I know some of you have been waiting a long time for this book. For some reason, this was one of the most difficult books I've written to date. Enjoy this first chapter and get a feeling for the beautiful Nyra Winslow. Her hero, Dym, the sexy Prince of Death will arrive at her door shortly.
Death takes an unscheduled holiday…Giver of Life—Nyra Winters has two abilities that no witch before her has ever possessed—the power to heal and restore life. However, her constant interference in Death’s plans makes her a target of the angry god, King Titan, ruler of the Underworld.
Seeker of Death—Dym Satarius, Prince of Death, is sent to the magical realm of Ru-Noc to collect Nyra Winters. Devoid of all emotion, Dym believes this assignment will be no different than any other—collect the witch’s soul and return to hell—job done—but something goes terribly wrong and he is stranded in Nyra’s world without his powers or the ability to return to his realm.
Witch’s Touch―Where life and Death collide…
“Don’t die, Mama. Don’t die, please.” Nyra Winters gasped and jerked out of the trance she’d sank into. Blinking, she tried to focus on the dimly lit room, but everything remained a blur. She knuckled her eyes hoping it’d speed up the return of her normal vision.
It didn’t help. Gods, these spells were occurring way too often.
It wasn’t so much that she deliberately broke the coven’s laws to stay out of bygone times, but more like something or someone summoned her, taking charge of her mind and plunging her into the events that went on before.
She knew of no one who wanted her to dwell on the past.
Slowly, her vision cleared. As she grew more aware of her surroundings, Nyra’s nose twitched at the pleasant fragrances of lavender, lemon balm, and sage, filtering beneath her nostrils. Her precious potted herbs. She’d be lost without them.
The soft crackles from the dying coals in the fireplace filled the room. The tortured sound of her strangled sobs drifted away like wisps of smoke. Samhain. She hated it when she journeyed to the night her mother was shot. In her mind, she still saw her father holding the gun, his hand unsteady, eyes dark as onyx from the Black Magick sludge that coated his brain.
Nyra rubbed the dampness from her eyes and shuddered as recollections of that terrible night gripped her soul. She resented the fact that someone took away her control and forced her to remember a past she’d rather forget.
When it happened, the darkness blanketed her mind like a black shroud. At those moments, her vision narrowed until all she saw was a long, dark, endless tunnel to the past—and the unfamiliar voice of a male calling her, urging her to remember—but remember what?
From experience, she knew when she was summoned, she slipped into a deep, catatonic state where she couldn’t see or hear anything in the present. Each cross-over took her back to the night Elsbeth died. Every return to the present left her shaken and floundering in a sea of daunting pain, confusion, and unanswered questions—and always, always the awareness of the dim outline of a dark stranger who insisted she find him, free him, and bring him to her world.
Nyra smothered a scream of frustration. So many unanswered questions.
Who was the stranger?
What did he want from her?
Why hadn’t her mother’s soul returned and claimed the body it belonged to?
Was her mother’s spirit too weak to travel from one plane to the next?
Or had her mother’s spirit simply been in too bad a shape to survive? To return?
She had no ready answers. As the centuries passed, Nyra feared Elsbeth might never return from the dead side.
Flinging back the faded quilts, she scooted to the edge of the old-fashioned iron-rail bed and pressed a trembling hand to her heart.
And the male who called to her—was he waken, demon, or warlock? Why was he so insistent she remember him when she knew well she’d never laid eyes upon him? The salty tang of tears touched her lips, startling her to the fact she was crying. Annoyed, she sniffed. Nyra couldn’t remember the last time she’d wept. Full-blooded witches couldn’t cry. Instead, their hearts bled when they felt sorrow, but she was an Impure, half-human, and as such, she shed tears, but she rarely let herself lose control and give into the urge to cry.
“I’m a healer, Mama. I can save…you.” Inwardly, Nyra flinched. Her shoulders shook with grief. The painful memory of watching her mother fade into the Realm of Souls left a hollow ache in her heart. Icy sweat dampened her body and left her skin chilled and slick. Her thin flannel gown felt clammy against her thighs. “I’m sorry, Mama.” A sob tore from her throat before she could suppress it.
