Must Be Magic
Darby Calder has only one reason to agree to a forty-eight-hour truce with the guy who broke her heart: to keep the peace at her brother’s wedding.
She’s prepared to grit her teeth and play nice with the arrogant, infuriating Bryce Lancaster. Then a moment of weakness reawakens their scorching chemistry…and suddenly she can’t decide if forty-eight hours is too much to ask, or not nearly enough.
Bryce was looking forward to a Caribbean getaway to get his life back on track, but his still-fierce attraction to Darby drags him headlong into the past. Family feud be damned, he can’t stop craving the rival witch’s touch, and soon he’s breaking every no-Darby rule in his book.
When their too-hot-to-handle reunion blows up in their faces, a long, awkward flight home awaits them…until the plane goes down. Stranded with nothing between them but hurt and bitterness, their lives could depend on overcoming their complicated history—and rediscovering a love that’s more than magic.
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Paradise was hell.
Forget the soft, golden sand, warm Caribbean sun and frothy drinks with the cute umbrellas. They were clearly part of some cosmic masquerade for the fire and brimstone that lurked beneath.
It was the only explanation as to how Darby Calder had ended up on the same stretch of beach with the last man on earth she wanted to cross paths with.
For a moment she’d actually admired the undeniably hot male body that emerged from the water, thinking there were worse things in life than spending a few days in St. Lucia with scenery like this.
And then she’d recognized Bryce Lancaster, assistant district attorney extraordinaire and first class pain in the ass.
She’d known she was bound to run into him at some point, seeing as his sister was marrying her brother at sunset tomorrow. She just hasn’t anticipated having to deal with him less than an hour after arriving in St. Lucia.
Momentarily stunned at her supreme bad luck, she caught herself staring at Bryce as he picked up his towel and dried himself off. He ran a hand through dark blond hair noticeably wilder than his usual style, shaking off the excess moisture. For as long as their professional paths had been crossing—four years too long—he’d kept his hair meticulously short.
Bryce Lancaster couldn’t possibly be loosening up, could he?
She nearly snorted aloud at the thought.
Torn between turning around, which was bound to draw his attention and make it obvious she was avoiding him, and settling into the hammock behind her, she went with the latter.
Sacrificing the hammock would mean admitting he intimidated her, and she’d be damned if she ever gave him that impression. He treated the courtroom like it was his own personal domain, and there was no way she’d let him view this beach as another piece of territory he could stake a claim on.
Besides, if he noticed her at all, maybe she’d get lucky and he would pretend he hadn’t and head down the beach. Then she could get back to sipping on her Mai Tai and forget she and Bryce had to share the same oxygen this weekend, let alone mingle at the same family gathering.
Just the thought of the long-standing tension between the Calders and Lancasters was enough to unleash a wave of pressure that threatened to settle between her temples.
Determined to prevent what promised to be a wicked headache, she took a good long drink and followed it with a slow exhale. It might have been enough to relax her if she didn’t suddenly feel the weight of Bryce’s gaze land squarely on her.
Resisting the urge to look, she dropped her sandals on the ground and carefully lowered herself into the hammock. It was harder than it looked to hold on to the edge and swing her legs up, and although the hammock tipped abruptly to the right, she managed to steady herself.
But not before some of her drink splashed across her chest.
She sucked in a breath as the freezing liquid ran down between her breasts. Damn it.
Wiping in vain at the spill already soaking into her white shirt, she chanced a peek in Bryce’s direction.
He looked right at her.
Maybe she really should have left. Running away from him couldn’t possibly have been worse than the tightening deep in her stomach the second he started walking in her direction.
She glanced down at the orange stain that would inevitably draw his attention right to her breasts. “Abolesco.”
The purple amulet around her neck warmed her skin as her magic hid any evidence of her little accident.
Bryce, who should have been too far away to notice, frowned at her.
Great. Just what she needed—a run in with assistant D.A. extraordinaire and magic killjoy.
Did he even see the irony of sliding his own amulet over his head as he gave her that judgmental look for daring to use a gift she’d been born with? The very same gift he also possessed.
Every Calder, Lancaster and Hastings child was capable of magic and the amulets they wore almost from birth helped them to channel it. Without their amulets, their magic was extremely limited, and even a magic killjoy like Bryce was never without his.
The green stone settled over his heart, or where his heart was supposed to be. She used to think he had one, but experience had taught her differently.
Unfortunately, experience hadn’t taught her not to stare at men she strongly disliked, no matter how attractive they were. By the time she finished running her gaze over him—god, she’d forgotten how good he looked when he wasn’t wearing a suit—she found a cocky grin curving his lips.
He stopped next to her, his broad shoulders blocking out the sun behind him. She deliberately indulged in a long drink before tipping her head back to look at him.
