The Sister Witches Urban Fantasy series is ending with book #4 – Beguiled, Bewitched, & Broken – which comes out on July 16, 2020.
Wait, let me clarify that, the FIRST Sister Witches Urban Fantasy series. I fully intend to add more books, but it took four books for me to get to know these three sisters.
The third book in the series – The Scarab Eater’s Daughter – ended on a bit of a cliffhanger. I KNOW, I KNOW, don’t yell, some readers don’t mind cliffhangers, some readers REALLY mind cliffhangers, so…
I’m going to post chapters of Beguiled, Bewitched, & Broken here on the blog, starting today. My editor has not seen these words. My editor may rip these words to shreds and insist I start all over (hopefully not, because that would make me cry). But you’ll get to see my intentions for the final book. Enjoy!
Beguiled, Bewitched, & Broken
For an aspirational witch like myself, an invitation to visit the demons’ Reformed Realm was an opportunity I was not going to miss, no matter how hasty the invite or dire the extenuating circumstances. Especially because the demon accompanying me to his home had been in my life for a decade and we were finally making headway in the relationship department.
As in, we were going exclusive. Monogamous. I was on the cusp of thirty-two, and I was ready. Plus, my mini-overnight bag was, as always, packed and ready.
In return for saying yes to Kostya Arkadi’s surprise invitation—which was quickly followed by the stipulation I would have to join him at a ball hosted by his parents, Queen Violetta and Consort Borya—I was fitted into an off the shoulder, emerald green gown and loaned a set of delicate jewelry encrusted with pearls and opals. My short, wavy hair was done up, a pair of dancing shoes was strapped on, and my dessert fork was primed and ready. For thirty minutes of frenzied prep, I got about an hour in the palace’s ballroom before the shit hit the fan.
Kostya and his brothers had been called away to deal with a Code Violetta. The craziness happened right in front of me, at the bottom of the palace’s grand staircase as the celebratory, pre-feast parade was winding down. Young demonesses costumed as goddesses of the harvest and fertility had been followed by real chefs in their starched dress-whites showing off oval platters and rolling trays of sumptuous, artfully displayed desserts. After those two groups came a wandering pageant of demon kids adorably costumed as cupcakes and other fancy treats.
Clementine, my younger sister who sees things other Magicals can’t see because she’s just that kind of witch, was at my side. While I watched the parade, she had one of her visions. I could tell, because her gaze went wobbly and unfocused and she clutched my arm as she scanned the crowd.
The last kid in the parade line freaked out when her maraschino cherry headpiece slipped and covered her eyes. The kid’s mother, who was not a demon, had been watching from the sidelines near us. She reacted by running up the stairs to comfort her little daughter.
Clementine snapped out of her vision and took it upon herself to follow the mother. Knowing my sister, she wanted to assist with rescuing the now-bawling shifter kid from its costume malfunction. Granted, the kid was adorable, with her baby demon horns and her fuzzy little cat ears. She even had a tail twitching sassily from underneath her layered tulle skirt.
A couple of non-demons dressed in somber, matching suits noticed what was happening. They bypassed Clementine, nabbed the shifter mom and her kid, and escorted them up the rest of the stairs to the landing.
Which really pissed off my sister. She hiked up her floor-length skirt and went after them.
And I followed her. Because that’s what sisters do, right? We don’t side-eye each other’s dessert choices, we brave shoe sales with virtual elbows linked, and we mount grand staircases in four inch heels because we are there for each other. Only, the heel on one of my borrowed shoes snapped. My ankle twisted, I whacked my knee on the ridiculously large and extremely hard urn decorating the staircase, and I hit the marble floor.
A trio of very handsome demons swooped in to help. These men had shiny horns, muscular arms filling out the sleeves of their dinner jackets, and an endearing eagerness to do anything and everything for me. One took both shoes and headed off to get them fixed. Another nabbed an entire tray of filled champagne flutes. And the third set a tufted chair under my butt and made me sit.
