Beguiled, Bewitched, & Broken, book #4 of the Sister Witches Urban Fantasy series, released today (Aug. 6). Each of the Brodeur sisters now has their own book!
I come from a family of witches where secrets are the norm, a curse determines our fated mate, and being curvy and short means I’m often underestimated.
You’ll find the complete first chapter below the buy links.
“Did I die?”
Worried faces studied me from behind clear face shields. I wrinkled my nose at the overwhelming smell of pungent antiseptics and medical supplies and tried to breathe away the banging inside my head. Worry flickered to annoyance before one of the hovering faces turned away.
“Please let the prince in before he bashes through the window,” they said.
A door clanged against something metal. Kostya materialized at my side. My gorgeous demon stopped just shy of grabbing me, pillows and IV lines and all, and pulling me off the bed.
“Hey,” I said, working to unstick my tongue from the inside of my mouth. “What happened? Where’s Clementine?”
I didn’t know why I was flat on my back, but I knew with certainty that something had happened to my younger sister. The last memory I had was seeing her talking to a mystery man while a string quartet played in the background.
“She’s okay. She’s okay, and so is the kid. But you…” Kostya’s face crumpled behind his surgical mask.
“But me what?” Relieved as I was that Clementine was okay, I had no memory of a kid.
“You don’t remember?”
I went to shake my head, but it wasn’t going anywhere. My skull was wedged firmly in place and Kostya’s gaze was darting back and forth and up and down like he was cataloguing a sequence of facial fault lines.
“Is there a mirror in here?”
“Why do you want a mirror, Beryl? You just—”
“I want to see what’s going on, Kostya. Please.” Nothing in his gaze or his tone was instilling confidence in my appearance and my arms weren’t cooperating with my attempts to examine the condition of my chin and cheeks. “Because the look on your face is telling me something’s wrong with my face.”
Another memory slid in. I had been invited to a royal ball. That explained why Clementine was wearing yards of silvery white brocade. Two demons had done my hair and makeup. I’d been given a gown and shoes and sparkly accessories, including a satin clutch.
“Can you bring me that little purse I was carrying?”
He shook his head. Messy hanks of auburn hair fell forward from where he’d pushed them behind his horns.
“There’s nothing wrong with your face, Beryl. It’s your neck they’re worried about, and I’m not leaving your side for a bloody mirror. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.”
Joy blossomed across my chest. Whatever had happened to me hadn’t damaged my hearing, and it sounded a lot like my favorite demon in all the realms was proposing. My shoulders sank back into the pillows, and I attempted a grin. Okay, maybe it wasn’t a proposal exactly—but it was more of a commitment to the concept of an ‘us’ than anything he’d said in the past.
Once I was awake and moderately alert, every moment was taken up by an exam or a consult or another bag of blood. When the healers were getting ready to go, they left the night shift with firm instructions that, if Kostya stayed, he had to let me sleep. I thanked them for taking good care of me and begged Kostya to tell me what happened that landed me here in the first place.
He had a reclining chair delivered to the room. Pushing it right up against my bed, he wrapped himself in a blanket and shared the unadorned details: I had been bitten and almost drained of blood by a male vampire. A different kind of Magical—a jaguar shifter who was taken from the palace the same time as me—had likely swiped her claws across my belly, leaving a trio of cuts.
Nothing about the details startled me, which meant the healers had me on painkillers. Not only was I not reacting to Kostya’s story, no part of my body hurt. Though the gentle loopiness buoying me almost—almost—masked the faint sensation that something vital was flowing out of a spot to the left of my bellybutton.
Under the cover of my blanket and still holding Kostya’s concerned gaze, I made a second attempt to move my arm. It took a few tries to get my hand onto my belly, where my fingertips searched for a way to connect with bare skin. Whatever material the demons used for wound care was thin enough I couldn’t feel the edge of a bandage. By following the sensation of leaking magic, I was able to trace three raised ridges I was sure hadn’t been there before.
“Did you see the claw marks?” Giddy with success, I slid my arm out from underneath the covers and reached for Kostya. He took my floppy hand in both of his and slowly kissed my knuckles. His eyes were watery when he looked up.
“I did,” he said. “I saw the claw marks on your belly and the puncture wounds on your neck, and I vow to never again let anything like that happen to you.”
As much as I wanted to ask him more questions about what else he’d seen and what he meant about never leaving my side, the drugs took over and ushered me to sleep.
By the next morning it was apparent to my treatment team that the blood donated by my family, plus the blood products developed by demon researchers, had done an excellent job of accelerating my healing. Once I was fitted with a modest neck brace and given a salve to help with the bruising, I got the green light to leave. I was cautioned by a kind-eyed demon to not overdo physical activity for at least a week.
Which was laughable, considering the next bit of news. My older sister had decided to pursue the Magicals whose actions landed me in the medical center in the first place—by herself. The departure timeline from the Reformed Realm to France was moved from in a few days to as soon as possible. My hope that Kostya and I could have a deeper conversation about the course of our relationship was shoved to the back burner in favor of following Alderose.
