sent him on his way.
“Now, where were we? Oh, yes. Do you mean to say that you’re not employed by my cousin?”
“No. Not really.”
He must have looked as confused as he felt because she held out her hand and continued, “I’m Kathleen Mallory, Mr. O’Connor. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
He took her hand and observed her closely for the first time. Dark hair, dark eyes, petite –- barely 5’2” he guessed -– and mature. Not a day under thirty. Very plain, with her hair pulled back in a pony tail and wearing that outdated skirt and blouse. Still, she had potential. If she made an effort, he thought she might be quite stunning. Those dark hazel eyes, definitely her best feature. Fathomless pools of empathy; a man could lose himself exploring those depths. She’d seen suffering. To his surprise, he found he cared.
He took a deep breath, held it for a moment, and let it out in a long sigh. “I’m sorry, Ms. Mallory,” he said, “I’m accustomed to dealing with hotel staff; I assumed you were employed here.”
“Not at all,” she said, a frosty smile curved her lips, but didn’t touch those lovely eyes. “Maureen Flynn is a friend. She’s been very kind to me during a difficult time. I’m happy to help her out.”
She turned and led him to the living room. Maureen, a former interior designer, had gone to some length to decorate her Victorian home in period. Ray found the room charming, with an old world air.
“Not to belabor the point,” Kathleen said, “but are you sure I can’t convince you to move upstairs?”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“Yes. I know that Sean and Maureen never rent that particular room without first making the couple aware of its, um, eccentricities. I’m sorry, but I don’t know the details. I just know that she prepared the Rose Room for you, not Red’s Bower.”
“Red’s Bower? Now I’m really intrigued. Why would she call it that?”
Kathleen threw her hands in the air, an exasperated sigh escaping her lips. “Heaven only knows. I’ve never had occasion to stay in the suite, so I’ve never heard the briefing. I just know that Red’s Bower is notorious, and that most of her clientele come because of curiosity about that room, whether they choose to stay in it or not.”
“Well,” he said, “if my cousin is brave enough to live in the same house with Red and his bower, I think I can brave sleeping there for a few nights.”
“As you wish,” she said. “I’m an early riser. Having your breakfast on the deck by nine won’t be a problem.” She turned and walked to the door. “I’ll be off then,” she said. “I left my phone number on the kitchen counter. Call if you need assistance. Good evening, Mr. O’Connor.”
“Ms. Mallory,” he said, reaching for the doorknob, “it’s been a pleasure.”
A thump sounded behind them, and their eyes met.
“Is anyone else in the house?” Ray asked.
Kathleen shook her head.
“A cat, perhaps?”
“Sean and Maureen don’t keep pets. Too many people have allergies.”
As if drawn by an invisible force, Ray and Kathleen turned simultaneously and walked down the hall. When they arrived at Red’s Bower, they found the door closed.
“Odd,” said Ray, his voice firm, but quiet, “I don’t remember closing this door.” He turned the handle and stepped into the room. Immediately, apprehension vanished, replaced by a sense of expectant well-being. He glanced over his shoulder, beckoned Kathleen to follow and strode to the window overlooking the garden. Placing his hand flat on the pane, he felt a zip of merry mischief dart across his mind. He turned, anticipatory delight thawing his heart and saw Kathleen framed in the French door.
Raw, ravening lust electrified his system. A goddess gazed at him from the threshold of this enchanted bower. He longed to loose those dark flowing locks, to run his hands through their lush richness. Her soft, hazel eyes, frightened now, like a doe ready to flee, but they would smolder when his caresses lit her soul on fire!
He allowed his gaze to worship the soft curves so modestly concealed from casual observation. But his inspection was far from casual. He fervently sought, and found, evidence of ripe fullness beneath the constricting fabric. He strode deliberately across the room, intent on worshipping her perfect form, communing with the divine in the depths of her silken temple.
Before he could reach her, his goddess launched herself into his arms, and they fell, a frenzied tangle of arms and legs, onto the billowy softness of the waiting bed.
Kathleen savored this heady new experience, a man’s lips on her eyelids, her cheeks, her neck (Oh! Yes!), his tongue sliding along the upper slope of her breast. Too much cloth hampered his progress. Her deft fingers worked to unbutton, unzip, unfasten, while her mouth explored the outline of his ear, kissed the springy softness of carefully styled hair.
The moment he had stepped through the door, she’d felt it. The wave of desire, dragging carefully avoided emotions from their hiding places. The wave built as he touched the pane of antique Irish glass, pooling the power of her deepest fears and longings into its surging strength: her recent grief at her beloved father’s passing; resentment of the need to dedicate her prime years to his care; guilt over that resentment; fear that she’d never find love, never experience marriage and children; deep, abiding yearning for sexual fulfillment. All these emotions, unacknowledged, compressed for a decade, crested when he turned those brilliant green eyes on her. When he strode toward her, she knew her wave must break upon his shore.
