Read the first chapter of Collateral Damage!
Timothy stared down at the gravestone, wishing he could believe it was only a nightmare. Surely she wasn’t really gone. Thirty years they’d been married, and he’d loved her every single moment of those three decades. How was he supposed to move on knowing he would never see her smile again, never hear her bright laugh, or smell her fiery hair that somehow always carried the scent of flowers. How would he navigate his future without her?
A sheep bayed in the distance, but he barely heard anything over the sound of his own heart as it broke all over again. Those who attended her service had long since moved on, but still here he was, stuck in a trance, unable to tear his eyes away from the last shred of happiness in his life. From her name etched into cold stone:
CAIT ELIZABETH MCGINLEY
Beloved wife and healer.
How could her life be summed up in one sentence? There was so much more to her, so much more that should have been said about her when she’d been alive. His Cait been everything to him and spent her entire life helping to heal the sick and injured.
The pain of losing her and knowing he would never see her again was nearly too much to bear. Wiping a tear from his cheek, Timothy knelt in the cool grass to press his hand to the stone. It seemed strange to him that the headstone was cold beneath his touch when she’d been so warm in life. Since the moment he’d met her he’d known she was a force of good in this world. One that would hopefully overshadow the pain he’d felt at losing his two best friends. Aengus and Myria had long since moved on, brother and sister who believed they could only rely on each other. They’d shut him out when things had gone wrong, and that was something he couldn’t forgive them for. The pain of it leaving him nothing more than a broken man.
As it turned out, his Cait completely eclipsed the pain of that loss with her love, and he’d believed that perhaps he had never truly loved anyone before her. Now that she was gone, he knew he would never love another. How could he?
Anger overwhelmed him when his thoughts drifted back to Myria. She was the very reason he was now stuck in this hell of a life without his wife. He was far too angry to remember just why she’d cast the spell she had. Logically, he understood it had been the only way to save her brother from a lifelong heartache. But here he was, feeling the pain she’d spared her brother, and they were none the wiser. Had they ever tried to reach out to him before? Of course not. They were entirely too wrapped up in their own lives to worry about what he was doing.
He and Cait had raised no children, so she was the last person in his world who knew his secret. He had no one left. When she’d fallen ill, she had made him promise that one day when the curse was broken, he would live a happy life. That he would marry again and have the children she’d been unable to give him during their time together.
She’d told him not to waste the years he had, that they were a gift and a way to do good in the world she believed he was capable of. Some gift. Now he was completely forgotten and forced to walk this earth alone. All because of a naïve witch who’d dabbled in mystics she couldn’t have comprehended.
He briefly considered going to her, telling her what she’d done to him. But what good would that do? It would change nothing. He doubted even she knew how to undo the spell cast on him. And even if she did, she wouldn’t risk hurting her brother by taking away his chance at happiness.
No, there was no hope for him. He would have to continue on with his life, living without fully living. No happily ever after’s or anyone he would be able to grow old with. He was nothing but a forgotten victim in a world full of empty possibilities.
Cait’s melodic voice filled his mind. “Do good, Timothy. Be the man I know you are.”
What good could he do? He felt no goodness left in his heart.
He closed his eyes and willed the lump in his throat to disappear. There was nothing he could do about it now, nothing but wait and hope that one day his curse would end, and he would be allowed to die like everyone else eventually did. Perhaps one day he could see his Cait again.
The wind picked up, and he breathed in the fresh scent of the country he’d loved for so long. A country that no longer felt like home without the laughing, smiling, red-haired woman he had loved passionately for the last three decades.
Timothy pulled his cloak tighter around his shoulders and turned away. It was time he began moving forward the best he could.
With each new step he took, his anger for all things magic grew until he made himself a promise. He would never get involved with another person who possessed abilities beyond everyone else. Never again would he offer his help to a witch who had no comprehension of the consequences of her magic.
He refused to ever again be someone else’s collateral damage.