Read Dangerous Magic Online

Authors: Alix Rickloff

Dangerous Magic

 

Dangerous Magic

By Alix Rickloff

 

Cornwall, 1812

 

Gwenyth Killigrew, the Witch of Kerrow, has seen the tragic fate that awaits any man she’s foolish enough to fall in love with. Yet she yearns for a daughter to carry on her healer’s wisdom and otherworldly gifts of Sight. When Rafe Fleming, a notorious smuggler, washes ashore near her home, she thinks she’s found the man to father that child.

 

Rafe knew his time as an outlaw was coming to an end. He just hadn’t realized it would be on the dangerous Cornwall coast, in the home of an alluring witch. After Gwenyth saves him, they strike a bargain: he’ll give her a child, and she’ll help him find a proper wife so he can reenter society and pick up the pieces of his shattered life.

 

But the more time Rafe spends with Gwenyth—in and out of bed—the more he questions what he thinks he wants. He must choose between the wife he needs and the woman he desires…if falling for Gwenyth doesn’t kill him first.

 

95,000 words

 
 

Dear Reader,

 

What do you get when you cross summer with lots of beach time, and long hours of traveling? An executive editor who’s too busy to write the Dear Reader letter, but has time for reading. I find both the beach and the plane are excellent places to read, and thanks to plenty of time spent on both this summer (I went to Australia! And New Zealand!) I’m able to tell you with confidence: our fall lineup of books is outstanding.

 

We kick off the fall season with seven romantic suspense titles, during our Romantic Suspense celebration in the first week of September. We’re pleased to offer novella
Fatal Destiny
by Marie Force as a free download to get you started with the romantic suspense offerings. Also in September, fans of Eleri Stone’s sexy, hot paranormal romance debut novel,
Mercy,
can look forward to her follow-up story,
Redemption,
set in the same world of the Lost City Shifters.

 

Looking to dive into a new erotic romance? We have a sizzling trilogy for you. In October, look for Christine D’Abo’s Long Shot trilogy featuring three siblings who share ownership of a coffee shop, and each of whom discover steamy passion within the walls of a local sex club. Christine’s trilogy kicks off with
Double Shot.

 

In addition to a variety of frontlist titles in historical, paranormal, contemporary, steampunk and erotic romance, we’re also pleased to present two authors releasing backlist titles with us. In October, we’ll re-release four science fiction romance titles from the backlist of C.J. Barry, and in November four Western romance titles from the backlist of Susan Edwards.

 

Also in November, we’re thrilled to offer our first two chick lit titles from three debut authors,
Liar’s Guide to True Love
by Wendy Chen and
Unscripted
by Natalie Aaron and Marla Schwartz. I hope you’ll check out these fun, sometimes laugh-out-loud novels.

 

Whether you’re on the beach, on a plane, or sitting in your favorite recliner at home, Carina Press can offer you a diverting read to take you away on your next great adventure this fall!

 

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to [email protected] You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

 

Happy reading!

~Angela James

 

Executive Editor, Carina Press

www.carinapress.com

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Acknowledgements
 

This book has traveled a long road from my first flash of inspiration to the final version you see before you. So many people had a hand in shepherding it along its journey from my fabulous writers’ brain trust who brought their amazing wisdom, good humor, patience and expertise to the project, to my agent Kevan Lyon who loved the story from the beginning and never let it be forgotten, to Charlotte Herscher at Carina Press whose spot-on editing advice allowed me to see the forest despite the trees. And finally my mom, who never stopped believing this story would somehow, someway find a home.

Chapter 1
 

Cornwall, April 1812

 

It was the banging that woke her. Not the dream, for once.

Gwenyth rose and padded across the floor; no need for a taper. She knew the cottage in daylight and darkness. Only an illness or a birth brought someone to her door at this hour. Her mind instantly began to run through a mental list of things she would need—salves of camphor and oil of cloves for wounds and cuts, burdock and mustard for poultices, lovage and chamomile for brewing teas.

The banging sounded again. “Gwenyth! For God’s sake, woman, open up!”

A knot formed beneath her breast. It was Jago. Her brother’s visit at this time of night boded ill. She drew back the bar, but before she could touch the latch, Jago flung the door open. He stood upon the threshold, eyes white within his blackened face.

Coal dust.

The knot became a stone.

“Gwenyth, for pity’s sake, help us.”

