It is Friday and we got snow overnight, with more forecasted into and beyond next week. My cats have lodged a protest and are occupying my desk. Their backs are to me…wait.
Apocalypse alert: My former street cat, the one who doles out his affection in micro-doses, has popped into my lap and is purring. I think it’s because I wrapped myself in his favorite shawl and the wind is tossing handfuls of sleet against the skylight.
This round of edits on book #2 of the Sister Witches series is due to my editor on January 15. I’ll share Chapter Two here, and perhaps another chapter before I send it off. This book now has a working title–DEMON LINES–and it’s a dual POV (point of view), with chapters alternating between two from Clementine then two from Laszlo.
Enjoy! And remember: If you haven’t read Once Blessed, Thrice Cursed but you intend to, STOP NOW, because SPOILER ALERT.
I’M SERIOUS. DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN’T READ ONCE BLESSED, THRICE CURSED.
(You can read Chapter One HERE.)
CHAPTER TWO – Clementine
I coiled the yellow thread around the base of my finger. I’d met one of the women who worked with my mother; Gosia was a Melusine and a warrior to her very marrow. Fen had been helped by my mother. She seemed a far different creature, one more likely to fold in upon herself, a habit likely molded by her experience in captivity.
I waited for her to continue. When she remained silent, I asked, “Why are you here now?”
“After I learnt of her death, I…I started to visit her shop whenever I passed through town.” Fen paused. “Checkin’ up, yeh know? Makin’ sure no one was defacin’ the buildin’ or lootin’ what was left behind. I…I wasn’t the only one.”
She stopped speaking, her mouth slightly open.
“You weren’t the only one who what?” Maritza prompted.
“Who was sad about losin’ the witch, losin’ the comfort of the folk who gathered at her shop. I was lookin’ in the window when you and him walked out.” A pale finger poked out the bottom of her coat’s cuff and pointed in Laszlo’s direction. “You dint see me. I…I slipt inside. She found me and brought me here.”
Fen darted a glance at Maritza, who offered a warm smile. “I knew you weren’t there to do any harm,” she reassured her. “But I didn’t want you poking around unsupervised—or without permission. There are things inside that building that Clementine and her sisters have the right to see before anyone else.”
The waif tucked her chin, properly chastened. “What do you mean, my mother saved you?” I asked.
Fen worried at the ratty ends of her sleeves. “I should probably tell yeh what I am and where I been, tell my story backwards.” She sat a little taller, still unable, or unwilling, to meet my gaze. “As I told her—yer aunt—I been living’ in a marsh in Canada for the past half year or so, tryin’ to get my life together, ye’know, and…” She finally lifted her chin. Her gaze drifted off, past my shoulder. Not finding any answers on the wall behind me, she stared at me and continued. “The marsh is on Salt Spring Island and I could tell your aunt’s been there, cuz I smellt it on her, and—”
“And trusted me enough to tell me your story.” At Maritza’s smile, Fen nodded and gulped.
“I been runnin’ for years, s-seven years, since I learnt about Moira because even though she helped me, I dint know if her rescue operation had been compromised or…” She shrugged and looked to Maritza for help. “I don’t ever want to go back to that place, to…to where I was bornt.”
My aunt took Fen’s delicate hands and made the young woman focus on her. “Moira’s daughters would never knowingly betray anyone their mother has helped,” she said. “Tell Clementine what you observed at your marsh.”
Fen gulped. “I seen a lot. There are disturbed spirits in that place, Miss Clementine. Mean spirits. There’s good ‘uns too. Spirits and livin’ creatures. There’s a witch named Calliope, and another witch named Rowan, and lots of other Magicals who’re young, like me, and they’re workin’ hard to fix the house near the marsh into—” Some memory sent shivers through her body. Fen shrugged it off. “Well, rumor in the marsh says the witches and the druids are tryin’ ta turn what’s inside the house into a good version of the bad place ‘twas s’posed ta be.”
“And what was this bad place supposed to be?” I asked.
“A nursery for special Magicals, rare Magicals.” She lowered her voice and rounded her spine. “They have tails like fish, just not all the time. The marsh was goin’ ta get dug out so they’d have a place to swim when their tails were out.”
My belly plummeted into my feet. I pawed at the bed covering. “Fen, did someone send you here?” Her eyes went wide and her eyeballs grew larger, darker. Just when I thought she would burst into tears or bolt from the room, my aunt slapped an enchanted collar around Fen’s neck.
“Got you!” she hissed. “Ve a dormir, travieso!” Fen’s eyeballs rolled back in her head as she crumpled, her slight body held upright by the thickness of her coat. “What a naughty little sprite,” Maritza said, shaking her head and smiling. She lowered Fen onto her back before addressing me and Laszlo, who’d pulled me into his arms. Tension thrummed through his body. We were both on edge.
“I’m sorry to spring that on you, sobrinita, but little will-o’-the-wisps like Fen simply cannot be trusted to stay present for the telling of the whole truth. I had to go along with her story until she gave herself away.”
“And what told you she wasn’t telling us the whole truth?” I asked.
