Chapter 06 sneak preview of my current work-in-progress:
Luca – Book 1 of the Demon Born Series (paranormal romance).
Pre-edit version. May change before publication.
I have a garden full of cats.
No, they’re not mine. My neighbours seem to have ten cats each, and all these kitties like to frolic around on my lawn at different times of the day. I particularly like a little black one with green eyes. He (she? I never checked) is absolutely beautiful, and young, I think. He’s picky though, and only comes for a pat when he’s in the mood. But hey, that’s cats in a nutshell, right?
And no, there are no black cats in Luca’s story. But there is a black wolf coming soon…
Enjoy the chapter 🙂
Sunny autumn evenings had a habit of being beautiful. Trees wore leaves of gold, orange and red, and the cottage gardens bracketing the road burst with a rainbow plethora of flowers. But enjoying the sight of Whimple village in late October was the furthest thing from Belle’s mind. Her hands shook as she gripped the bicycle’s handlebars, and she was just about managing to keep a lid on her anxiety.
God forbid her unease set off any more plants. The last thing she needed was for the trees to swing to life or for the flowers to leap up like wild things and choke their pretty cottages.
She pedalled faster, keeping her gaze fixed on the road ahead. The sooner she reached home, the better. Her powers had been acting up all week, but today’s fiasco at the shop had been the icing on the cake. She frowned down at the road. For years her magic had barely shown itself. She’d thought she was safe and that everything would be all right. Well, obviously not.
The bicycle wheels bumped over a stone, and the jolt had her scowling at the unfairness of it all. If she’d had even a sliver of choice, she’d never have set foot in a place like Sweet Blooms. Not in a million years. Every day in that shop was like striking a match in the middle of a ring of dynamite—a disaster waiting to happen. She’d even studied accountancy a few years back, hoping a plant-less cubicle job might prove to be an escape. But no. She had to be around the damn plants. They were her life, her essence, and her nightmare at the same time.
‘Talk to them, Belle. Reach for them in your heart. They’ll hear you.’
She smiled wryly at the memory of Uncle Carl’s words. Long ago, the plants had heard her. But then after her uncle died, they’d heard only her frustration, her anger, or her fear, and they’d gone berserk every time.
She turned a corner and returned a wave from old Mr Smithy who was busy harvesting pumpkins in his allotment. He’d already piled his wheelbarrow high with the bright-orange fruit, and it looked like he had enough to supply the entire village for Halloween.
Belle cycled on. Everyone in Whimple loved Halloween. Even doddery old grandmas donned pointy hats and flashed their broomsticks on that night. But what they didn’t know was that real witches and mages lived among them.
She glanced up at the lazily setting sun. Soon the waxing moon would rise and grow day by day as it journeyed across the sky. And by next Saturday, Halloween night, the moon would be full and bright. A full moon on Samhain night was special. Spellcasters adored it. On Samhain—witches’ new year—the veils between the physical and magical worlds were at their thinnest. A full moon on that night always amped up everyone’s power. Belle grimaced. Aunt Dee would be partying it up with the other witches. But not her. The safest place for her on Samhain night would be underneath a quilt with a mug of hot cocoa, a good book, and no plant within a metre radius.
A young couple walking hand-in-hand passed her. They were new in Whimple and likely here visiting friends. And she stole another glance at them before the bicycle put too much distance between her and them. Their love seemed so sweet… so ordinary. A small sigh escaped her. What she wouldn’t give for a life of no magic, no danger of plants going haywire at any moment; a life that was just ordinary.
Honeysuckle Cottage came into view with its blossoming garden and green gate. Belle slowed her bicycle to a stop behind the tired blue hatchback parked outside. Lilah was here. Which meant she and Aunt Dee were up to no good as usual. And unlatching the low gate in irritation, Belle wheeled her bicycle down the cottage’s stone path to the cheery orange door.
If only she hadn’t told Aunt Dee about the uneasiness she’d been suffering from all month or about her magic flaring up. All it had done was set her aunt on a relentless quest to track down Belle’s soulmate, and she’d even roped in Lilah to help. It really was too much.