“He summoned ye again?”
Nyra nodded, though she knew the three-foot Futhar rabbit couldn’t see her in the shadows cast by the lit candles scattered around the room. Even the fire glowing from the stone fireplace appeared to have lost its enchanted spell and barely flickered.
However, there was no hiding her despair from Karma. The familiar’s magical senses were much stronger than a witch’s, and Karma knew her well.
“Does he seek to lay blame on ye, Nyra?”
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I don’t know what he wants. I don’t get the feeling I’m in danger. It’s almost as if he wants me to recall something from that night. I have no idea what it is he wants me to remember. He never mentions blame. His voice is gentle and encouraging.”
“Good. It wasn’t yer fault, Nyra.” Karma held up a bent and twisted wand made from the branch of a magical Black Willow tree. She waved it around drawing sparkling green symbols in the air, and muttering words only a Futhar understood. “There now, yer bound to feel better soon.”
Magical waves of warm sympathy floated around Nyra. As the warmth circled and engulfed her, Nyra smiled in spite of the sorrow wrenching her heart. After all the speech lessons she’d provided for the rabbit, the Futhar still retained a bit of her familiar accent. She surmised Karma always would.
Futhars had a way of hanging onto a part of their past, and it was usually most prevalent in their speech patterns. Their accents were as varied as their personalities. The one thing all Futhars had in common was a fixation with mating. Their fascination wasn’t always focused on their own sexual needs. Quite frequently, their obsession was with the subject centered on the witch they claimed.
The single most important thing to the familiar was to make certain the witch mated with the right male or female. If there was any question in the Futhar’s mind concerning the male for the female, then their fixation turned into a contest of wills with the witch’s chosen mate. A waken’s Futhar was just as difficult and unmanageable. However, one could hardly fault their loyalty and love.
With unsteady hands, Nyra thrust strands of hair behind her ears. “I tried hard to save her, Karma, but the past returns like a punishment.”
“Humph! Yer conscience is yer punishment. It eats at ya and there’s no reason fer it.”
“It was a long time ago, I know, so why does it haunt me?” Nyra drew a long shaky breath and slowly exhaled. Her heart was soothed by the Futhar’s touch of warm magic, but the ache remained in her voice, beyond the familiar’s control. “The passage of time means nothing. The waning of centuries doesn’t help lessen my feelings of guilt. I can still hear Papa ranting. I try desperately to warn Mama, but I never get the words past my lips.”
“Ya were a child of six, Nyra, yer magic unskilled. Yer mama knew that. She didn’t expect ya to save her.”
“I expected me to save her. I’m a healer!”
Some healer she’d turned out to be.
“Sweet child, as powerful as yer magic may be, ya cannot allow this man to keep taking ya to such a painful place. He might mean ya no harm but, no matter what, ya cannot change history. Yer burning yer self out, my Nyra, like a dying star, I see you fading before my very eyes. It’s time to let go, child.”
Nyra flopped back on the mattress and flung her arms over her eyes. “I don’t think he means me harm. He just wants me to remember him for some reason, but I don’t, I can’t. I never see his face, so how can I? Papa was the only male I was around in those days.”
“What do you see?” Karma asked. “When he summons you to him? What do you see?” Her voice quivered with curiosity.
“His hands. Rather, the top of his hands, and his shoulders. He has a tattoo on top of his left hand, a pentagram, so I have to think he’s…maybe a witch, but not waken. He never wears a shirt. His chest is broad, shoulders wide and roped with muscle. He’s so mysterious.”
“Humph! Sounds like a pervert to me. The man summons ya and hasn’t the decency to put on a shirt?”
Nyra couldn’t keep from grinning. “He’s not perverted. I think he’s just awakened. He’s on the side of a bed, his head bowed, dark hair falling around his face and I see —”
“What?” Karma exclaimed excitedly.
“Markings on his right shoulder.”
“Markings? What kind of markings?”
“I don’t know.” Nyra shrugged. “A bird…I think.”
“A bird?” Karma sounded puzzled. “Ya mean like a blue bird?”
