Authors: Linda Robertson
“Right. That’s the worst-case scenario …
a bad high priestess.”
Nana stood, lifted her arms, and turned her face heavenward. “Crone, open their eyes!” When her arms dramatically fell limp at her sides, she faced Johnny. “The Lustrata cannot be beaten in a priestess Eximium. When Seph finally decides to share that she is the Lustrata with the council, they’ll scoff. And when she goes before the Elders as part of that competition—what if they realize she’s marked by a vampire?”
“Stained,” I corrected.
“It’s a mark, Persephone, a
,” Nana insisted. “You know as well as I do that it would compromise you. Having the authority of a high priestess will only entice the vampire back to your door.”
I realized Johnny’s spine had stiffened.
I’d been outed!
Praise for Linda Robertson and
“Well-developed supernatural characters, mystery, and a touch of romance add up to an out-of-this world thriller.”
“Robertson blends tried-and-true supernatural elements with some fresh ideas of her own, creating an entertaining combination.
… takes readers on an adventure filled with strong characters and their tangled human emotions.”
“A fun romp of a novel. … Seph acts as any of us would and it makes her endearing and easy for the reader to root for. … Completely entertaining.”
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and
incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or
are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or
persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2010 by Linda Robertson
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First Juno Books/Pocket Books paperback edition January 2010
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Cover design by John Vairo Jr.
Manufactured in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
ISBN 978-1-4391-6657-4 (ebook)
This one is for Logan.
Because you do so much.
as always to my writing group OWN: Ohio Writers
Network. Michelle, Laura, Melissa, Rachel, Emily, Faith,
Lisa, Tracy—for reading, honesty, and hanging out.
to Paula Guran, my editor. Because she’s absolutely the
and editors work too hard not to be thanked profusely.
Tour du Jour Thanks
to Scollard, for being a knowledgeable research consultant
past, present, future.
High Frequency Thanks
to my friends Ed (at NRRRadio) and Colleen for all the
Shreddin’ 7-string Guitar Thanks
to Jim Lewis, for being there
day. No matter what.
You made that guitar on the cover! Ain’t that the coolest???
for the Many-named Muse. You
It’s your decisions about what to focus on,
what things mean to you, and
what you’re going to do about them
that will determine your ultimate destiny.
“What do you mean, you nominated me?” I held my breath.
“Oh, dear. Shouldn’t I have?”
Lydia Whitmore, a dear old witch who lived about ten minutes from me, was on the other end of the phone line. I could imagine her startled expression. With her kindly smile and snowy hair, always secure in a precise bun, her looks epitomized those of the cookie-baking granny. She also cornered the local market on being the goody-goody, saccharine-sweet variety of witch—what society’s more mundane humans wanted all us witches to be.
She had called to inform me that the Witch Elders Council had announced their plans to find a replacement for Vivian Diamond, the Cleveland Coven’s high priestess who had mysteriously gone missing.
Not that it was a mystery to
: I’d handed Vivian over to the vampire she’d betrayed. Chances were she’d be missing a very long time.
To determine the new high priestess the Council was, according to Lydia, planning a formal competition called
the Eximium. Lydia had, incredibly, nominated me as a competitor.
“Lydia, I don’t want to be the high priestess.”
“Pshaw and gobbledygook!” Lydia said. “You’re perfect for it, Persephone! Knowledgeable, experienced, personable. And such a charming smile, dear. You’d make a fantastic high priestess.”
“I’m flattered,” I said, rubbing my brow, “but I can’t do it. I wouldn’t have time right now.”
“Oh, that’s right! You have the child, don’t you?”
“Yes,” I said. My new role as foster mother wasn’t the only reason I had no intention of getting involved with the Council, but maybe it would be enough of an excuse to dissuade Lydia.
It had only been three weeks since Lorrie Kordell, a wærewolf who used to kennel in my basement during full moons, was murdered. Her daughter, Beverley, ended up with me. We’d had the funeral a week and a half ago, and Beverley started school that following Monday. The legal gears and wheels to officially establish me as Beverley’s guardian had been set in motion and we were just starting to get a sense of what “normal” was going to be for us. Beverley needed stability and the security of a routine to ground her despite all that was new in her life. “I don’t want to start anything that will take more of my time from Beverley right now.”
“How’s she doing, poor thing?”
“She’s still grieving, and she will for a while, but she’s tough stuff. We’ll make it.” I truly cared for Beverley. When her mom got a job in the city and quit kenneling here, I’d missed more than just the popcorn and Disney
nights I’d shared with the kid. “So, Lydia,” I asked, intentionally changing the subject, “how’d you end up nominating entrants for this …
“Because I’m the oldest!” Lydia laughed. “WEC wants savvy, smart, and pretty
women as covenheads nowadays, what with the internet and media always poking around the high-profile urban covens.” She pronounced the acronym for the Witch Elders Council as
like a kid who can’t make
. “They know I deserve the authority, but can’t keep up with the social scene. This is their way of coddling me for what I can’t do.”
Over the last few years I had become friends with Lydia, who happened to be the previous owner of my old saltbox-style farmhouse. She’d sold off pieces of her land and bought a double-wide, then stuck the
For Sale by Owner
sign in the front yard. We met shortly after I called the number written on the sign. One-level living suited her knees better, she’d said. The only downside, according to her, was “trading the charm and earthy smell of a root cellar for a sterile, wire-shelved pantry.” A kitchen witch, she canned the vegetables she grew in her garden and made the best black raspberry jelly I’d ever tasted, period. When she shared her scrumptious goodies, they always came with a little checkerboard gingham ribbon tied around the neck of the Mason jar. I was certain that fabric came from her worn-out dresses. She could’ve walked onto the set of
Little House on the Prairie
and assumed a place as an extra without being questioned. All she lacked was a sunbonnet.
“I tried to tell them from the start that Vivian was a no-good hustler,” she continued. “I tried to stop her from
being in Cleveland’s last Eximium, but my objections went unheard. After she reconfigured the membership into nothing more than a who’s-who list of wealthy local socialites, though, they understood.”