Sure enough, Lilah’s glass scrying ball, on its polished wooden stand, sat atop the dining-room table when Belle entered. She shot it a frowning glance and headed for the kitchen.
The excited chatter ceased like a switch had been flicked the moment she pushed open the kitchen door and walked in. Both Aunt Dee and Lilah turned to her with bright innocent smiles.
“Tea, dear?” Aunt Dee asked, and she busied herself with the kettle. Her colourful bangles jangled with her quick movements, and her flowery kaftan swirled around her ankles. She was just an inch shorter than Belle at five-foot-five, and her face-framing, frizzy brown hair was shot through with grey strands.
Looking at them both, people often mistook Dee to be blood-related to Belle. But Carl had been Belle’s mother’s older brother. Not that it made any difference to Belle. Since the age of three, after her mother had died of pneumonia, Uncle Carl and Aunt Dee had been father, mother, and only family to her.
“Thanks,” she said, shrugging off her jacket and shooting her aunt a wary look at the same time. Without a doubt, Aunt Dee and Lilah had been discussing her earlier.
“Ooh, love. Don’t you look pretty in that dress,” Lilah chirped, looking over Belle’s yellow dress. “Nice and slim, just like your aunt. I’m that jealous of the two of you.”
“Well, if you’d never had children, I’d dare say you’d be slim like me,” Aunt Dee said. “But you decided to go ahead and have five no less.”
Lilah’s round cheeks turned rosy, and she giggled. “I wouldn’t say ‘decided’. These things just happen, don’t you know.”
“And Phil’s still chasing you around the trees.” Aunt Dee gave an amused shake of her head as she washed mugs. “I’d have thought with five surly teens in the house, you two would have settled down by now.”
Lilah twirled the end of her blonde braid and flashed a wicked smile. “It’s amazing the things kids turn a blind eye to. Still, I may love my brood, but be thankful you only had Belle. It’s a helluva lot more peaceful with just one.”
“Of course it was. Because I was good as gold growing up,” Belle quipped.
“That you were. I won’t deny it,” Aunt Dee said. “Though a brother or sister for you would have been nice too.”
The wistful note in her voice caught Belle’s heart. She’d often wondered too what it might have been like to have had a large family. And that was one thing she envied about Lilah.
“It’s no one’s fault, love,” Lilah said to Aunt Dee. “Maybe it was the age difference. I mean, Carl was a full fifteen years older than you.”
Aunt Dee shook her head. “No, it was me.” But then she cheered up as she poured boiled water into the mugs. “I’m expecting Belle to make up for it though,” she said with a smile. “At least ten grandchildren is what I want.”
“Ten?” Belle spluttered. “Good grief, I haven’t even found the right guy yet, and you already want ten mini-me’s.”
“Oh, don’t you worry about the right guy. He’ll show up soon enough,” Aunt Dee said smugly and handed Belle a mug of hot tea.
“I knew it! You two were scrying for my soulmate again.” Belle gave her an exasperated look. “I told you not to. I’m quite capable of finding a man.”
“And who says we were searching for your soulmate today?” Aunt Dee asked. “After the earful you gave me about it, I wisely decided to let it lie for a bit, at least for my sanity.”
Belle frowned at her over the rim of her mug. “Then whose soulmate were you searching for?”
“Mine.” Aunt Dee beamed.
Belle almost choked on her tea. “Yours?”
“Why not?” Lilah asked indignantly. “She’s been a widow for fifteen years. Don’t you think it’s time she found someone for herself?”
“I do want her to find someone. I’ve been nagging her to go out and date for years.” Belle turned to Aunt Dee. “You were never interested though. And I thought that was because a witch could only have one soulmate.”
Aunt Dee shook her head. “Till death do us part. The mate bond lasts a lifetime, either yours or his. But sometimes a new one forms after that. I never wanted to date because if my soulmate had been nearby, I’d have felt him. I don’t need to play the field to find him.”