“No.” Nyra shook her head. “I think it’s a blackbird, a crow, maybe. I swear he acts like I’m the one who has summoned him, instead of him calling to me.”
“Hmm.” Karma wiggled her ears and twitched her tiny nose. “Curious.”
“He needs my help, Karma.”
“Ya can’t help him. Ya don’t even know where he is, let alone who he is. Ya can’t change things, Nyra.”
Nyra sighed. “I wish I could change one thing, Karma. I want to prevent Mama’s death. You’re right though, something inside me dies each time I fail to save her.”
“It’s wrong, child,” Karma said gently. “King Titan never gives back that which he has claimed, nor will he stand for ya to take what he legally possesses. There are rules in which we all must live by. What about this male? Can ya recall his looks?”
Nyra frowned. “Only that he’s dark and has long, dark hair. He has to be waken, yet, I sense something different about him. Oooh, I don’t know. It’s driving me crazy.”
Karma sniffed her disapproval. “No matter. Ya allow this…this person to draw ya into the past. I know as well as ya know that the only reason ya risk going back is ya think to find yer mother’s soul and help it rejoin her body. If ya persist in breaking King Titan’s rules, he will send Death on swift wings fer ya.”
“I don’t care. I–I wake up sometimes and I–I think I see her.” Nyra’s throat tightened. She felt as if she was strangling on emotion. “He–her blonde hair lifts in the summer breeze. Her smiles, I–I see her smile, Karma…hear her sing. The sound of her laughter dances on the wind.”
The Futhar stepped out of the deep shadows of the room and moved closer to Nyra. Anyone not accustomed to their magical world would be shocked to see a three foot rabbit wearing a long blue flannel gown, purple ruffled sleeping cap, and wire-rimmed glasses perched on the end of her tiny pink nose, and walking on two legs.
Nyra sat up, her hands unsteady, and lifted the rabbit onto the bed beside her. “Mama always smelled like daffodils and sunshine,” she ended with a shaky sob. “Oh, Karma, she’s been gone for so long, so many centuries, I don’t think her soul will ever find her body.”
She knew she sounded like a little girl, but at the moment, she felt like the little girl she’d once been.
Karma slipped the wand beneath the pillow beside her and produced a tissue from the air. She shoved it into Nyra’s hands. “There, there.” She patted Nyra’s slender shoulders. “Yer still grieving, my Nyra. Ya couldn’t save her. No one could. Sometimes…it’s a witch’s time to go. When it is, her soul seeks eternal rest. I highly suspect where yer mama’s soul is involved, that’s the case. Elsbeth would not be happy without yer father. He was her one true love.”
“He–he shot her, Karma. My papa. Th–the blood…so much red, the color…so vivid, it stands out in my mind and I can’t bear it.” Nyra whimpered and used the tissue to wipe away the fresh tears splotching her face.
“That just shows ya, Nyra. Yer mama’s heart was pure that night or her blood wouldn’t have been scarlet. It would have been thick as the
and dark with the evil in that room, but she was untouched by it.” Styx River
Nyra nodded and tried to breathe, but it was hard when her spirit felt so crushed. “Dark blood doesn’t always signify evil. You know a waken’s blood is darker than others, so are some witches’. Sometimes, it’s the way it is…”
Her words trailed away with a sob. Nyra’s fingers trembled. To steady them, she dug them into the blanket twisted about her hips. “Papa just…he stood there, wild-eyed, the pistol belching smoke. The look on his face…Samhain, his eyes were so dead and blank…but for a moment, there was a spark of life. It was as if he couldn’t believe he’d hurt Mama. He ran, Karma. He flung down the gun…an–and ran…out the door, into the night. With…her!”
Karma squeezed Nyra’s icy hands. “There. There. It was a long time ago, over three hundred years. Don’t think about it, Nyra. Troubled times, they were. Ya know yer papa was hexed, yer only tormenting yerself.”
“I know.” Nyra crawled beneath the covers. “I know it happened a long time ago, but when I see it, when I return there in my mind, the pain, the sorrow, it’s all fresh. It feels like it happened yesterday.”