Now she lay panting under his glorious weight. Skin pressed to skin, they struggled together to break the bonds of individuality, to become one; a single, brilliant, pulsating entity, tingling with vibrant life. Sensations too exquisite to be contained rippled between them. The electric stimulation of senses rubbed raw. The intense compulsion to merge, to experience, to heave and surge, ebb and flow, give and take. The ceaseless, remorseless rhythm; push; squeeze; hold tight; and finally, when she could endure the supreme agony no longer –- release, glorious release! Her body quivered and contracted, intent on wringing every exhausted tribute he had to offer before heavenly lassitude carried her into sleep.
Kathleen drifted to consciousness on the wings of soul-deep contentment. She couldn’t remember ever feeling so relaxed, so rejuvenated, so satisfied before. Indulging her senses, she kept her eyes closed and stretched, a whole-body yawn.
Her sense of well-being vanished when her outstretched arm encountered warm, naked flesh. Her eyes popped open, and Kathleen Rose Mallory sprang to a sitting position, sheet clutched protectively to her breast.
Ray O’Connor lay diagonally across the king-size bed, one forearm covered his eyes, but nothing could disguise the satisfied smile curving his lips.
Good God! What had she done? Indisputable evidence leered at her from every angle: naked, in a badly rumpled bed, next to one of the most famous classical musicians on the planet. And him Maureen Flynn’s cousin! She’d never live this down. She’d be branded a wanton woman for the rest of her life. She might as well go downtown and choose a likely corner.
She huddled into a ball and scrunched her eyes tightly closed. She’d wondered what she would do with her life now that Dad was gone. The mortgage-free house belonged to her alone, her sole inheritance, but she had no marketable skills, having left college after her sophomore year to care for Dad. Well, perhaps she’d found her calling.
Ray woke, as he always did, with crystal clarity. One moment he slept; the next his mind engaged, fully functional. He removed his arm, opened his eyes and saw Kathleen sitting up, but pulled into a tight little ball.
Damnation, he’d done it again — let a love-struck fan finagle him into bed. He wondered what this little escapade would cost his career. He ought to strangle Maureen. She was supposed to protect him from this kind of shit. Well, too late now. He’d have to deal with the consequences.
His gaze traveled over Kathleen’s curled body and lingered on her hands. Memory flashed, and his rod hardened. Those hands were gifted. He wondered idly if she played a stringed instrument. She’d certainly demonstrated deft finger control.
His erection throbbed, and he reached for her. Might as well get his money’s worth, since he’d already plunged himself into fiscal liability.
He stroked her arm, and she jumped, eyes wide and frightened.
“Don’t touch me,” she cried.
“Aren’t we a little past the nervous virgin stage?” He smiled, expecting a nervous giggle in return. Her reaction startled him.
With solemn dignity, she dropped the sheet, stepped from the bed and bent to gather her cast-off clothing. The view she offered as she sorted her things from his sent his blood pressure soaring. He wanted her under him, needed to slam into her velvet softness before his cock exploded.
“Kathleen,” he croaked, barely able to push the name past gritted teeth.
She straightened and sailed from the room without sparing him a single backward glance.
He fell back on the bed, physical agony throbbing through his loins. And something else, an emotion he felt so rarely he almost didn’t recognize it: shame. He swallowed hard, trying to avoid the truth, but couldn’t. The expression in her eyes as she moved from the bed had been too clear. Kathleen Mallory was no star-struck fan. What in hell had happened in this room last night?
“You did what? With Kathleen?” Maureen McBride Flynn closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against the wall of the gate at O’Hare International. The cell phone she held to her ear weighed a ton. “What possessed you to stay in Red’s Bower? Didn’t Kathleen tell you I wanted you in the Rose Room?” She sighed and bit her lip, wondering how she could ever make this right with Kathleen. Ray didn’t worry her; he’d had enough affairs to satisfy the most voracious gossip columnist. Although in all fairness, he’d cleaned up his act over the last eighteen months. “We’ll be home this afternoon. Don’t do anything to make matters worse. Sean will explain everything when we get there.” She paused to consider her next words and then blurted, “And Ray, take what you need and get out of Red’s Bower. Stay away from that room ‘til we get home.”
She flipped the phone closed and walked back to her seat beside Sean. “I’m sorry, my love, but we’ve got a mess to clean up at home. Red’s been playing with Ray. And Kathleen.”
“Kathleen?” Sean groaned. “How in heaven’s name did that blasted faery get Kathleen in his clutches? Never mind, I don’t want to know. We’ll sort it all out when we get there.”
The hours dragged. Ray couldn’t settle to anything. An uneasy guilt weighed on his mind. He took out his violin and tried to practice, but even the ingrained discipline of a lifetime of training failed him. At noon, he rummaged through the kitchen in search of food. Maureen’s well-stocked pantry enticed him, until his eyes fell on the counter where the note with Kathleen’s phone number taunted him.
