Chapter 17 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.
It’s September, and the sun is still bright. I know the rainy, blustery days of Autumn are just around the corner though, so I’m lapping up as much of the glorious sunshine as I can right now.
But Autumn is fab too.
Think hot chocolate, sweet biscuits, cosy woolly jumpers, and a warm place in which to hide from the rain. And a good book, of course 😀
So if you’re new to me, don’t forget to pick up my free romance novel ‘Be Mine’ for some happy-ever-after Autumn reading.
Heartwarming, happy endings are always perfect for cheering up colder days.
And here’s the next chapter of Luca’s story for you.
Questions hounded her. What would have happened if she’d stayed last night? If she’d forgotten her fears for just once and let her body experience what it craved to? Belle frowned and hacked off the turnip’s green stalk, then swivelled it around to take the rest of her ire out on its thick white root.
The wicker basket beside her overflowed with purple-topped turnips the size of shot-put balls and weighing as much. Hanson certainly knew how to grow hearty vegetables.
Shame though that the only vegetable in his dictionary was ’turnip’.
Belle placed the kitchen knife down on the weathered oak table. Turnips, annoying as they were, weren’t her real problem right now. Her real problem was Luca.
And she hadn’t seen him all day.
Ever since the incident on the balcony last night, he seemed to be going out of his way to avoid her. And really, she ought to be happy about that, because whenever Luca was near, her entire being went into meltdown and logic flew straight out the window. And now after a night of tossing and turning and wanting him with a ferocity that burned her skin and sweat-soaked her sheets, here she was trying and failing to make herself useful by prepping turnips for dinner.
She rolled back the oversized sleeves of her checked shirt and picked up the knife again.
Luca had lived up to his promise to get her to cover up, and a pair of blue jeans and a man-sized shirt had appeared at the foot of her bed this morning. The shirt was likely one of Luca’s because it was big enough to cover two of her, but luckily the jeans had been cut for a woman and fitted her perfectly. At least the new clothes meant she didn’t have to mince around Fairfall in another slinky cocktail dress. Also, the overgrown shirt collar nicely hid the slight red mark Luca’s teeth had left on her neck.
He’d marked her. A primal thrill of delight shot through her, but quickly frowning it away, she hauled another turnip from the basket and decapitated it.
“I’ve always found this soothing,” Hanson mused from beside the stone sink where he stood plucking a chicken. “Perhaps it’s the feel of the feathers or the humdrum of the task, but it certainly calms the mind.”
Belle shot him an irked glance. He looked even more old-fashioned today in his shirtsleeves and trouser braces and with a striped apron covering it all. He’d also been whistling softly as he worked. Any other time, she might not have minded, might even have found it pleasant, but not today. “Maybe dead chickens have more zen vibe than turnips,” she muttered. “Because I’m not feeling it.”
“Coffee is a great remedy for a headache,” he observed mildly.
“I don’t have a headache.”
“Ah… my mistake. ‘Sore head’ then.”
Belle gave his broad back a withering look. He knew exactly what was bothering her. Hopefully, though, he didn’t know exactly what had happened between her and Luca last night. And cheeks heating again at the memory, she turned back to her basket of turnips.
Actually, if any room in this house could have doused the fire of desire Luca had ignited in her, the dreary grey kitchen was it. There was more stone here than in a stone quarry. Even the stove was an archaic stone and iron contraption with holes carved into the top to hold pans. It didn’t look like much cooking happened in this kitchen. In fact, more space had been given to the sink and the enormous stone table beside it. Dark rivulets of dried blood stained the table’s grey surface making it look like a butcher’s slab. And the sunlight streaming through the windows glinted off the steel edges of the knives arrayed on the wall behind the table.
Normally such a place would have had her running for the hills. But hey, she was in werewolf territory now, and after Luca’s raw steak last night, nothing surprised her.