“Us?”

Jago drew back into the shadows. She waited as he spoke in a harsh whisper to someone just beyond her vision. A low murmur answered, the voice weak and threaded with pain.

A muffled curse, a quick indrawn hiss of breath and Jago reappeared, supporting a man. As they approached, the stranger looked up, and Gwenyth’s suspicions blossomed into certainty. Jago bore Rafe Fleming upon his shoulder.

“Bring him in—quickly now,” she said, peering out to sweep her gaze up and down the darkened street. No one stirred, though Gwenyth was sure that any neighbor knowing whom she sheltered would turn a blind eye. Too many benefited from Fleming and his illicit trade.

Jago half dragged, half carried Fleming into the cottage while Gwenyth hurried to light a lantern. “What happened?” she asked.

Sliding the glass down over the flame, she brought it to the table. Fleming slumped in the chair, a hand pressed against his side. Like Jago, he was dressed all in black. But unlike her brother in his homespun shirt and mud-spattered breeches, Rafe’s clothes were of the finest wools and linens and obviously made by a professional tailor. Running against current fashion, he wore his dark hair overlong and lashed into a short queue. A gold earring glittered in one ear.

She knew the captain by sight, but had never had an occasion to study him so closely. From afar, he had seemed pleasing, with the roped and corded muscles of a man who earns his living on the sea. Sitting across from him, she revised her opinion. With his long cheekbones and a cleft chin carrying the shadow of a beard, he evoked darker, more forbidden images. And even at rest, he seemed coiled to spring, like a wild animal—or a man with a price on his head.

“Fleming’s ship was set on by a revenue cutter off the coast,” Jago explained. “They managed to fight the buggers off, but Fleming here was struck. He came ashore with one of the landing boats.”

Gwenyth studied the captain of the
Cormorant
. He remained motionless, eyes closed in a pale, tight-lipped face. He breathed between his teeth in rapid pants as he clutched his side. But Gwenyth knew he listened closely to every word. He’d not lived so long and so well without being as canny a customer as ever plied the trade between Cornwall and the Continent.

She bent down, putting a hand out. “Come, Captain Fleming. Let me see your wound. From the looks of you, it must be hurting like the devil.”

Fleming opened his eyes. Gray-green like the sea with a sweep of coal-black lashes, they raked her up and down with a weighing glance, lingering at the curves of her hips and breasts. “They say you’re the best healer on this part of the coast.”

Aware she wore nothing but her oldest shift, she straightened, pursing her lips. “And they say you’re the most successful Gentleman on this part of the coast. If my healing ends as well as your smuggling this night, you may be in trouble.”

“Gwenyth!” Jago barked.

But Fleming laughed, his gaze never wavering. “You’ve a sharp tongue within that comely face, Mistress Killigrew.”

Gwenyth met his look, refusing to be intimidated. She stared deep into his eyes, feeling the Sight take hold of her, drawing her past the surface, as if she dove beneath the sea. There was suffering. She felt it in her own body: a searing agony of torn flesh where the preventives’ bullet penetrated. Even further she fell, unable to tear her eyes from that piercing, awful gaze. There was pain here too, an older, deeper ache of the heart; a betrayal of love freely given. She swam through a thickening of memories and emotions, helpless to pull free. All around her grew dark. Flashes of red and black passed her eyes. A drum beat pounded in her ears until it echoed through her mind. She put her hands to her head to silence the noise, and then she was free.

She stood back in her cottage, the familiar rugs upon the floor, her loom standing in the corner, the snap of the fire a comfort to her throbbing head. She shuddered and scrubbed a hand over her face to clear her mind of the Sight as if she swept a hand across a slate. Fleming sat slumped across the table.

“Well, you’ve done it now.” Jago snorted his disgust. “He’s fainted on us.”

 

 

Rafe startled awake, instinctively reaching for his knife. But the weapon was not beneath his pillow, nor was he in his bunk inside the
Cormorant
’s cabin. He lay upon a pallet on the floor, a sheet drawn up to his chest. He wore no shirt, though he felt a bandage wound taut across his ribs. But his side bothered him little in contrast to the pounding in his head. It was as if the back of his skull might fall off if he moved. Turning his head as slowly as possible, he scanned the unfamiliar surroundings. A screen hid most of the cottage from view, but what he could see in the morning light flooding the room were rugs and hangings in jewel-tones of deep red and sapphire blue, dark forest green and bright gold. Stags and hounds, birds and fish, flowers and leaves, all depicted within the scattered weavings.