Once everyone’s bags were packed, our group, which consisted of me, Clementine, Kostya, and his brothers, Laszlo and Iván, were summoned to my uncle’s estate near Vancouver for a family meeting. I secretly dubbed the gathering, What To Do About Alderose. From Canada, an expanded version of our group was sent back to Massachusetts, to the building my sisters and I now owned and the site where so much of the current drama started.
Most helpful to our urgent need to locate Alderose was the discovery my mother had practiced geomagick in her third-floor workroom. Five deliberately placed mannequins marked the five points of a pentagram and once we figured out the proper dot-connecting sequence, the pentagram became a portal.
Clementine, the three Arkadi brothers, a druid named Tanner, and I activated the pentagram. We arrived in Chamonix, France at the region’s primary portal tree, where the reason behind my uncle’s insistence that the druid join our group became crystal clear.
Tanner knew the area intimately—he’d studied Druidry there for decades, maybe longer—and he was able to guide us through a series of little-used tunnels that originated underneath his teacher’s château and wended their way out. Some led upward, deeper into the Alps. Others sloped down into the valley. The tunnel route we took led to a newly-built tower known as the Facility.
Tanner’s first gift to our rescue mission helped us locate Alderose within the Facility, where she was being held prisoner. His second gift helped us free her. The druid’s lanky, barefooted appearance belied his prowess with earth magic and blade work. He wielded a set of short swords that could cut through fae constructs, whether they were invisible wards or imbued objects.
Guarded by Iván, the fastest and fiercest of the demon brothers, Tanner used the wavy-edged blades to carve doorways into invisible walls. He sliced through the locking systems on the glass walls separating patients in a sterile medical ward. And he made single, clean cuts in the arm, chest, and leg restraints holding Alderose to an examination table.
The entire rescue mission was fast and at moments, frantic. Clementine and I were completely absorbed with getting to our sister and getting her out. Along the way, Kostya and Laszlo freed a woman I recognized from the Reformed Realm, the mother of the little shifter kid who had the meltdown at the end of the parade. We also freed a mud-coated man named Jake, who elected to stay within his below-ground cell and act as an inside contact for us and the bigger mission—which was to take down Lionel Vigne, the fae who built the Facility and populated it with captured Magicals, and put an end to his twisted project.
Jake made an impression on the Arkadi brothers with his bravado and with his admission that his other form was a three-headed dragon. He swore he could, and would, eat his captors for lunch.
We made it out of the Facility and followed Tanner back through the tunnels to the druids’ modest château. He assured us the healers were equipped to run tests on Alderose and would tend to the obvious wounds, as well as any we couldn’t see.
I didn’t say out loud that I wished them good luck with that last piece. My heart was in my throat as Tanner and a white-robed woman whisked Laszlo and his armful of unconscious witch into a treatment room within the main building and shut the door.
I stared at the rustic infirmary’s heavy wooden door and wished my sister speedy healing. No sounds penetrated from the other side. I was shaking from the late hour and the sustained energy our hastily put-together rescue mission had required so soon after I was discharged.
Loosening the neck brace, I gently palpated the area where the vampire’s teeth had entered. My skin and fingers were numb from the cold, and I was beyond ready to become as one with a horizontal surface. All Kostya, Clementine, and I needed was to be shown to our guestrooms.
Beds, and privacy, were moments away.
A man about my age approached us. I couldn’t tell if he was a druid-in-training or a staff person. Like everyone we’d seen so far, he was attired in a generic uniform of canvas drawstring pants, a sweater knit from natural wool, and felted slippers. His dark blond hair was long and held away from his face with a leather cord.
“I am the night host.” He gestured for us to follow him into a round tower. “Please come with me.”
We trudged single-file up narrow, twisting steps that brought us to a dimly lit hall. I was sure I wasn’t the only one looking forward to the end of the druid’s Welcome to Chamonix spiel so I could indulge in a hot shower before collapsing into bed.
“All bathing in the main areas of the castle is cold water only,” our guide said, before I could voice my desire to bathe. “Should you prefer hot water, there is a communal bathhouse fed by natural hot springs in one of the outbuildings. Because this is a place of study and worship, we ask that you confine yourselves to our guest wing and the dining hall. Unless you are accompanied by one of our senior staff.”
Kostya stopped him from leaving. “Could you give us directions to the bathhouse, please? This is our first time here.”
The night host directed our attention to the hand drawn map on the back of our room’s roughhewn wooden door. “Food and drink await you in the sitting room at the end of the hall,” he added. “There is always fruit, bread, butter, and cheese available should you become hungry between meals.”
I dreaded the answer to my next question. “Is there wine?”
“This is France. There is always wine.”
I hugged Clementine once the druid left and waited for my sister to close and latch her door. I took two steps into the room Kostya and I had been assigned and paused. Any other time, spending the night an in ancient castle in the French Alps might have felt quaint. Romantic even. Especially if our hosts had thought to drop a stem of wildflowers into the empty vase on the room’s lone table or leave a lit candle in the window.