All that in under a minute. I was impressed. I sipped the velvety champagne, allowed one of the demons to massage my throbbing ankle, and kept my eyes on Clementine. She was looking fierce, and gorgeous, in a custom-made three-piece ensemble sewn out of silvery white brocade. Which she got to wear with platform sneakers covered in sparkling crystals. Chef’s kiss perfect.
The gems in my sister’s tiara and drop earrings shimmered blue, matching the glowing lines that decorated the exposed skin on her back. I took in the details and considered whether I should send my admirers after her. Until a man who was not a demon—lack of both horns and shoulder girth gave that one away—wrapped his arm around her waist and whispered in her ear.
Even from my far away perch, I could see the moments of hesitation and resistance ripple through my sister’s body before the non-demon ushered her up the rest of the stairs and behind a bank of tapestries.
Not today, dude, and especially not my little sister. I handed the emptied glass to my nearest helper, gathered the skirt of my gown in my hands, and ran up the steps barefoot, wonky ankle forgotten. I got to the landing, registered the shock on Clementine’s face…
…and woke up here. In a place that smelled of blood and magical antiseptics and medications, with tubes transporting stuff into my body and other tubes taking stuff out of my body and worried faces staring at me from both sides of the bed. Very worried faces behind surgical masks and caps, and those big, clear face shields.
“Did I die?” I asked. The banging inside my head was insufferable. One of the worried faces looked away from me and toward the opposite wall and said, “Please let the prince in before he smashes that window.”
“Beryl!” Kostya, my gorgeous, split-tongued demon, rushed to my side. He stopped just shy of grabbing me and pulling me off the bed, pillows and IV lines and all.
“Hey,” I said, trying hard to unglue my tongue from the inside of my mouth. “What happened? Where’s Clementine?”
Kostya’s face crumpled behind his mask. “She’s okay. She’s okay and so is the kid. But you—”
“But me what?”
“You don’t remember?”
I went to shake my head but it wasn’t going anywhere. My skull was wedged firmly in place. “Is there a mirror in here?”
“Why do you want a mirror, you just—”
“I want to see my face, Kostya. Please. Because the look on your face tells me something’s wrong with my face. Can you bring me that little purse I borrowed?”
He shook his head. “There’s nothing wrong with your face, 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, Beryl.”
Though it hurt to smile, I did. On the inside. I had to. Because 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.
Kostya and I were given zero time to address our relationship parameters for the remainder of my stay in the palace’s medical center. Every moment was taken up by an exam, or a consult, or another bag of blood. I had to pry the truth of my condition from Kostya. He pared the story down to its most basic details: I had been bitten and almost drained of blood by a vampire, while an altogether different kind of beast—likely a jaguar shifter who lived at the palace—had swiped their claws across my belly.
Donated blood, plus the blood products developed by demon research scientists for other Magicals like me, was doing an excellent job of accelerating my healing. I was given the green light to leave within hours of waking and cautioned to not overdo physical activity for at least a week.
Which was laughable, considering the next moment’s news. My older sister had taken it upon herself to pursue the Magicals whose actions landed me in the medical center in the first place. Alderose’s decision moved the timeline of our departure from In a few days, to As soon as possible. For the nth time, Kostya and I having The Talk would be indefinitely delayed as a direct result of the actions of a member of my family.
Once everyone’s bags were packed our group, which consisted of me, Clementine, Kostya, and his two brothers, were summoned to my uncle’s estate on an island near Vancouver, British Columbia 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 parents owned in Northampton 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 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 daggers 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 the invisible walls keeping Magicals captive in an underground zoo. 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 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’ castle. 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 in the castle’s main building and shut the door.
I wished my sister speedy healing.
A man about my age approached me and Kostya and Clementine. The smell of lanolin preceded him down the hall, and I couldn’t tell if he was a student or staff person by the generic nature of his drawstring pants, hand knit wool sweater, and felted slippers. He gestured for us to follow him into a round tower and up a twisting set of stairs. We were given rooms along a second floor hallway and I was sure I wasn’t the only one looking forward to a hot shower before grabbing a few hours of sleep.
