…are already in a kerfuffle. Hard to believe, I know.
Happy New Year, Dear Reader!
Here was my plan prior to about 10:00pm on January 1st: Serialize the novella that takes place right after Once Blessed, Thrice Cursed ends, posting one chapter every couple of days on this blog. That would give me time to come up with a title, have my most-excellent cover designer, Elizabeth Mackey work her magic, write a compelling blurb, etc., etc.
At 10:00pm on January 1st, I finished reading the novella aloud to Mr. Moss. At 10:03 he turned to me:
Mr. Moss: I NEED MORE.
Me: How much more?
Mr. Moss: A LOT more.
Me: You mean a lot more as in…
Mr. Moss: A lot more as in more words. Now. Go. Write.
Dear Reader, I did not “Now. Go. Write.” I put on my eye mask and went to sleep. And when I woke up at 5:30am on January 2nd to the sound of my writing buddy, Loki caterwauling outside the sliding glass door, I got up and let Loki in. I fed him and his brother, Thor, made a Very Large mug of coffee, and started to turn the novella into a full-on novel.
I guess the least I can do is share the first chapter. This is a rough draft. No edits, no proofreading, no nuthin’. But it’s a start!
SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read Once Blessed, Thrice Cursed but you intend to, stop now.
I’m serious. Do not read any further if you haven’t read Once Blessed, Thrice Cursed.
As-Yet-Untitled Sister Witches Urban Fantasy book #2
CHAPTER ONE – Clementine
8:00pm. Monday October 21. Hotel Northampton. Northampton, MA USA
I pressed my forehead to the terrycloth bathrobe hanging from the hook on the inside of the bathroom door. The ghostly manifestations of my mother and father tapped the brakes on their imminent departure and decided they’d rather fuss over me. They’d pretty much attached themselves to my sides as soon as I’d snapped up the front of my jumpsuit. My dad pointed out the topmost closure remained undone. My mom nudged him away and fidgeted with the charms on my new necklace.
Because they were ghosts, their touch was feather light. And because they’d been missing from my life for so long I let them straighten my collar and tuck my hair behind my ears.
Because they were ghosts, they were also prone to dissipating. I felt them lose interest in me, peel away and slink toward the floor.
I looked down. Amorphous, misty shapes pooled near my feet and glimmered in the narrow band of muted light coming in through the space at the bottom of the door.
“See you soon,” I whispered, wiggling my toes in their brand new socks. Laszlo, my mate—my mate—had bought these to replace the ones I’d lost during the all-night melee at the quarry.
I took two fistfuls of the bathrobe and squeezed, drawing the thick, sound-absorbing fabric to my chest. I’d turned the lights off deliberately, once I had showered and dressed. Darkness, and soft things like cashmere socks and fine cotton underwear, was easier on my fractured nervous system.
I breathed out. Every exhale loosened my hold on my former life. The one where I was a single witch on the cusp of her twenty-eighth birthday, blessed with a dog, no job, and no permanent address.
I breathed in. Every inhale became one more breath planting me in my new reality. I was still almost twenty-eight, still blessed with a dog. But now I had three possible lines of work queuing up for consideration.
I wiggled my toes again. Today, I’d lost more than my boots and my socks. I’d lost my father. Though my sisters and I were gutted by the events surrounding his death, his ghost let me know he was…happy.
After seven years of trying to cross over on the anniversary of my mother’s death—and seven times being revived by either my uncle or my aunt or her lover, Alabastair—my father was reunited with his beloved wife. Before my parents slipped beneath the bathroom door and left the premises, I made them vow they would return to Northampton once my sisters were ready to see them. Alderose, Beryl, and I needed time to mourn individually and collectively. Only then would we be able to come to an agreement about what to do with Mom’s businesses: her sewing and needleworking supply shop; her matchmaking service; and her top-secret rescue organization.
We had an elemental water mage—Rémy Ruisseau—to thank for exposing my mother’s most closely guarded secret, her passion project. Rémy had appeared in the doorway of the shop on Friday night, demanding we complete the contract he made with our mother and help him find his beloved.
His demand quickly turned desperate, threatening, necessitating the revelation my mother was a founding member of an underground group dedicated to extracting Magicals caught in, or kidnapped into, abusive situations. She and her cohorts made sure those they rescued and who asked for further help received shelter, counseling, and—when necessary—new identities and starter bank accounts.
Rémy’s partner, Gosia worked with mom. Only, Gosia had disappeared sometime after my mother’s death. And then recently, so had their thirteen-year-old daughter. And even with Rémy’s extensive resources and unlimited access to millibars of atmospheric pressure, he could not find either his wife or his daughter.