But still, she had her limits…
She glanced at the naked pink chicken in Hanson’s capable hands. “You are going to cook that, aren’t you?”
“I plan on roasting it.”
Well, thank goodness for that. Though remembering her charred steak from last night, she couldn’t muster up much hope for the chicken. But at least it wouldn’t be raw. And picking up a vegetable peeler, she set about stripping a ginormous turnip of its purple skin.
Hanson’s whistling struck up again, and Belle regarded him. He was far more laid back than she’d first expected, not exactly chatty, but still a nice calming influence to be around. As long as she didn’t ask awkward questions. “Have you spoken to my Aunt Dee?”
The whistling fell off a cliff. “Your aunt?”
“Yes. Curly hair, big smile, likes bright colours and bangles, and loves to chat, especially about plants and soulmates.”
“Is that a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’?”
Hanson didn’t turn around. “I can only say that she’s enjoying her stay in Fairfall.”
“Is she?” Belle asked tartly. “Then can I see her?”
“That would be difficult… and against the alpha’s orders.”
“Hanson, I get it that Aunt Dee already knows I’m here and likely wants me to stay. So there’s no need for all this cloak-and-dagger business. I’m not trying to escape. I just want to speak to her.” She tried the sympathy track. “Please… Aunt Dee is the only family I have.”
“Yes. And she’s been a widow for fifteen years,” he said thoughtfully. “That’s a remarkably long time to have to raise a child and manage all on her own.”
“She told you that… Why would she tell you that? She only talks about family to people she knows and likes.”
Deep red tinged Hanson’s face. “I must be particularly likeable. Are those turnips done?”
“Oh, you just love your turnips, don’t you?” Belle muttered, knowing he wouldn’t give her any more on Aunt Dee. “What are you turning them into this time?”
“Mash,” Hanson said happily. “A pinch of salt, a shake of pepper, and I’ll have turnip mash fit for a king, or a crabby little witch from Whimple in this case.”
“Seriously? Turnip mash? Don’t you have any potatoes? How about something as simple as carrots? Ever heard of roasted carrots?”
Hanson’s eyebrows shot up. “Roasted Carrots! What a novel idea. Stumped that I didn’t think of it.”
The kitchen door opened, and Hero walked in looking like someone had exploded a soot bomb over him. “Got that bugger of a chimney cleared out at last, Uncle,” he said, shooting a bright smile Belle’s way as he passed.
“Good job, Hero. Why don’t you clean up and show Belle the kitchen garden so she can pick out carrots for dinner.”
“Carrots?” Hero’s brows knitted in confusion, and then his eyes widened. “Oh, carrots. Sure. Give me a minute.”
Belle watched with a frown as he stripped off his blackened shirt and the clean white t-shirt beneath. It had sounded like Hero had forgotten what carrots were. Maybe Hanson’s turnip obsession had wiped all vegetables from Hero’s memory. Poor lad. All the more reason to get him some proper food.
Hero opened the sink tap and had a speedy mini wash beneath it, scrubbing all the soot out of his hair and from his face. Then drying himself, he pulled on his t-shirt and came to her. “Ready to see the garden?”
“More than.” And grabbing a small basket to stash her veggie prizes in, Belle hurried after him.
* * *
“This may sound silly, but… you don’t have roses around here, do you?” she asked as they stepped outside and headed towards a fenced off part of the grounds that was likely the kitchen garden.
Hero gave her a surprised look. “Don’t you like roses?”
“Well, there are none around here, or in the main gardens come to think of it.”
“Oh… so, no roses at all near the house?”
“No… well… sort of,” Hero mumbled.
“Again ‘sort of’?” Belle gave him an exasperated look.
“It’s sort of hard to explain.” And with an apologetic smile, he hurried her to the fenced-off garden. “Here we are. Uncle Hanson’s pride and joy.”
Belle walked past the wooden gate and stood and stared.