His jaw tensed but the grin didn’t waver although they both knew how much the nickname irritated him.
“Hello, Darby.” The warm greeting was so far from the clipped, professional tone he usually favored when they were forced to acknowledge each other, that he almost sounded…friendly?
That couldn’t be right. Either the sun was already getting to her or she was drinking her Mai Tai too quickly.
More than a little suspicious, she searched his eyes for any clue to explain the change in attitude. “I’m surprised you bothered to arrive more than an hour or two before the ceremony. Whose ass did you have to kiss to make that happen?”
He glanced over her head, and she hoped he found something—anything—more interesting than trading barbs with her, no matter how good they’d become at it.
A moment later he leaned against the palm tree opposite her, looking like he was settling in.
Damn. Damn. Damn.
“Not everyone works for their family and has the freedom to come and go as they like.”
Freedom? With her father and uncle spending most of their time on the golf course instead of in their offices, leaving the running of Calder Investigations to Darby and her siblings, freedom wasn’t something she got a taste of very often.
“Wow.” Darby took another sip of her drink. “It’s a bit early into the celebration to start criticizing my family, isn’t it?”
The corner of his mouth tipped up. “We both know if you thought that was a genuine criticism you’d be on your feet poking me in the chest by now.”
She rolled her eyes. “I don’t poke people in the chest.”
He gently probed his upper ribs. “I think I’m still bruised from the last time.”
Already in need of another drink, she emptied her glass. “If you’re referring to three weeks ago when you cross examined my sister—”
“That would be it.”
“—then you deserved it,” she finished sweetly.
Bryce had ripped into her older sister, Riley, when her investigation into a missing person ended up undermining the case he had built against a husband accused of killing his wife. When Bryce strode out of the courtroom after attacking her sister’s credibility, Darby had been waiting for him.
Instead of the reminder making him scowl though, Bryce laughed, surprising her again. The genuine sound instantly reminded her of a time they hadn’t disliked one another. The opposite in fact, and the tropical setting was only making it harder to forget just how much.
Realizing her gaze had drifted to his mouth, she hastily glanced away, wishing she hadn’t polished off her Mai Tai so quickly. The white-capped waves rolling up the beach didn’t hold her attention for nearly long enough. It was too hard to concentrate on anything when she could feel Bryce watching her so intently.
She started to suggest he find another one of her siblings to irritate, like her twin brother, Dante, but found herself tugged hard into the past. The way the breeze ruffled his hair and the considering tilt of his head reminded her too much of the first time he’d asked her out, his expression just as careful, his body perfectly still.
Even now as he lounged against the tree, his arms crossed casually, she was left with the impression he was somehow holding himself in check.
Because he was forcing himself to be friendly? Or something else?
Whatever it was, Darby wasn’t interested in figuring it out. She wanted to be left alone, not reminded of a time she would have chosen kissing him over breathing.
“No matter how many times you stir that straw, your glass is still going to be empty.”
“Stellar deduction skills, Councilor.”
“I’ve always tried to be more than a pretty face.”
“Too bad you can’t manage it more than occasionally.” It was a childish dig, one that didn’t have a leg to stand on. He was brilliant in the courtroom. She knew it, and unfortunately so did he.
She’d have more respect for him if he didn’t deliberately choose to take on any case her family’s private investigation firm was involved in. Most times they ended up on the same side, whether they liked it or not, but when they had opposing interests in a particular case that went to trial, Bryce was ruthless.
No matter how good he was, she occasionally wondered what happened to the idealistic twenty-one-year-old she remembered who’d been so determined to run his own practice, to take on the cases no one else would.
Just as quickly, though, she reminded herself that guy had probably never existed in the first place, just someone she’d dreamed up one spring break when neither magic nor family rivalries had mattered.
“Wow,” he mocked. “It’s a bit early into the celebration to start criticizing me, isn’t it?” He didn’t wait for a response before he pushed away from the tree and closed in on her.
She wouldn’t have stayed put with him hovering over her if not for the faint buzz of warmth tunneling through her stomach, courtesy of the far-too-potent Mai Tai. She was pretty sure a Mai Tai had been involved the last time Bryce looked like he was about to invade her personal space and that he was going to enjoy every second of it.
If her drink wasn’t already empty, the unexpected reminder of their past might have made her pour it out.
She hadn’t stopped to think about the impact of being in a place like this with Bryce again. Probably because he wasn’t anything like the man who’d chased her down after she’d knocked him off his surf board.
So why then was he looking at her like he was thinking about that day, too?
No, she was definitely better off staying right where she was, especially since she wasn’t entirely convinced she could rise gracefully from the hammock. Going toe-to-toe with him wouldn’t be all that effective if she tripped over her own feet to make it happen.
