At twenty-four, Ethan Aur has a lot to prove. He’s the youngest member of his family, the academic one, and the latest heir to the tradition of supernatural quests and spells and enchanted swords. The family’s always protected him and worried about him, and his older brother keeps calling to check in.
But this particular quest is Ethan’s quest, and this ghost is his problem. He’s going to solve it on his own. By any means necessary. Even if that ghost is a very handsome man, charming and confident and dominant and kind.
Jake O’Malley took one look at the newly arrived Knight and that magical Sword and those determined eyes, and now he’s aware he’s in trouble -- as if he didn’t have enough problems, being the trapped and ghostly version of his 19th Century brothel-keeper bastard self. But the Knight who’s come to help is everything Jake could’ve ever wanted: brave and generous and sweet, vowing to find a way to solve Jake’s stuck-between-worlds predicament, no matter what it takes.
Even if that involves a mutually pleasurable ritual involving sexual magic.
“Your brother’s not wrong, y’know,” said a cheerful voice.
Ethan, bewildered by the parallel to his own thoughts, snapped his head up, lost balance, flailed, and fell off his rock. He landed on his feet, but only barely. River-water splashed.
“And here I thought you were looking for me.” The ghost -- more defined now, slim and sharply outlined in watercolor hues, propped a shoulder against a tree-trunk. Grinned. Got far more insouciant than anyone that diaphanous had a right to be. He had a faintly Irish accent, in the way of someone who’d worked hard to shed it and sound like a gentleman. “You really should go home and help. Phantom highwaymen’re depressingly single-minded.”
“Um,” Ethan said, and then, because he was a Knight, part of the family tradition, dammit, possessor of a doctoral degree from Harvard, and not at all thinking about being barefoot in a stream and the distance to his sword and how that inhuman smile caught his attention like a fish scooped into a net, “wait, you can talk?”
“Depends on whether there’s anyone worth talking to.” The shade was dressed in an absolutely gorgeous nineteenth-century waistcoat, royal blue silk with embroidered asphodel flowers; he had unruly black hair that fell into a mischievous comma over one equally blue eye, and Ethan would’ve sworn that gaze flicked up and down his own body with interested speculation.
Surely not. Not from a ghost. Not for him.
The ghost finished looking him over -- insubstantial hair tumbled lazily, and Ethan swallowed -- and went on, “I’m guessing I’m meant to give you the traditional indistinct directions, but I’m bored, frankly, and you’re luscious, peaches.”
Well. That ...
That answered that. And raised approximately fifty more questions. “You -- peaches? seriously? -- are you actually going to help?”
“Up to your definition of help. As much as I can. And yes, peaches. All soft and sweet and pretty.” The shade’s smile came out oddly wistful, though: a dead man’s flirtation, sincerity but no expectation. “You want me to tell you to go hop on your motorbike over there and follow my lead to the golden paradise, that’s not going to happen, ’cause I don’t have that answer. But I can tell you a couple things.”
So many questions. The one that tumbled out was, “You know about motorcycles?” He waded toward shore. His jeans collected more water.
“I’m dead, not uninterested. Or uninteresting.” His ghost had obviously noticed his attention. And enjoyed it. Damn. “See something you like, peaches?”
Yes. Lazy confidence, lean muscle, that casual assumption of command, of both the situation and Ethan’s interest -- every single weakness he’d always had --
He silently swore at himself again. “Are you doing something? A love spell, a seduction? Is this a test?”
“Oh, now I’m hurt.” The shade spread arms. His eyes shimmered blue through sunbeams, gossamer and sapphire. “All me. As if I could harm one of your lot, anyway. And you’ll be keeping that mystical Sword away from me, thanks.”
Ethan forgot to put on boots. Sat down on a tree-branch. “You know who I am?”
“Not in the way you’d call specifically, but with that pointy bit of terror and that raven emblem etched into your bike, not to mention the advice about highwaymen, I’m thinking I’m right that you’re a Knight, aren’t I?” The shade came over and sat down next to him, or more accurately slid down onto the grass with his back against Ethan’s log, and lounged. He was the sort of person who could lounge; he was apparently the sort of ghost who could handle a fairly solid manifestation.
He posed like someone who knew exactly what people saw. What they wanted, looking at him. What Ethan wanted, suddenly and bewilderingly: a shock of desire that had everything to do with cocky sarcasm and self-aware beauty.
The ghost inquired, amusement light as dandelion wine, “You forget what you came for, peaches?”