Claire Wiche is an ordinary woman, running her Wicca shop, The Wiche’s Broom, in an ordinary California beach town. But Claire wasn’t always ordinary, and she isn’t quite human. She hides a secret, and a past she thought she had put behind her.
A past that is about to explode into her present.
When it does, and everyone she loves is in danger, Claire must face up to her past – and become what she left behind in order to save them.
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Claire Wiche guided her unhappy customer through her shop, one arm around the woman’s hunched shoulders.
“You know I don’t do love spells, Mildred.”
“But I know if he could see me, really see me, he’d fall desperately in—”
“Would it be real, if he’s under an enchantment?”
Mildred pouted, not a pretty sight on an eighty-year-old woman. “What happened to the customer is always right?”
Biting her lip on a smile, Claire walked her through the open door.
“Never been my policy. And I have good reasons for that.” She rubbed the old woman’s arm.
“You go on home now. I’ll phone you when my new shipment of crystals shows up.”
Leaning against the narrow porch post, Claire watched her toddle down the sidewalk, sunlight bouncing off the thin silver poodle curls. The morning gloom had burned off early, and it looked like the start of another beautiful day.
She crossed her arms, cold despite the sweater she slipped on earlier. It took longer to warm up lately, a fact she did her best to ignore.
“Are you cold again, Claire? It’s got to be at least 80 in the store.”
Unless, of course, a well-meaning friend shoved it in her face.
She turned around, forced a smile. “Is it, Annie? I must have forgotten to turn it down this morning.”
“How could you not notice? The candles are sweating.” Annie Sullivan—the lively, noholds-barred friend Claire never expected to have in her life—stepped across the small porch that ran along the front of the shop, her almost six foot height topping Claire by a good ten inches.
She caught one hand before Claire could shove them in her pockets. “You’re like ice. Again.”
She looked down at Claire, concern in her warm brown eyes. “And you’re avoiding. Again.”
With a sigh, Claire squeezed her hand before easing out of it. The warmth in Annie’s fingers made her skin tingle, yearn.
“Time to turn that heat down before the candles become a puddle.”
Annie followed her back inside, hovering while she adjusted the thermostat to a more reasonable temperature. She would need a heavier sweater.“Come on,” Annie said, hands on her hips. “Give.”
Shaking her head, Claire smiled, a real smile this time. “Would I’m just cold and tired do it for you?”
“Hardly.” Annie stood in front of the counter, looking like a golden Amazon ready for battle.
“But it’ll have to until I can get you drunk and pry the truth out of you.”
Laughter burst out of Claire. “I’d like to see that.”
“Yeah, so would I. If you actually touched the stuff.” She gave Claire a wicked smile. “I could always slip you a mickey.”
“You could—if I wasn’t able to smell it from across the room.”
“Slapped down again. Hey—what if we just tried—”
“Not again. Never again.” Claire still felt the residual agony from her one failed attempt at social drinking.
“How do you do that?” Those warm brown eyes narrowed as they studied her. “How do you always know what I’m going to say?”
Claire reached up and patted her cheek. “I’m a witch, sweetheart. It’s what I do.”
“Wait.” She grabbed Claire’s hand, pushed her sleeve up to reveal the bandage that peeked out. “Is that another tattoo? What is it this time?”
Claire flushed. The second reason she put on a sweater this morning.
“More protection? Jeez, Claire, the pentacle on your hip isn’t enough?”
“There is no such thing as too much protection.” She pulled free and walked around the counter. “And the subject is closed.”
“Okay, I can take a hint. I’ll drop in sometime tomorrow, see if you need any help during the festival madness.”
“That will be most appreciated.”
Annie strode to the door, her long legs taking her through the small shop in a few paces. She paused in the doorway. “Hey, Claire—I’m worried, and I poke when I’m worried. I’ll leave it alone for now. But if you don’t get better, I’ll do more than poke.”
“Annie.” She stuck her head back in. “Don’t you even think about taking on Mildred’s love spell.”
Color rushed into her cheeks.“I wasn’t—”
“I mean it. Last time you nearly had your victim falling in love with her cat.”
“Never gonna let me live that one down, are you?”
Claire smiled. “Not if it keeps you from trying again.”
Annie cursed under her breath and stalked out.
Chuckling, Claire made a mental note to put feelers out. Annie had more than enough power, and just enough knowledge to make her dangerous.
Without warning the pain stabbed her; a blade of ice in her gut.
Bracing her hands on the counter, she fought to breathe, fought to keep herself upright.
Shaking so hard her rings clattered against the granite countertop, she gained enough control to lower herself to the chair that she recently added, out of necessity.
“God above—” She pressed both arms against her stomach, prayed for a slow morning. If she believed God would actually listen to her, after all this time, she’d ask the single question that haunted her.