The familiar settled on the pillow beside Nyra’s head. “I can place a magic spell over ya,” she offered kindly. “Remove the terrible history from yer memory.”
“No. No matter how painful, I want to remember what happened. They tried to take it all away from me, erase my mind of the details, but I fought them. I’ll never allow magic to steal my memories. I want to find the witch who destroyed my parents.”
“The coven,” Nyra whispered unsteadily. “They took my sisters from me, separated us, and forced us to dwell in the world of humans. No one would tell me where they’d taken my sisters.” Fierce anger heated her blood. “I’ll never forgive the coven for keeping us apart.”
“Be kind to them, child. They meant well. They meant only to protect the three of you from the evil witch.”
Nyra sniffed. “I wasn’t as lucky as Kirrah and Saylym. They were so young, their memories easily manipulated. They forgot everything. They forgot me, Karma. You have any idea how it feels to be forgotten? I didn’t forget them.”
As a child, she’d heard the fight unfold between her parents. Slipping from the bed in the loft she shared with Kirrah and Saylym, she peeped over the edge to the floor below where her parents stood arguing. Her innocence, a child’s innocence, was shattered that night as she secretly watched, and listened to them quarrel.
Kirrah and Saylym slept through the terrible fight, until the booming retort of the flintlock woke them. The three of them bounded down the rickety ladder and ran screaming to their mama.
Soon after, the coven swooped in on their besoms. They took her and her sisters into the night, wrenching them away from the appalling scene inside the hut. Over three hundred years passed before she saw Kirrah and Saylym again. Even when their memories started to return, they hadn’t remembered that night, her, or even each other.
But she—she remembered everything…she’d touched the blood on her mama’s breasts. In her child’s eyes, it had been surreal, an unnatural red that crawled across Elsbeth’s snowy white apron, scarlet, and evil, something loathsome and alive, devouring her mama as she lay wounded and dying.
Nyra poured every bit of magic she possessed into healing the injury that night, but the coven pulled her away, telling her it was too late.
“No,” she screamed. “I’m a healer. I can help her!”
For a six-year-old, the battle between her and the elder witches raged hot and fierce. She’d fought them with everything she had, screaming, crying, and clawing. She resisted their magical chants, argued, and pleaded. The verbal dispute did her no good. She was a little girl, too young to handle the fierce magic growing inside her. Too young to understand she couldn’t save her mama, and too young to take on the powerful magic of the older witches.
But her mind had been strong, and though the coven made numerous attempts to erase her memories, they hadn’t been able to without destroying her completely. No one wanted to see that happen, so they backed away from inflicting too much damage to her mind—to her soul. Still, in her heart, she’d never forgiven them, and never would.
No matter how long it had been, no matter the passing of centuries, the grief always blindsided her. Just like her memories, the years of loneliness couldn’t be erased. She hadn’t lost just her mama that night. She’d lost her sisters and her papa, too, her entire family gone before she had time to realize everything was tragically changing.
She’d stood there helpless, her mama’s blood dripping from her fingertips, and the coven shuffling her away. They hustled her and her sisters into the night, into a life none of them could have foreseen.
Living close to
dangerous for witches. After her mama’s death, and all the hangings, Nyra’s use
of magic was forbidden. The coven ordered her to leave the dead, dead. Her
magical powers were concealed from human eyes, unused in the mortal world. Salem
Like a delicate flower strangled by a patch of weeds, Nyra choked by degrees in the illumrof realm, alone, except for her Aunt Glorma, who wasn’t really her aunt, but a member of the coven assigned the task of parenting her.
Nyra knew she’d never healed from all that happened that terrible night. She’d never quite learned to trust anyone with her heart, soul, or her life. She vowed no one would take control of her magic again or forbid her the use of it.
She’d settled in Sanctuary now, back in the realm of Ru-Noc. Back to the land of witches and wakens. Home. Nyra brandished her magic as she saw fit, even though she knew it made her the target of some very unsavory demons and worse.
But no one was ever telling her what she could or couldn’t do with her skills again.
And if that meant King Titan got pissed at her, well then—what was one old god’s wrath compared to her magical skills?
She’d handle him when the time came.