Thompson Auction House
“One thousand US dollars. Bid starts at one thousand.”
Sloane Davenport edged Baby Elsa to her left shoulder as she raised her paddle to accept the bid. With frustration, she shifted on her tapestry seat.
Thank goodness, the infant was sound asleep. Sloane just wanted to get this over with, then bring the Iseabal Coin back to the aunties.
“Two thousand. I see two thousand.” The auctioneer, a white-haired gentleman in a dark suit and blue tie, calmly called out the other bid from behind his polished wood podium.
Damn. A challenger. Sloane had so far assumed she was the only bidder. The screen at the front of the auction house had remained blank, free of any online competitor for the artifact.
And why would anyone beside her family want this? The antique coin appeared worthless. Just a small unassuming tarnished disk of copper etched with faint markings.
She sighed as she scanned the crowd around her, a gaggle of silver-haired patrons in understated but pricy attire, gleaming under the multitude of modern spotlights at the ornate ceiling. An expensive but subtle perfume hovered in the air.
If someone else were interested in the coin, this could take longer than anticipated.
With dismay, she ran through her to-do list in her head. Darn it! Would she have enough time to win this auction before Elsa’s feeding? Then there was the post office. And the virtual meeting with her accounting team later this afternoon.
She cringed in anticipation. That one would not go well.
“Anyone for three thousand?” Again, the auctioneer’s voice sounded in the crowded room.
She raised her paddle again with annoyance. Her trust fund was almost bare. But this was family. She had no choice. The relics were the only things for which her three aunts lived these days.
The auctioneer nodded at her then his gaze shifted to someone farther behind. “Four thousand. Thank you, sir,” he called out.
No. Not again. Who could want this? Sloane was the only one here who knew the magic the coin possessed. Her sneakers dug into the thick carpet at her feet as she tightly held onto Elsa.
The child stirred on her belly in the front pouch carrier.
“Shh,” she whispered, quickly raising her paddle again.
“Five thousand to the young lady with the infant. We have five thousand,” the auctioneer said. He gestured above his head. “Six thousand! At the very back. Sir, thank you.”
What! No. Sloane skipped so swiftly in her seat, that she almost woke Elsa. Who dared?
Deeply annoyed, she counterbid to seven thousand and hastily turned back to see the offender.
Oh god. An icy wave crashed over her. It couldn’t be.
There, over the edge of the red wood banister, surrounded by a retinue of drab men and women in business attire, poised and perfectly put together in a black suit, pristine white shirt, and an understated but supremely elegant blue-gray striped tie, sat Duke Morgan.
Warlock of the Black Oak.
Heir to one of the oldest New England families.
Billionaire of his own doing.
Sloane gulped before letting out a slow breath.
Duke with his green eyes not unlike hers and dark curls, now cropped short by an obviously expensive barber.
Her heart fluttered. Everything about him indicated his world was completely separated from her own. While his fortune had soared when he invested in Seattle’s tech, hers had crashed. Or was about to crash.
Her small paperless real estate company had been thriving. But she was now a couple of weeks from foreclosure. She should really have created a new app for her customers. But who had time to code, when she had a business to run.
And little Elsa.
“Eight thousand.” The auctioneer’s voice cut through her thoughts.
Damn, no. How would she find that kind of money? She furrowed her brows with ache. She couldn’t afford to go against Duke Morgan in a bidding war.
But she had no choice.
“Nine thousand? Anyone.”
Her paddle went up again to take the new bid as her heart sped up. Maybe, if she sold her grandma’s emeralds, she could cover it.
Sloane absolutely needed to get that coin. It had been in the Davenport family for centuries. It was potent magic. Guiding and taming the visions, their banshee’s blood sprung on them without warning.
She looked down at Elsa, patted the child’s soft fuzzy head and rearranged the pink bow at a cute angle. The scent of fresh baby powder and diaper ointment rose to her as Sloane sighed with melancholy.
