But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,

All losses are restored and sorrows end.

William Shakespeare


Chapter One

Scowling Tidings and Tea


Beth Mackenzie rubbed her bleary eyes and yawned into her sleeve, taking an eight o'clock class was one of the worst ideas she'd had this semester and it was only the first day. Already in her second year of higher education and time dragged slower for her. But thankfully she'd met a few people last year and that had crushed the awkwardness of attending college in a different city and state from her hometown. Not that it was a home anymore, not with the death of her father a few years back and her mother remarrying the terribly weird William who still insisted she call him, "step daddy". Ugh, hell would have to freeze over first.

She glanced at the clock on the wall and settled into her chair, she had taken the train instead of the bus this morning and now she had twenty minutes to kill before the professor would come waltzing in. Thankful that she at least got to choose the chair stuck in the right corner in the back of the room, she sighed quietly and stretched out her jean-clad legs. She shook her head, both of her friends: Diana and Sarah had told her she wouldn't be able to handle a class that early in the morning, especially since she worked in the evenings but she had firmly stated that she needed the credit and the class had sounded interesting. But now that she was awake...barely, and waiting for class to commence, she was starting to doubt anything this early would sound interesting. A History of Witches and the Occult had seemed interesting enough and by the people slowly straggling into the lecture room that could easily fit two hundred people, they had fallen for the romantic title as well.

Glancing around, she pulled out her phone but stopped short when she almost texted Sarah. Her friend would kill her, especially since she didn't even need to be on campus until two and Diana wouldn't be as forgiving either, even if she had another hour of shut-eye. She settled on playing a game on her phone, losing herself to the mundane word game, ignoring the bustle and quiet whispers of the people around her.

Beth didn't know how long she played on her phone, her focus so embroiled in the words that it was her body that warned her of the danger before her eyes found it. Her heart racing in her throat, her stomach plummeting, she glanced up at the doorway to her left, the breath catching in her throat. Her hands clutched her phone, her senses screamed for her to run, her blood freezing in her veins and yet, she couldn't move, as though she were glued to the chair. In the doorway stood one of the most dangerous looking man she had ever seen, and she steeled herself not to shiver as his black eyes locked onto hers. Frozen, Beth stared into the bottomless pits of his eyes as time rushed by.

Someone passed in front of him and Beth was thankful to the impatient person for breaking the spell the man had cast upon her. She glanced away and stared at the whiteboard, shaking her head free from the clouds and webs that had settled in her brain. There were no other explanations for the way she stared unabashedly at the fellow student. But what was his reason for staring at her as though he had never seen a woman before...was there something on her face? Was she that unappealing that she had shocked him? Or maybe he had just found her rude and hoped to give her a taste of her own medicine. Whatever the reason, she was shaken to her core. Out of the corner of her eye, she traced his movements as he settled into the seat closest to the door, as though he didn't want to be any nearer to her.

Unconsciously, she raised a hand to her chest in hopes to quell her rioting heart and tried to erase the fear from her bones. She could finally understand how it felt to be a deer in front of a hunter, a prey about to be killed by a predator. His eyes had seemed so black, like stygian pits so deep that it could turn someone into a madman, his hair dark under the humming fluorescent lights, cut shorter on the sides of his head and piled on the top as though he had been too impatient to comb it that morning. She shook her head to clear away the wandering thoughts but still her mind betrayed her, straying back to him. He hadn't shaved that morning, she could tell from the slight darkening of stubble that he had thought the class was too early as well. Her traitorous eyes wandered back to his sitting frame and she absorbed all the minute details, his dark blue jeans molded to him, his leather jacket slung over the back of his chair, or the way the black t-shirt clung to his arms and somehow accentuated his muscled back...muscled back? What was wrong with her? Frowning, she sighed in relief when the professor came bustling in, and the clock struck eight.

The next eighty minutes were a test for Beth, a test of will and determination to not run screaming from the room and to not stare at the back of the man's head. Or glare...Either way, she had wanted to run far, far away from his unsettling presence but pragmatism had won out. She couldn't afford to skip classes, especially since this was the first day of the second semester. His presence radiated around her, and though they were in opposite sides of the room, and the class was full which meant all two hundred people had attended this morning, it unsettled her even more. His dominating presence pulsated and pushed against her, at times it was hard not to gasp against the stifling entity. Finally she had given up trying to concentrate on the lecture and studied the clock in desperation, just a few minutes more and she could escape the room. Her heart sped up when his head moved slightly towards her, as though he were about to turn and catch her staring. She began counting in her head, raising her mental voice until her brain was filled with her silent screams. Finally a slight ding resonated from the speaker and people began rustling, all closing their notebooks and zipping their bags. She hadn't even opened her notebook, it had sat mocking her on the small desk, as though even the inanimate object knew how disturbed she was. She haphazardly shoved things into her bag and quickly stood, all but fleeing from the room.