Tía pointed to Fen’s legs and the thick boots that came up to her knobby knees. “Her lower half began to disappear as she was speaking to you. Had she succeeded in disapparating, there would be a pile of felted milkweed silk on the bed and nary a wisp in sight.” My aunt looked very pleased with herself and her explanation.
“Someone knows a Melusine has passed through Northampton.”
Tía nodded thoughtfully, stroking the backs of her fingers across Fen’s pale cheek. “I don’t think little Fen was entirely truthful, nor do I think she is entirely to blame. Between the spell and the collar, she’ll be out for hours. That should give us enough time to decide what we’re going to do about the surprise appearance of another rare Magical.”
Laszlo snaked an arm around my waist. “Clementine is my first—and only—priority,” he said. My body vibrated with pleasure. “She’s had a traumatic three days. I want to take her somewhere safe, take care of her. She deserves that after what she’s been through.”
“You feel the will of the Demesne.” My aunt looked at Laszlo, then me, and nodded her head knowingly. “It is time to satisfy its demands. It was the same for Alabastair and me. As soon as we could, we left my brother’s home for Toronto and spent a weekend at Bas’s condo cementing our bond.” She closed her eyes and blushed.
“I talked to Mom and Dad,” I announced. I figured my aunt would want to know. “In the bathroom. They’re not planning to join you and Alabastair and everyone for dinner, but they promised they won’t leave town.”
“Then I shall suggest to Beryl and Alderose that between the two of them they decide who should stay in Northampton and keep an eye on your parents’ building.”
“I have a feeling Beryl will want to stay.”
“And I have a feeling Kostya will want to stay with her,” Laszlo said. Kostya was Laz’s next youngest brother. He’d also showed up at the shop on Friday, and had spent the weekend helping us complete Rémy’s challenge.
My aunt murmured her agreement, then asked me what I wanted to do.
“I want to go with Laszlo,” I blurted. “I’ll be back. I know I’ll be back. There’s so much to do at the shop and with finding Mom’s clients and figuring out if I can help them—if I want to help them. And I want to know everything about how she helped bring women and children to safety, but right now, I just…I just can’t.” I burrowed my face in Laz’s shirt. Hot tears filled my eyes at the thought of having to deal with the repercussions of Fen’s appearance so soon after the end of the mad search for Rémy’s beloved Gosia and their daughter.
That search had brought my father back to Northampton, where he met his death at the blades of the same Fae who had entranced Gosia, and then kidnapped her daughter. When I was better; when I was faster, stronger, smarter; when I knew more about wielding the magic that flowed from my earliest ancestress’ veins into mine, I was going after that Fae. But not today and probably not tomorrow or the next day.
“I’ll help you bring the little one to the other room,” Laszlo said. “Then I’m coming right back to Clementine and I’m taking her to my home.”
My chest pinged between being excited and terrified about my first visit to the Reformed Realm. “I need to get Sitka first.”
“Who’s Sitka?” he asked.
“My dog. She’s in Vancouver and she doesn’t like it when I’m gone for more than two or three days.”
“Clementine.” My demon lover rubbed his horn against the side of my head. “The Reformed Realm is not a good place to bring a dog. Unless Sitka is a shifter?” I shook my head. Sitka was pure Husky. She was as quirky as they come and she was currently the love of my life.
Maritza approached us. “Tell me where Sitka’s staying and I’ll make certain she’s brought to my brother’s estate. I’m certain Leilani would love to care for her.”
“Okay,” I said. Leilani was my cousin and one of the gentlest people I knew. “Ask her to send me pictures. Every day. And I want to FaceTime with Sitka once she’s settled.”
My aunt patting my head reduced me to feeling like I was four years old again. I soaked in the sensation, then let it go.
“You okay by yourself?” Laz asked, lifting me off his lap and placing me beside him. “This shouldn’t take long.”
He scooped Fen into his arms and followed my aunt to the door. “Secure the chain, Clementine and don’t let anyone in. I don’t care who they say they are.”
I honored his request, added the security chain, and turned on more lights. Pressing my back against the heavy wood, I pulled out my phone and scrolled through photos of my dog. The shifters caring for her had been sending pictures every day. Sitka eating. Sitka sleeping. Sitka howling. I choked up. I missed our daily howl, and just when I thought I was going to lose it big time over a picture of a blue-eyed Husky with her tongue lolling out one side of her mouth, Laszlo knocked.
I spun in place and peeked through the eyehole. There was no denying my demon was gorgeous. He’d donned a long coat, tailored to his physique. Every seam shouted the man contained within was not to be messed with. I undid both locks and let him in the room, suddenly aware of how casually I was dressed. The thought of once again coming face to face with his mother, the renowned demoness and Queen of the Reformed Realm, had me pining for my oldest sister’s snug leather garments, custom-made boots, and steady hand with eyeliner.
“Where would you like to go?” he asked, closing the door and shrugging out of his coat.
“Far away from here,” I answered.
What I didn’t add was how much I wanted us to go someplace so different from the familiar sights and sounds and smells of Northampton that the newness could transport me out of the sorrowful place that kept tugging at my elbows and poking me between the ribs.