Those visions are our curse.
Poor Elsa. The child’s mother didn’t need to die for who she was.
“Ten thousand from the gentleman at the back.”
No. Damn you, Duke freakin’ Morgan!
She could talk to him. Surely, he owed her that much. But she did not want him to see her. Did not want to go back to that time.
She had to end this bid, right there and now.
She raised her paddle again and slowly lifted herself from her chair. “Fifteen thousand dollars,” she called out loud.
“Thank you, ma’am.”
She quickly sank back in her seat, dropping her shoulders and trying to hide from Duke Morgan.
But he wouldn’t recognize her anyway. Sloane looked different now, over a decade later. So unlike the sixteen-year-old debutante in the white tulle dress and sprigs of lavender in her perfectly styled hair.
A quick survey of the auctions’ attendants made her shift uneasily at her lack of polish.
No doubt today she looked a mess. She barely had time to rush out of the door to catch a bus to the auction house. Messy hair piled on top of her head, old yoga pants, and fleece jacket. Battered messenger bag at her feet. Did she even have time for a shower this morning?
When she had finalized the adoption of Elsa four months ago, she hadn’t realized that the life she knew was over.
Her heart swelled with warmth as she pushed the pacifier back into the baby’s pouty mouth. Little Elsa was Sloane’s life.
Her only love. She wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Twenty thousand dollars!” His voice echoed rich and steady in the hushed elegant room.
And shot straight to her core.
Oh god, no. Could he still affect her? She cast a quick glance back at him. So stiff, so cold looking.
But those lips. Still full under the chiseled cheekbones. Still desirable despite the stern expression. She recalled the taste of them as they had seized her own eager mouth. No, no. She could not still have a crush on Duke Morgan.
The debutante week had ended in tragedy and she had not heard a sound of apologies from him. Nothing except a small card sent months after the accident.
Aggravation mounted in her. Now he wanted their family’s mystical coin.
And no. She didn’t care how much it cost. She would not let him win. She’d sell her grandmother’s whole jewelry collection if needed.
“Thirty thousand!” she shouted loud and clear.
Jolted, little Elsa popped her pacifier and burst out in an ear-piercing wail over the quiet auction room.
All eyes darted to them. Program listings fell to people’s laps, reading glasses dropped from patrician noses, and eyebrows rose at her in disapproval.
“Thirty thousand,” the auctioneer repeated through Elsa’s cries.
Sloane stood and walked to the middle of the aisle to calm her baby. She was jumping the child up and down on her belly when she caught it.
The deep jade of his pupils connected with hers, catching her by surprise.
Oh hell no. Feelings bubbled up in her chest, ready to explode.
She had actually fallen in love with him then. Her tender sixteen-year-old self had been in seventh heaven when he’d agreed to be her debutante ball partner after the week’s mingle events.
She had worn the perfect dress to the venue held on the pristine lawn of Beechwood Court that his father, Edwin Morgan the Fourth, had lent to the committee for the event.
And that kiss. Oh that deep, sweep-you-off-your-feet kiss in the romantic setting of the gatehouse. Just before the cocky young warlock had to show her his power.
She shuddered and stared at her wrist under the thick fleece jacket. She still bore the scars on her skin.
Relief swept through her as she realized his expression was now blank. He had not recognized her.
She observed him while Elsa finally accepted her pacifier to settle in quiet attention. Sloane’s initial ease at remaining anonymous was now replaced by hurt. Did he not even remember?
The scar she could live with. But the silence was something else. He broke her heart that day.
His eyes impassively turned away from her to address the auctioneer.
“One hundred thousand dollars,” he enunciated firmly.
Her mouth opened in shock. She did not have that kind of money.
Heartbroken, she shook her head in defeat as the gavel slammed loudly to the podium.
“Sold,” the auctioneer called out.
Damn you, Duke Morgan. With wrath, she wished a banshee’s curse was actually worth something.
Damn you forever.