His movement shot a searing pain through his side. He fell back with a gasp. Bloody revenuers. Had Triggs dodged the Preventives’ sea patrols after dropping Rafe and the goods? He hoped his lieutenant would know to head for the safety of Polperro’s harbor and, if need be, the steep valley beyond.

Just a handful of runs and Rafe would have been clear. After eight years of trading in smuggled goods and smuggled secrets, he’d made and saved enough to set himself up in any life he chose. No arrests, no sinkings, no injuries.

Until last night.

His fingers traced the stretched swathe of cotton crisscrossing his ribcage. He remembered nothing after the Killigrew woman settled her stare on him. He’d felt her within his mind, poking—prying. He tried tearing her free, but his wound weakened him.

Rafe had never met the Witch of Kerrow, but he’d sailed the Cornish coast long enough to hear of her. A rare healer with the gift of Sight, a knowledge of things beyond mortal kenning. He’d pictured an ancient crone with a hook nose, not the luscious woman with hair the color of corn silk and eyes as gray as a rain-swept sea.

As if she felt him thinking of her, the woman appeared. This morning she wore a homespun gown beneath a snowy apron, her hair hidden beneath a kerchief. He remembered the way her body filled out the thin cotton shift she wore last night, her hair a spill of gold upon her shoulders. He readjusted himself upon the pallet, wincing with equal parts pain and frustration. It had been too long since his last visit to Mother Sally’s bawdy-house in Fowey.

“Myttin da,”
she greeted him in Cornish, breaking the spell created by a warm cottage, a soft pallet and the graceful sway of her hips as she approached.

Rafe frowned in confusion.

“It’s meaning good morning,” she explained. “You’re awake. I’ve made you some breakfast, and there’s beer in the pitcher. You were lucky. The bullet broke a rib on its way through, but if no fever sets in or sickening of the wound, you should be back aboard by week’s end.”

Rafe scowled as he edged himself up upon the pillows, careful of both the soreness in his head and his side. “What did you do to me last night?”

She looked to the bandages.

“I mean beyond the doctoring. I’ve never…I mean…you didn’t…I don’t know what I mean except my brains feel scrambled as an egg.”

She flushed as she knelt beside the pallet and placed the bowl upon a stool beside him. Pulling a cup from her apron pocket, she filled it and set it next to the bowl. “I beg your forgiveness for reading you like that, Captain. You caught me unprepared.”

She met his gaze. Her scent wreathed him like a cloud, but this time Rafe felt no whirling of the room or dizzying loss of feeling in his limbs. There was nothing beyond the normal stir he would feel if any comely woman looked at him in such a challenging way.

She frowned, a line appearing between her dark brows. “I was tired…and…distracted.”

Rafe’s back twitched, but this time it was nothing to do with the revenuers. “And what did you see last night?”

Her eyes darkened. She took a deep breath, but she did not move or hide her discomfort. “Within or without?” she asked quietly.

Rafe picked up the cup, raising it to his lips, though he didn’t drink. “Take your pick.”

“Upon your back you carry the marks of the cat-o-nine tails,” she answered. “Upon your soul, a bitter loneliness and a lingering anger that colors all you are. I could see nothing more than this.”

Rafe drank deeply, letting the bite of the pungent beer slide down his dry throat. In one meeting of their eyes, Gwenyth Killigrew, the Witch of Kerrow, had seen and understood more of him than any man he’d crewed with for the past decade. He placed the cup back upon the stool as she reached to refill it. Their fingers met, hers cool and surprisingly soft.

She drew back as if burned, rising in a rush of skirts. “I have work. Rest now.”

She retreated beyond the screen, leaving Rafe to ponder this twist of fortune. He sank back down upon the pallet. Loneliness and anger, she had said. Anger had driven him to the life he led. Loneliness now drove him back to his previous existence. But he knew what awaited him in that world. He needed to come armored against the villainy hidden behind robes of damped muslin and décolletage. From beyond the screen, Rafe heard a soft humming and the clink of pottery. Perhaps the answer was as near to hand as the next room, he thought, as the opiate hidden within the beer claimed him. Perhaps the Witch of Kerrow held the key to his future.

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