But right now, with the adrenaline of Alderose’s rescue mission retreating, spoiled me was having a hard time accepting the lack of hot water. And the fact that an essential component of my magic-management system might need an emergency repair. I unzipped the leather pants I’d pilfered from Alderose’s duffel bag—and worn on the mission for good luck—and lifted the hem of my turtleneck sweater.
The seamless material of my corset hugged my torso as always. Even though I could no longer see two of the claw marks, the center cut hadn’t mended completely. Magic continued to leak out. I didn’t know if the faintly pink mist signaled a dire situation, nor did I know how to return the garment to its pristine state.
The sea witch who made the corsets lived near the Caspian Sea. When we were done here in France, I could ask Kostya to head west rather than east and visit the witch with me. First, I would have to explain to him why I was wearing the invisible garment to begin with.
“Beryl? Come here. I think I can rig up a tub and hot water for you.”
I zipped the pants and patted my belly. The situation with my magic hadn’t reached code red…and this I had to see. Tucked into a corner of the bathroom and given a bit of privacy by a half-wall was a white porcelain toilet with an overhead tank. In the opposite corner was an old oak dressing table topped with a matching ceramic bowl and pitcher. Between the toilet and makeshift sink was a beaming, handsome demon pointing to a large copper contraption.
“What’s that supposed to be?” I asked.
Kostya waved me closer and pointed out the obvious. “It’s a tub. You sit on the wood slats and a parade of ladies-in-waiting bring buckets filled with water that’s been heated over an open fire in the castle’s kitchen. Look, there’s even a bar of soap. It was probably made by barn wenches from goat’s milk and fresh herbs procured by hand on the new moon.”
“Are you finished?” I was giggling. It was that, or cry. We’d traversed Chamonix’s network of underground tunnels in order to get to Alderose, then again to bring her out. The damp cold had made itself at home in my muscles and joints.
“I’m just getting started. Here,” he said, “aim the showerhead toward the tub. As soon as there’s a couple inches of water in there, I’ll heat it for you.”
I could believe in miracles. I hopped to it and let Kostya know the castle had surprisingly decent water pressure. He ducked out of the bathroom, leaving the door wide open. I watched him strip down to his boxer briefs and managed to get water all over the floor gawking at his thick thighs, tapered waist, and lascivious smile.
“How can you do that to me?” I asked. “We’re in this…this situation and you’re practically naked and all I can think about is—”
“Sex?” He placed a folded towel on the floor, sat, and embraced the tub with his legs, chest, and arms. A chant in Demonish fired up the flame-shaped tattoos running along his forearms. Designs I’d never seen in our ten years of knowing each other lit up his inner thighs and the front of his chest.
“Your demon lines come in so handy,” I said. “Why did I not know about this feature of dating a fire demon before?”
“You’ve never struck me as the kind of witch who dreams of roughing it.” Kostya glanced up at me and chuckled. “In France or in the woods or anywhere else. You focus on filling the tub. I’ll focus on heating the water. While you soak, I’ll check on Clementine, and if Laszlo’s with her, I’ll see if he has an update on Alderose.”
“Insolent beast.” I sprayed him. Steam rose from his chest as Kostya poured more magic into his fiery lines. Keeping an eye on the rising water, my thoughts lingered on my younger sister and her beau.
The Demesne—our family curse, if you could call it a curse at all—had recently paired her with Kostya’s older brother. The fact the demon prince had responded to the curse by growing an enviable set of wings was a clear sign their magics were compatible. I hoped their bond would encompass their bodies, hearts, and souls and last their entire lives. I also wished the Demesne had provided me with that kind of happiness.
Instead, the Demesne had brought me nothing but trouble, causing me to make a terrible wrong I had yet to fully right, and it had completely ignored my relationship with Kostya.
I turned off the shower, folded my clothes as I undressed, and stepped into the knee-high water. Groaning, I slowly lowered myself onto the slotted seat and leaned back. Kostya removed the neck brace and draped a towel over the tub’s rounded back support, providing my pounding head with a deliciously soft cushion.
“Your neck’s healing nicely. Remind me to apply the salve when we go to bed,” he said, placing the bar of soap in my hands. “Be right back.”
Before the door fully closed, I caught a glimpse of the matching set of raised ridges on either side of Kostya’s spine. Those bumps were the primary reason we weren’t having sex. When the true mating response arose for demons, a pair of nascent wings appeared. And according to secrets shared when demons got drunk, there was nothing tender about the way the wings ripped through the skin of their upper backs.
Kostya’s had begun to appear during our recent whirlwind trip to the Reformed Realm. We’d arrived at the palace and gone straight to his walk-in closet for some wickedly quick sex before making our command appearances at the ball. We stopped midway through our stand-up act when I noticed what was happening on his back reflected in the mirrors.
My big, beautiful demon had withdrawn, thinking abstaining would delay the inevitable and, at the same time, protect me. He never finished explaining what it was he wanted to protect me from. With my added uncertainty over how the rip in my corset might affect my magic, I swore to whatever goddess watched over me I would lay out all my secrets for Kostya tonight.
Because I knew in my heart it was he who needed protection from me.