She shoved past the crowds and throngs of people and pushed the wooden door marked with "WOMEN" open and thanked her lucky stars when one stall was vacant. Slamming the door shut behind her, she dropped her backpack on the tiled floor, uncaring how dirty it probably was and leaned against the metal door of the stall, trying to catch her breath. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, hoping to calm herself. It felt as though she had run a marathon the way her body was reacting, but she knew she had faced something far darker and probably more dangerous. She wished he would have simply been handsome and she could have written her quivering off to thinking him so but it was more than that. Whoever he was, she knew he had enough power to shake her to her very core. He was devastatingly handsome; with the slight golden hue to his skin, the mahogany hair, beginnings of stubble...she shook her head. He was handsome but there was something about him, as though his intensity was so tangible, she could almost taste it. She had been shocked, for all her years, and though they weren't many, she had never seen someone as ground shattering as he. No, she wasn't going to think about him. She would just have to force herself to shake these feelings from her and hope that by the day after tomorrow when she had this class again, she could rid his presence from her marrow.

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"Hey, you're late!" Diana accused watching Beth slowly walk towards their table they had sequestered in the busy restaurant a block from campus.

"Are you okay?" Sarah asked worriedly taking note of the slight shadows in Beth's dazed eyes and pushed the glass of water towards the empty spot for Beth.

She nodded and slung her backpack under the table beside Sarah and Diana's and fell into her chair, "Yeah, I'm fine." She said reaching for the cool glass and all but chugged it.

Diana snorted under her breath and passed her a menu, though the trio all knew the menu by heart, the Korean restaurant was a familiar haunt for them, "You don't sound like you're sure." She was curious but she didn't want to nag Beth into telling them what was so obviously bothering her that even her usually beige skin paled.

Beth opened her mouth but thought better of it, lifting the menu to cover her suddenly hot face, "So...what are we all having?" She could feel her friends' eyes on her but ignored them; her stubbornness soon won out.

"Probably number eight, the noodles are always a safe bet." Sarah commented thinking of ways she could tackle the proverbial elephant haunting Beth.

"Anything not spicy is a safe choice for you, Sarah." Diana retorted earning her a glare and slight jab.

Beth smiled and let herself be coaxed back into her normal self by their laughter, every Tuesday and Thursday since last year they had always gone out for lunch, it had been a small struggle this year trying to juggle all of their schedules so they could all get spares around the same time but seeing their smiles and easy laughter, Beth knew it had been worth it. Aside from the group gatherings, Beth saw Diana in the mornings three times a week and spent Friday afternoons with Sarah. It seemed childish that she had almost scheduled their hang out time but she knew without them, her life would be hell and she was so much happier now than she had been in a long time.

She wanted to mention the nerve wracking encounter she'd had that morning with the man with eyes so bottomless she could fall in them for eternity, but she didn't want to darken the jovial mood. A part of her didn't want to stain this moment and so instead, she pushed it deeper inside, knowing that the sharp edges would tear her insides apart. She could see questions floating in Diana's blue eyes and she knew by Friday Sarah would be itching to pounce her for answers; but she wouldn't worry about that now. She wanted to enjoy laughing with her best friends and pretend this morning had been a passing nightmare and nothing more.

The waiter came by and threw Diana an extra friendly smile making Beth and Sarah both bite their lips to keep from laughing as they ordered their dish. Beth made sure to order her food extra spicy, she secretly hoped the heat would chase away the cold still lingering in her limbs. "You're going to regret that." Sarah muttered wondering if she could ask the waiter to bring two jugs of water instead of just one. But she knew she wouldn't be able to get his attention, not with Diana sitting at the same table as them, her blond hair shimmering under the lights of the restaurant.

Beth shrugged and focused her attention on the now squirming Diana, "So...you and the waiter?"

It was Diana's turn to shrug, "He's just being friendly." She didn't want to break the pathetic truth to her friends, the truth that she hadn't met one guy yet to make her want to trust, a man that would make her shiver every time he looked at her. She was honest enough to admit that she was pretty with her blond hair and sea coloured eyes but she was tired of people only seeing her face and nothing more. Nor did she want to tell her friends that because her one fear was being another cliché of "don't judge me for my face, judge me for my personality". So instead, she let people flirt knowing that none of them could ever come close to warming her heart.

"He's never been that friendly with us." Sarah stated.

Beth settled back in her chair with a grin, "Face it Sarah, we'll never get cute guys to stare at us like that."

"Speak for yourself." Sarah retorted with mock outrage though Beth was right. She never had cute boys running after her like Diana did, nor did she have men glancing appreciatively her way like they did to Beth, even though her friend was so oblivious of her own charm. But it made her stomach hurt just thinking about...if Diana had the looks, Beth had the charm...what did she have?

"Anyway, not my type." Beth shrugged off, alarmed when an unwanted face with dark eyes flashed into her head. What was wrong with her? She saw a ruggedly handsome face and suddenly she's obsessed?

"Are you sure you don't want to talk about it?" Diana leaned in closer seeing the alarm quickly flash in Beth's eyes before dissipating.

She shook her head and pasted on a smile, "I'm fine...or at least, I will be. Something is bothering me, that's all. I'll get over it." They spent the next hour eating and laughing and for that, Beth was thankful once again for her friends. By the time they paid and went separate ways, she was finally feeling like herself again.