It had to be the neatest kitchen garden she’d ever seen. Tidy green rows spread out on either side of the footpath, all meticulously labelled: beans and beets, potatoes and carrots, leeks and onions, and so on. But there were no vegetables to see, just an ocean of broad green leaves and purple tops.
“It’s all turnips,” she murmured.
“Yup. Turnips, turnips everywhere, as far as the eye can see and man can walk,” Hero quipped.
Belle turned to him. “Then why on earth did Hanson even bother to label these rows? I mean, do these look like carrots to you? They’re turnips. He really does have a turnip fetish, doesn’t he?”
“Come with me,” Hero said and ignoring her questioning look, strode off towards a group of trees at the back of the garden.
Belle rushed after him, but soon screeched to a halt at the sight before her. “Oh, my God. Those are turnips.”
It was obvious these were fruit trees. But instead of fruit, baby turnips hung merrily from the branches—red in this tree, yellow in the next, and purple-white in a tree further down.
“How is that even possible?” she asked. “It has to be magic.”
Hero nodded. “It’s magic all right. And none of us can do anything about it. Every fruit and vegetable growing in Fairfall turned into a turnip a week ago.”
“Just like that? Then it’s a curse. Has to be. Do you know who did it?”
Hero dodged her probing gaze. “Not an expert on that, I’m afraid. Uncle Hanson tried planting turnips hoping they’d turn into something else, but they stayed as turnips.”
“Oh, great.” Belle’s empty basket sagged in her hands. “We’re stuck with turnips.”
“There’s hope,” Hero said quickly. “We have this one tree that escaped the G.T.I.”
“G.T.I?” Belle asked, following him.
“The Great Turnip Infestation.” He stopped in front of a small plum tree whose plums were green and rather weedy-looking, but most importantly, were still plums. “Funny thing is, this little tree was doing the worst out of the entire bunch this season.”
Belle stepped closer to the tree. Along with the green plums, carved wooden runes dangled on strings from the branches, a plethora of them. Each rune emanated a weak force, but together they gave off enough power to surround the entire tree like a magical shower cap. “The curse couldn’t touch it,” she said softly.
“Uncle Hanson initially hung those charms to ward off pests because the tree was near dying. But it gave the G.T.I. the slip too. So we loaded on a bucket more of charms, and now it’s the star tree of Fairfall. At least, it’s the only tree anywhere with proper fruit even if they’re all still green.”
“Wait. You mean the whole of Fairfall? Including the town?”
“Oh, yeah. It’s turnip bonanza in all the gardens. Except for the houses at the very edge of town. They’ve got cauliflowers too, lucky buggers.”
“How is an entire town existing on turnips and cauliflowers? It’s unheard of.”
Hero grinned. “We’re werewolves, and we live in the middle of a whacking great forest. There’s plenty of hunting.”
“But can’t you buy food from the nearby towns?” Belle gave him a serious look. “I’m asking because if Hanson goes ahead with his plan to make turnip mash for dinner, I might just scream. Can’t we buy potatoes from somewhere?”
“Uh… that’s a little difficult,” Hero murmured.
“The nearby towns are cursed with turnip plague too?”
“Not exactly… it’s… um… Look, how about I take you into town tomorrow and you can ask for yourself.”
“I’d love to visit the town.” Belle gave him an excited smile. “But won’t Luca forbid it? I’m sort of his prisoner, aren’t I?”
Hero shrugged. “The alpha never mentioned it, so I don’t see why not.”
Belle’s smile turned into a grin. “And just to be on the safe side, don’t you go telling him the plan either. He can change his mind after I’ve visited the town.”
“Sure thing,” Hero said with a laugh. And reaching into the tree, he plucked the only ripe plum and handed it to her. “To take your mind off the turnips.”
Belle happily took it. But the turnips were already a forgotten worry. The prospect of visiting the pretty town was enough to overcome even the horror of turnip mash. Now she just had to make it to tomorrow without Luca finding out.
To be continued next week…