Belle absorbed this new information. “So there is another man out there for you?”
“Yes. I started getting hints of it a year after Carl died.” Aunt Dee gave Belle a worried look. “Does that upset you? I never meant to be unfaithful to your uncle’s memory. You know Carl was my life while we were together.”
“Heavens, I’m not upset,” Belle said. “I’m… over the moon. Though, I wish you’d found your mate earlier. Much earlier. You’d have been so happy.” She gave Aunt Dee a mischievous smile. “So does this mean you’ll forget all about my soulmate and concentrate on finding yours from now on?”
“Hah! I won’t rest in my slippers until I see you wedded to your proper mate.”
Belle rolled her eyes and went back to drinking her tea. For a moment there, her hopes had flown high.
Lilah squealed with excitement. “Oh, do you know what you should do when you find your man, Dee? You should give him one of your heart apples. It’d be so romantic.”
Aunt Dee laughed. “What if he’s not an ‘apples’ kind of fellow?”
“Well, it’s the thought that counts, isn’t it? And how can anyone not like a heart apple? Those things are gorgeous. Tell you what…” Lilah grabbed a red apple from the fruit basket and held it out to Aunt Dee. “Make me one now. There’s this snotty cow in the book club I’m going to tomorrow, and I want to show her something her rich-wad husband’s money can never buy.”
“Lilah.” Aunt Dee gave her a chiding look. “You know better than to be parading magical items in front of magicless humans.”
“The Council of Ancients will roast your backside,” Belle murmured a sing-song warning.
“Oh, pooh.” Lilah waved it away. “Who said anything about it being magic? It’ll just be a funny-shaped apple. Maybe it grew on a tree with a wicked sense of humour.” She waved the apple at Aunt Dee again. “Go on, Dee. You know how much I love them.”
“Well…” Aunt Dee took the apple, and placing down her mug, held the fruit in both hands. “Just this once. No more apples for your book club after this.”
Lilah nodded gleefully.
And taking a breath, Aunt Dee closed her eyes and concentrated. A soft pink light surrounded the apple, grew brighter, and then faded out. “There.” Aunt Dee opened her eyes and held out the apple, which was now a perfect red heart with a stalk sticking out of it.
“Ooh!” Lilah snatched it up. “I’ll have to embalm one of these soon, in case you refuse to make them for me ever again.”
“I’ll not refuse, as long as it’s not for parading in front of snotty cows next time,” Aunt Dee said. “But I can’t make them unless Belle’s nearby.”
Lilah looked Belle up and down. “Plant magic. And powerful magic at that if another witch can tap into it and use it.”
“Only when she lets me,” Aunt Dee murmured.
“Oh, go right ahead,” Belle said airily. “At least one of us can get some use out of my magic. It’s a pain in the backside all other times.”
“Hmm…” Aunt Dee gave her a suspicious look. “How was work today?”
“I’ve seen better days.”
“Something might have.” And Belle hid behind her mug of tea.
“The trouble you’re having with your magic will only right itself once you bond with your soulmate,” Aunt Dee said. “It’s always that way for us magic users. The mate bond strengthens our powers. You should be putting everything into finding your soulmate.”
Belle frowned. “I don’t want to strengthen my magic. I want it to go away. God knows what will happen if I strengthen it in the state it’s in now. I might end up killing someone again.”
“Belle, you’re not responsible for Carl’s death. He was ill.”
“Not before my magic touched him, he wasn’t.” Belle gazed down into her half-empty mug.
“Love, you can’t make your magic go away,” Lilah said gently. “You were born with it. You’ll die with it.”
“She can,” Aunt Dee said quietly. “Or at least she can squash it to almost nothing if she shuns her mate bond and joins her heart to a magicless human.”
Lilah shook her head. “Why any witch would want to do that is beyond me.”
“I want to,” Belle said firmly. “I want to be free of this… curse.”
Aunt Dee’s lips firmed in disapproval. “And how has your search for this perfect magicless man been so far?”
“Well enough,” Belle muttered.