“All bathing is cold water-only,” our guide said, before I could ask. “Should you desire hot water, there is a communal bathhouse fed by natural hot springs in one of the outbuildings.”
Kostya stopped him from leaving. “Could you give us directions to the bathhouse? This is our first time at the castle.”
Our host directed us toward the hand drawn map on the back of each room’s rough hewn 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 our host left and waited for my sister to close and latch her door. I took two steps into the room Kostya and I would share, and paused with my back to the door. Any other time, the two single beds with their nearly flat pillows and simple cotton covers 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.
But right now, post-rescue mission, with the adrenaline retreating and the shakes just waiting to take over, I was having a hard time accepting the lack of hot water. And the fact that an essential component of my magic-management system had developed a flaw. I unzipped the leather pants I’d pilfered from Alderose’s duffel bag and worn into the tunnels for good luck, and lifted the hem of my turtleneck sweater.
The pliable, pale pink corset I wore every minute of every day hugged my torso as always. Only, one of the rips in the seamless material hadn’t mended completely. Magic was leaking out of me in an almost undetectable stream and I didn’t know how to fix it.
“Beryl? Come here. I think I can rig up a tub for you.”
This I had to see. I zipped up the pants and patted my belly. Tucked into a corner of the bathroom, which was likely a converted bedroom, was a white porcelain toilet with an overhead tank. And no door. On the other side of the half-wall was an old oak dressing table with a matching ceramic bowl and pitcher, and next to it on the floor was a 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 your ladies-in-waiting bring a parade of buckets filled with water that’s been heated over an open fire in the kitchen. Look, there’s even a bar of soap. It was probably made by barn wenches from goat’s milk and fresh herbs they procured by hand on the new moon.”
“Are you finished?” I was giggling. It was that, or cry. The cold clinging to the walls in the damp tunnels had gotten into my bones.
“I’m just getting started,” he said. “Here, aim the shower head toward the tub. As soon as there’s a couple inches of water in there, I’ll start to heat it for you, demon-style.”
I hopped to it, and let him know the castle had surprisingly decent water pressure. Kostya ducked out of the bathroom, stripped down to his boxer briefs, and returned. I got 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 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. Lines I hadn’t seen before lit up his inner thighs and the front of his chest.
“Those lines of yours 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 in the woods or anywhere else.” Kostya glanced up at me and chuckled. “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 get an update on Alderose.
“Insolent beast.” I sprayed him, watched steam rise from his chest, and returned to my task. Kostya closed his eyes and poured more magic into his demon lines. Keeping an eye on the rising water, I wondered about my younger sister.
The Demesne, our family’s inherited fated mates-like curse, had unexpectedly paired her with Kostya’s older brother and so far, so good. 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. They were all but legally mated. I hoped their bond would last their entire lives—and wished the Demesne had provided me with that kind of happiness.
Instead, the Demesne had provided me with nothing but trouble—and a terrible wrong I had yet to right.
I turned off the shower, folded my clothes as I undressed down to my lightweight cotton camisole, and stepped into the knee-high water. Groaning, I slowly lowered myself onto the slotted seat and leaned back. Kostya draped a towel over the tub’s high, rounded back support, providing a soft cushion for my head.
“Be right back,” he said, kissing my head and and placing the rectangular bar of soap in my hands.
I caught a glimpse of the matching set of raised ridges on either side of Kostya’s spine before he closed the door. Those bumps, coupled with the rip in my corset, were the reason we weren’t having sex. When the mating bond arose in demons like him, no matter their sex, a pair of nascent wings would be unleashed. And according to rumors passed around when demons got drunk, there was nothing tender about the way the wings ripped through their skin.
Kostya’s wings had begun to appear during our recent whirlwind trip to the Reformed Realm and my big, beautiful demon thought abstaining from sex would protect me. I swore to myself and to whatever Goddess watched over me tonight I would tell him why it was he who needed protection from me.