Her knack for being clumsy at the wrong moment—another gift she’d been born with—had given him more than a few laughs over the years. Thinking of the last time in particular, when she’d managed to knock over three men outside a restaurant after her heel snapped—just as Bryce arrived no less—made it easier to remain where she was.
He sighed. “Look, neither one of us is used to playing nice, but we owe it to Finn and Bree to at least try and get along this weekend, don’t you think?”
Feeling like he’d intentionally one-upped her by suggesting a truce first, she cocked her head. “Since when have you cared about maintaining the peace?”
“Since the day my sister was crazy enough to fall in love with Finn.”
“Crazy being the operative word, I suppose?” Although Bryce and Bree’s father had apparently tossed around terms worse than that after he learned of their relationship.
Bryce’s lips pressed together. “Is it that hard to believe I’m putting my sister’s needs ahead of my reservations about their marriage?”
Her eyes narrowed. “What’s in it for you?”
Something akin to amusement flashed in his eyes. “Forty-eight hours of not having to trade insults with you.” He crossed his arms. “You’re smiling.”
Smiling seemed more polite than to burst out in laughter. “I’m trying to decide which is harder to believe, that you’d waste your precious time worrying about the next thing you’ll say to me or that you could actually go two whole days—”
“Being nice to you,” he finished.
“Nice would probably be a stretch.”
Some of the humor fled his face and she instantly felt better. If she had to deal with Bryce at all, she preferred him scowling. That way there wasn’t any guessing what was going through his head or wondering, however briefly, if he caught himself remembering their past.
“You two aren’t actually trying to be civil to one another, are you?”
They both turned toward the hopeful voice. To their left Bree stood barefoot next to Finn, both of them looking relaxed and happy. Only the faint lines around Finn’s eyes betrayed his suspicion that civil wasn’t the word he’d use to describe any interaction with Bryce.
Darby smiled, determined to prevent Finn from acting on that suspicion. Most times her younger brother—younger only by a year-and-a-half as he frequently reminded her—was as protective as her twin, and she wouldn’t let him do anything that might erase the happy glow on Bree’s face.
Knowing exactly how hard her brother had fallen for Bree, who was thankfully nothing like the rest of her family, made it easier to embrace the awkward weekend in store for all of them.
“We’re working on it.” Bryce answered his sister’s question then glanced at Darby as if daring her to disagree.
“What he said.” She could tell by the look on Finn’s face that he wasn’t buying it. “Really,” she added. “Bryce and I are on our way to grab a drink actually.”
There was no hiding Finn’s disbelief now. Even Bree looked a little skeptical, leaving Darby no choice but to follow through when they didn’t take her word for it and continue on to wherever they’d been headed.
Swinging her legs around, Darby straightened, and then Bryce was there, taking her hand and helping her up before she even registered he’d gotten that close.
The second her feet hit the sand, he took a step back. But the damage had been done. There hadn’t been a reason to maintain anything more than eye contact for years, and with one touch, one tightening of his fingers around hers, a wave of heat curled through her.
Afraid that he would know if she looked at him, she bent to scoop up her sandals. Across from her, Finn’s eyes had narrowed, his attention firmly locked on Bryce. Not so surprising. But the thoughtful expression on Bree’s face said she’d picked up on something more than just Bryce getting into Darby’s personal space.
“All set?” She didn’t wait from Bryce to answer, but started walking down the beach. “We’ll see you two later, right?” she called over her shoulder, but carried on before they said anything that would drag things out longer than necessary.
Bryce fell into step beside her, clearly the lesser of two evils right now. Sticking around would give her brother the opportunity see through her insistence that they were making a real effort to get along, or give him the opportunity to pull something on Bryce—
Bryce stumbled, tripping on nothing, but managed to catch himself before he was eating sand.
Straightening up, he shot her an accusing glance.
Gee thanks, Finn.
She didn’t need to look back to verify the satisfied look on her brother’s face. He took far too much pleasure in using his magic to screw around with people.
Usually Finn saved most of it for Reece, the detective their baby sister was involved with. Since Violet was having some complications with her pregnancy and couldn’t fly, Reece had stayed home with her, leaving Finn without anyone to torment.
“Next time I need your help standing up, I’ll ask.” It was the only explanation that would keep Bryce from realizing Finn was the real guilty party and retaliating.
“Fine,” Bryce gritted out.
Just minutes ago she’d felt better knowing she had annoyed him. Now…not so much.
She sighed. “Forty-eight hours.”
He stared straight ahead. “Agreed.”
“Are they still watching us?”
“Okay then.” Without a backward glance, she took a path leading away from the beach, leaving Bryce behind her.
But not the sensation that something had just changed between them.