“You’re not still getting those pervy messages asking to see your bunny tuft, are you?” Lilah asked.
Embarrassment scorched Belle’s cheeks. “I just need to sift through the bucket of weirdos to find the handful of decent ones.”
Aunt Dee snorted. “Sift all you like, but you won’t find anyone decent any time soon. It’s your mate bond. It’ll make it hard as hell for another to come to you.”
“Well, that’s just fantastic,” Belle bit out. “So now I’m a total slave to some stupid bond. I don’t even get to choose my own life path. What if I don’t like this ‘soulmate’ guy anyway? What if he turns out to be a lecherous troll with a tail where a nose should be?”
“That would be unfortunate,” Aunt Dee said. “But don’t worry. You’ll be so in lust with him, you won’t be able to keep your hands off him no matter what he looks like.”
Belle scowled. “Oh, well, that’s all right then. Lust is all I need. I’ll look forward to making ten tail-nosed babies. Let’s just forget about falling in love and having a heart-to-heart connection with someone.” She glared at her aunt. “I shouldn’t even have to tell you how important ‘love’ is. You’re a love witch, for goodness’ sake.”
Aunt Dee shrugged. “The mate bond draws you to the best person to fall in love with. But the actual love is up to you. And love sometimes takes time to grow. Even within a mate bond, you need to work at understanding each other, loving each other.” She smiled. “That’s actually the best part.”
“And then you seal that heart-to-heart commitment forever,” Lilah said. “And it’s even better when there’s an actual ceremony. The magicless humans think it’s just a wedding. But I remember mine and Phil’s. It’s more a melding of two souls.”
“Yes, I remember the feeling,” Aunt Dee said with a dreamy look. “And after that, you’ll never feel alone in the world again as long as the two of you live.”
For a moment, Belle wavered. The thought of joining hearts with someone special was enthralling. But then the reality of her struggle came rushing back. “No. Not even if I love him. I can’t risk it with my magic.”
Aunt Dee regarded her with concern. “Magic is a witch’s lifeblood,” she said. “Don’t try to kill your magic, Belle. Try to cure it instead. I remember when you were young, you were so excited to discover all you could do. You even created fish-shaped Brussel sprouts, and they tasted like fish fingers too. And then there were the snoring daisies. Oh, they were hilarious. I’ve prayed these past fifteen years to see you like that again.”
“But the mate bond isn’t guaranteed to cure my magic. It could make it worse.”
“It will cure your magic,” Aunt Dee said. “Your power is that strong, you could very well be a sorceress. That means whoever your soulmate is, he’ll be powerful too. Not just a wizard, but a sorcerer maybe. And someone that powerful can only be a stabilizing influence on your magic.”
“Or a supernatural,” Lilah said eagerly. “A daemon, or a vampire, or even a werewolf. Imagine if her soulmate was one of them.”
“I don’t know much about supernaturals,” Aunt Dee admitted. “Usually only the more powerful witches move in their circles.” She studied Belle. “But in your case… it just might be.”
“Oh no, no, no… Please no,” Belle said. “On top of everything else, no daemons, no vampires, and definitely no werewolves. As if I didn’t have enough trouble in my life already. You’re not saddling me with some psychotic supernatural.”
But Aunt Dee and Lilah weren’t listening. They were swept up in the exciting possibility that Belle’s soulmate might actually be a hulking supernatural.
“But something keeps blocking me,” Aunt Dee was saying. “Every time I think I’m getting close, it’s like a wall shoots up and stops me.”
“Well, never say ‘give up’, right?” Lilah said. “So let’s give it another try.”
“Hold on,” Belle barred their way out of the kitchen. “You said earlier you were searching for your soulmate, not mine.”
Aunt Dee raised her eyebrows. “I did?”
“Oh, yes, so I did. Silly me. How could I forget? Well, of course that’s what we’re doing. Shall we go do just that, Lilah?”
“Why, yes, Dee. Let’s.”
And the two of them scurried from the kitchen, leaving Belle rolling her eyes in exasperation.
To be continued next week…