Kathleen. He barely knew the woman, and yet she’d taken root in his psyche. He ached whenever he thought of the look in her eyes before she left Red’s Bower. An entirely different ache wracked his body when he remembered the wildly passionate night they’d shared.
He reached for the phone, but stopped. Maureen’s voice sounded in his mind, “Don’t do anything to make matters worse.” He grabbed the scrap of paper, shoved it into his jeans pocket, turned and stomped from the kitchen, his hunger forgotten.
At last, a car pulled into the driveway, and Ray pelted down the stairs to greet Sean and Maureen at the door.
“Am I glad to see you,” he said. “I feel like I’m losing my mind.”
Maureen hugged him, and Sean shook his hand.
“Believe me,” Sean replied, “we’re intimately familiar with the feeling.” He waved at their luggage heaped by the door. “Let’s ignore the unpacking for the time being and see if we can get this situation straightened out.”
He led the way to Red’s Bower, Ray following with obvious reluctance. Sean smiled. “Don’t worry, Red and I have an understanding.”
Ray stared at Sean. “You sound like there’s someone in there.”
Sean winked. “There is. He already knows you, as evidenced by your, um, unexpected night, but let me introduce you.” He swung the door open and walked straight to the green-tinged glass. “Red, give Ray a glimmer so he’ll know his cousin didn’t marry a lunatic.”
Ray watched in fascination as the glass fogged and a smiling, elfish face appeared. The glass cleared again, just as quickly. Ray blinked twice and remained standing despite his knees’ strong desire to buckle.
“That was Red. As I understand it, he’s a faery who was cursed into this pane of glass for playing inappropriate tricks on the Summer Queen.” Sean grinned, a playful light dancing in his eyes. “I’m sure you can imagine her provocation, seeing as how you’ve experienced some of his tricks yourself.”
This time, Ray’s knees won. He stumbled to a chair and lowered his head into his hands. “This is all my fault. Kathleen tried to warn me, but I thought she was just spouting your marketing hype.”
“Red’s been a tremendous boon to our commercial success, I admit,” Maureen said, coming to rest a hand on Ray’s shoulder, “but we never allow anyone to stay in this room without first introducing them to Red and making sure they’re aware of the kind of spells he’s likely to cast. Those brave enough to stay usually become repeat customers.”
“Oh, God,” moaned Ray. “Does Kathleen know about this?”
Maureen shook her head. “She’s heard the rumors, but she’s never stayed in this room, so we’ve never had cause to introduce her.”
“Well, she’s certainly been initiated now.”
“I know how you feel,” Maureen sympathized.
“You can’t possibly,” whispered Ray.
“Actually, we can,” said Sean. “Red introduced Maureen and me, in a house under construction, when I was setting his glass. He locked us in and, well,” he stopped, glanced at his wife and smiled, “we’ve been together ever since.”
“Wait a minute, how did he end up here?”
Maureen laughed. “The owner didn’t believe me when I tried to tell him about Red. He fired me and used his influence to ruin my interior design business. Red took offense.”
Sean picked up the story. “Let’s just say that a few months later he contacted me and begged me to get that piece of glass out of his house.”
Ray shook his head and then stood, resolution lining his face. “Okay. I’m fine, or at least, I will be, but what about Kathleen?”
Maureen patted her cousin’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. You concentrate on your music. Forget this ever happened. I’ll explain things to Kathleen; find some way to apologize for the, um, misunderstanding. You don’t ever need to see her again.”
Ray nodded, more depressed than he’d ever been in his life. His mind accepted Maureen’s solution, but his heart ached. He didn’t know if he could survive without seeing Kathleen again.
Two months later, Ray arrived at Flynn’s Bed and Breakfast unannounced. He presented his cousin with a bouquet of pink roses and her husband with a bottle of premium, aged scotch.
“Have you seen Kathleen recently?” he asked as Maureen arranged her roses in a sky-blue vase.
Maureen’s hand stilled and she peered at Ray through the screen of petals. “She was over this morning. Why do you ask?”
“We’ve been corresponding ever since I went back to New York. She’s finally agreed to see me again. I’m taking her to dinner and a concert tonight.”
Maureen squealed and ran around the counter to hug him. “Ray, that’s wonderful! I can’t believe she didn’t tell me. How long will you be here?”
“I’m staying for a week. If you have room, I’d love to stay here. If not, I’ll get a hotel downtown.”
“Of course you’ll stay here! Oh, this is so exciting.” She stopped bouncing and gave him a knowing smile. “Red certainly knows his romance.”
Ray’s breath caught, but then he grinned and said, “Yes, he does. I don’t want to jinx myself, but if this week goes as well as I expect, Kathleen and I will be reserving Red’s Bower for our honeymoon.”
Copyright © 2020 by Debbie Mumford
Published by WDM Publishing
Cover and Layout copyright © 2020 by WDM Publishing
Cover design by WDM Publishing
Cover art copyright © Olga Altunina | Dreamstime.com