Is this how it feels to be dying?
Eric watched, helpless, as the beautiful creature tortured his sister Katelyn.
Not a woman, not anymore—but she may have been human once. She had looked human, and harmless, as she stood on the porch when Eric opened the door to her this morning. But now power coiled around her, dark and ugly. Power she’d hidden under a smile, and the name of a mutual friend who had recommended his clinic. That power held him against the wall with
invisible chains, locked his voice in his throat. He tried to scream as she dragged the knife across Katelyn’s bare stomach.
“She will feel that, and not know why.” The creature trailed one hand across the shallow wound, studying the blood that tipped her fingers. “You are so delicate, so easily broken. Why would she choose such a life, when immortality is hers?”
Katelyn no longer tugged at the ropes that tied her down to their heavy farmhouse table. She stared up at the creature bent over her, the bright light of the chandelier washing out her pale skin, and moaned deep in her throat every time those narrow hands touched her. Wearing only her faded jeans, she looked fragile, defenseless.
Fight her, Kate—damn it, you have to fight her until I can free—
“You would do best to save your strength, Eric. I have an important task for you.”
He would kill himself before he agreed to any bloody deed she had for him.
Katelyn recoiled, gasping as the tip of the blade moved up her torso, stopping just below her ribcage. Eric fought against the invisible restraints, his heart pounding so hard he could barely hear the silken voice over it.
“Your life, your soul, will help me crack open a door. Soon I will be able to return home in triumph, with the most coveted prize in my grasp. Sweet Katelyn—I will owe you all that I become.” The creature leaned in and pressed her lips to Katelyn’s cheek. “Thank you. Now I will send her a message she will not soon forget. Close your eyes, my innocent girl, and there will be no more pain.”
Eric’s scream echoed in his head as the creature shoved the knife into Katelyn.
She arched off the table, then collapsed, blood spilling down her skin, pooling on the scarred wood. Eric slumped against the wall. He didn’t care what the devil did to him now. He had just watched her kill the only important part of his life, his only family. Now he wanted her to end him, before the pain kicked in. Before he started to feel again.
She glided over to him, a beautiful, deadly predator.
“Now, my darling Eric.” He tried to jerk away from the hand caressing him. She simply smiled, and the restraints tightened until he fought to breathe. After an endless minute they loosened, just enough for him to take in a ragged breath. “I will not tolerate defiance. Do we have an understanding?”
“I won’t—obey you, bitch.” He sucked in another breath, bracing himself for the final blow.
“So just kill me.”
“Ah, Eric. Your bravado is refreshing. Most of your kind simply cower, or grovel. I do abhor the groveling.”
She sounded like someone out of an old novel. He searched for the term—then forgot everything when she kissed him.
Heat scorched him. He gasped against her lips, agony following the trail of fire straight to the center of him.“There.” She whispered into his mouth, her hand on his chest, the touch like a branding iron.
He moaned, and she took it in, her lips claiming him. When she finally tore away, he felt like part of him had been torn away with her. Struggling to catch his breath, he lowered his head, and saw the amulet in her palm. A stylized goat’s head, the gold edged with black, like it had been—burned. Just looking at it had dread and unnamable terror slithering through him. Then her hand
dropped out of sight, and he forgot what he was thinking, and why sweat slicked every inch of him.
The woman smiled at him, and dark lust squeezed his gut. “You will find her, Eric, and bring her to me. Hurt her if you must—and you most likely will need to, in order to subdue her. But I want her alive.”
“Whatever you want. I am yours . . .”
“Natasha. You can call me Natasha. Now watch, darling Eric, and remember.”
He stared into the dark green eyes, watched in wonder as her image shimmered, and another face laid over hers, an opaque mask. Her green eyes became a silvery blue. The mask expanded, and color bled out of her black hair, replaced by a rich brown. It grew, long and waving, until it reached her waist. He followed the progress of the shimmering mask, the part of his mind not
trapped by her screaming in horror. Her touch silenced it.
Looking up, he met the soft, silver blue eyes, the sculpted face framed by masses of hair that seemed to engulf her delicate figure.
“Find me, Eric. It is time for me to go home.”
Fingers slid over his face, burning the image of her into his mind. He sank into the waiting darkness, followed by a single word. A name.
Cate Dean has been writing since she could hold a pen in her hand and put more than two words together on paper. She grew up losing herself in the wilds of fantasy worlds, and has had some of her own adventures while tromping through the UK, and a few other parts of the world. A lover of all things supernatural, she infuses that love into her stories, giving them a unique edge. When she’s not writing, she loves cooking, scaring herself silly in the local cemeteries, and reading pretty much anything she can get her hands on. Also, visit her at http://catedeanwrites.com/.
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