“I swear to the Goddess, if you don’t back off right this second I will rip your spleen out through your asshole.”

 

Ash winced, but didn’t back down. “You’re still healing.”

 

If Selena had to listen to that grim tone of voice for even one more second she really was going to maim him. The stubborn dryad just couldn’t seem to get it through his solid wood skull that Selena was capable of taking care of herself. “Why don’t you go hug a tree?”

 

He pointed back toward her house. “Go home, little witch.”

 

“Fuck you, Woody.” She tried to step around him, only to have him block her way. “Ashton.”

 

“Selena.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “Either you go back on your feet or I carry you, but you’re going.”

 

“They need me.” Selena couldn’t seem to get Ash to understand. “I’m the witch doctor. I have to be there.”

 

For just a second his stubborn features softened. If there was one thing they both agreed on, it was that the people of Maggie’s Grove were their main concern. Ash was the guardian of the forest, and Selena was the one who dealt with magical ailments. Which made it all the more ironic that it was a magical ailment she was suffering from. “You’re still recovering from the effects of your kidnapping.”

 

Selena shuddered. The Van Helsings had taken her from her home, breaking in and overwhelming her before she could do a damn thing. They’d forced a drug down her throat that knocked her ass out, and when she came to she was in Ash’s arms, being carried out of a hell she could barely comprehend. They’d cut off her hair, done some sort of painful, flesh-cutting experiments on her, and pumped her full of gunk that left her sickly and weak. She’d barely been able to speak, couldn’t walk for days and her vision had been blurry. She’d never puked so much in her life, and the stuff that came out had given her nightmares. It was this black, swirly tar-like substance that tasted like rotten ass and smelled worse.

 

Gideon, the coven leader, had tried, but he hadn’t been unable to identify it. Both of them were certain it was the source of her magical issues, but until they could figure it out they were at an impasse. So while she was continuing to recover physically, her magic was still as fucked up as the day Ash carried her out of the Van Helsing compound three months ago. Every spell she attempted either fizzled, or went mostly the way she’d planned. For instance, she’d tried to cast an identification spell on the black gunk that she’d puked up.

 

She’d wound up identifying every black object in a five mile radius except for the black gunk.

 

No one knew the full extent of the evil the Van Helsings had done, not only to her but other members of the community. Which was why she was heading out. She needed to see and be seen, to show the people that their witch doctor was alive and relatively well. She might not be able to cast spells at the moment, but she could sure as hell walk into town and talk. She was Italian, after all. Talking was one of the things she did best. “I can handle it.”

 

Ashton held out his hand with a sweet smile that didn’t fool her for one second. “Come on, little witch. We can discuss this back home, on your comfy couch.”

 

She narrowed her eyes, well aware of what he was up to. She’d had enough of his sexy ass ordering her around. It was time she put her foot down and made him go home. “No.”

 

“Selena.” He took a step toward her, scowling when she backed up. “Don’t make me force you.”

 

As if he could. “You touch me and I’m calling Mina.”

 

For just a second, he looked wounded to the core. But then that stubborn, overprotective asshole simply picked her up and began striding with superhuman speed back toward her house. “I warned you.”

 

“So did I.” Selena pulled out her cell phone and called the Queen of the Forest. “Mina, order Ash home.”

 

“Selena?” Mina sounded stunned. “What’s happening?”

 

“He won’t let me leave my own house. I’m well enough to take care of myself, thank you, and he doesn’t live here.” She grunted as he tossed her onto her overstuffed couch. “And I’m tired of him invading my personal space.”

 

If looks could kill she’d be pushing up daisies. “Don’t you dare.”

 

She stuck her tongue out at him. “Get him outta here before I turn him into a turnip.”

 

Mina choked on a laugh. “Put him on the phone.”

 

Selena held out the phone, smiling triumphantly as Ash took it from her.

 

“Hello, my queen.” Ash winced at whatever Mina said to him. “Yes, but—” He didn’t get to finish the sentence. Apparently Mina was giving him an earful, because he barely got a word in edgewise. All Selena heard was a crapload of but, no, yes and maybe. Eventually Ash sighed and surrendered. “Yes, my queen. I’m on my way.” He handed Selena the phone back with a defeated look. “I hope you’re happy.”

 

She grinned, ignoring the odd, fluttering fear that started to seep into her. She was a big girl. She was going to be just fine on her own. “Yes I am.”

 

He shook his head, his tone cold. “I am under orders to not return to your home unless you call me.”

 

She blinked in shock. That was more than she’d expected Mina to do, but it would buy Selena some time. She knew eventually Ash would find a way to disobey that order. The attraction they felt for one another was far too volatile for him to stay away indefinitely.

 

But Selena would take the time Mina had given her and run with it. She needed to get her ass back on track before she could bring the dryad into her life on a permanent basis. She wanted her lingering feelings for Dragos to be put to bed, her magic back under control and the Van Helsings who’d fucked with her buried under a rock. And it didn’t have to be in that order.

 

But if she tried to explain that to him he’d dig his heels in and defy Mina, causing tension and a possible rift between two of the most powerful dryads in Maggie’s Grove. If that happened, it could spill over onto the wolf pack, the owl shifters, even the dragons who’d taken up residence in town since Prince Vasile Ibanescu had moved his clutch to be closer to his brother Dragos.

 

And not only would the shifters be affected, but the witches, who relied on the forest for their ties to the earth, would find themselves dealing with the backlash. The elementals would be unbalanced as well. All around, it would be a cluster fuck of major proportions.

 

So while Ash had to go, Selena had to make sure he didn’t fight Mina over it. She squared her shoulders and looked him right in the eye. “This is what I wanted, Ash. Mina is just making sure you obey my wishes.”

 

The expression on his face went cold and hard. “So be it.” He stormed to the front door and flung it open. Before he stepped through, he shot her a look so full of anger she couldn’t stop herself from flinching. “This is far from over, little witch. I’ll go, and I’ll stay away, at least for now. But if I hear even a sliver of a rumor that something’s wrong, all bets are off.”

 

Before she could respond he slammed out of her house. She jumped as the door into her bedroom also slammed shut—probably from the wind his leaving had caused.

 

Damn it. She felt bad now for throwing him out, but she knew deep down she was in the right. Ash needed to give her time and space to sort her shit out, and if he couldn’t give it to her willingly, she’d force the issue.

 

She just hoped she hadn’t irreparably damaged their relationship, because whether she liked it or not, the man belonged to her. Her magic, even in its fucked-up state, responded to him in a way it had never done before, marking him as hers as surely as if she’d stamped her name across his forehead.

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Dana Marie Bell.

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