He forcefully enlisted me and my sisters in a time sensitive search for the two most important people in his life. The search had ended with success—and with loss.
On the other side of the bathroom door, Laszlo and my aunt, Maritza were talking, their voices low and conversational. I let the terrycloth absorb a few stray tears, let the timbre of my demon’s voice soothe my rising anxiety. I would join them soon.
I just needed a little more time, a little more dark, before I would be ready.
The shop that served as a front for my mother’s philanthropic activities was situated a couple blocks away from the hotel. Needles and Sins occupied the building’s ground floor, my parent’s floor-through apartment took up the entire second floor, and mom’s workshop was on the third. There, she made magic-imbued objects, couture-quality clothes and accessories, and met with clients seeking to hire her to find them a suitable mate.
Mom also had a potions laboratory, which she’d hidden in the cellar and which was only accessible through the shop’s tiny bathroom. And in another area of the cellar Alabastair, who was a necromancer and a Portal Keeper, had discovered a calcified portal tree.
The revelations of the past three days made me certain more rooms and passageways were hidden within the building; thinking about the sheer amount of discoveries waiting to be uncovered, explored, and catalogued set my stuffed sinuses to throbbing. I snuggled in between the bathrobe and the door. Warmth from my exaggerated breathing fanned across my face. I couldn’t stay in here forever. For one thing, I was hungry. Really hungry. Pangs from my belly made me wince. But it wasn’t hunger for food that motivated me to finally turn the door handle; it was the more personal part of my legacy.
I had been blessed—or cursed—by the Demesne. Passing through generations of my mother’s side of the family like an endless, unbreakable thread, the Demesne created fated mates, but for witches. The force of it arising had sent Laszlo and me to our knees within moments of our first encounter. We later learned the same instantaneous attraction had happened when my aunt and Alabastair met. And between my mother and father.
It was the lure of my mate and the primal need to satisfy the Demesne’s imperative that Laszlo and me connect physically—and soon—that made me tug open the door.
My demon was waiting for me in the narrow foyer. The mirrored, sliding door of the closet opposite the bathroom reflected his muscular backside. I hugged his waist and admired the view. A thick braid of silvery white hair hung to his lower back. Over a white shirt, a black leather vest sculpted his midsection. He’d tucked his tuxedo pants into laced combat boots. Though I couldn’t see his weapons, I knew they were hidden in the pockets and pleats of his masculine finery.
“Are you okay?” he asked, nuzzling the top of my head and gently enfolding me into the cool expanse of his chest.
“We can have dinner here, or at my home, or anywhere in the world you’d like, Clementine. Paris. Santiago. St. Petersburg.” He kissed the side of my head and slid his hands to my shoulders. “Do you have much to pack?” he asked.
“No.” I pointed to the small rolling suitcase he’d retrieved from the other room, the one my sister, Beryl rented on Friday night. “Everything’s in there. I think. Let me check.” I popped the suitcase onto the folding luggage rack. Inside, the few clothes I’d brought were a jumble. I unzipped the toiletry bag. Toothbrush, toothpaste, all the essentials. At the sight of the tube of my mother’s magical mascara, I knew I had to have more of her belongings with me: her shop coat, her favorite pair of scissors, and a snippet of the spelled threads gracing the entryway to her shop.
“I want to leave town, Laz,” I announced, zipping the suitcase closed.
“I can make that happen.” He rubbed the back of my neck. The ease of touch between us continued to surprise me. “There’s someone your aunt wants you to meet before we depart.”
Bouncing my forehead against the center of his chest, I murmured a reluctant, “Okay,” and turned to meet our mystery guest.
Light from a single table lamp infused the room. I blinked. A stranger was seated on the end of the single bed closest to the window. My aunt sat diagonal from the young woman in one of the low-backed upholstered chairs. She had her hand on the stranger’s knee.
Laszlo guided me into the room. Gray, wispy bits clinging to the visitor made me wonder if she was a water mage, like Rémy. But something about the woman’s subdued demeanor swept that notion away. She was definitely a Magical, but she wasn’t a mage.
I sat near her, on the edge of the other narrow bed, and extended my hand. “I’m Clementine Brodeur.”
“Pleased to meet yeh, Clementine. My name is Fentress. Most people call me Fen.”
Her touch was cool, ephemeral. One of mother’s magic-imbued threads floated in the air above Fen’s head, blinking yellow.
Warning. Maybe the color was in response to the undertow accompanying Fen’s delicate touch.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, reaching into the air to capture the thread and add it to my collection.
Fen shrank into her felted coat and thick, woolen leggings. “Your mother was the one who saved me.”