Protector (The Witches of Cleopatra Hill Book 5)

BOOK: Protector (The Witches of Cleopatra Hill Book 5)
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Protector
A Witches of Cleopatra Hill Novel
Christine Pope

T
his is a work of fiction
. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, places, organizations, or persons, whether living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

PROTECTOR

Copyright © 2015 by Christine Pope

Published by Dark Valentine Press

Cover design and ebook formatting by
Indie Author Services
.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems — except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews — without permission in writing from its publisher, Dark Valentine Press.

Please contact the author through the form on her website at
www.christinepope.com
if you experience any formatting or readability issues with this book.

1

T
he headaches had started
the week after her fifteenth birthday. Caitlin McAllister remembered the day very clearly because she’d dozed off while watching TV, and then had a horrible nightmare about some tourist taking a turn too quickly off Main Street and ending up at the wrong end of Boyd Willis’s driveway, the car a wreck, and the garage door and the tourist not in much better shape. It wasn’t really that strange, after all, since it wasn’t the first time a tourist had taken a header into Boyd’s garage. Except…

…it hadn’t been a dream.

At first Caitlin had shrugged off the incident, telling herself that she’d probably overheard her mother talking about it on the phone with one of the other clan witches, and only thought she’d dreamed the whole thing, but that wasn’t what had really happened. She’d fallen asleep during a repeat of
Charmed
, which was on at four, and the accident occurred at four-fifteen. And the gossip about the accident hadn’t started making the rounds until at least a half hour after that. Caitlin had sat on the living room couch, staring blankly at the television, while her mother was on the phone with Rachel McAllister, the two of them were agreeing that
something
had to be done about the situation with Boyd’s property.

That “something” turned out to be Margot Emory casting the strongest spell of illusion she could on Boyd’s driveway, making it look as if a stone wall stretched across the opening. There weren’t any more incidents with wayward tourists after that.

But Caitlin knew something else was wrong, because her head was pounding after she woke up from that not-dream, and the headache didn’t go away until sometime the next day. And then, about a week later, she wasn’t even dreaming, but gazing moodily out the window during her geometry class, and she saw one of the oily rags Micah Landon had lying around his studio burst into flame, burning down half the room before the volunteer fire department swung into action and put it out. Everyone believed the fire was Micah’s fault, since he often walked around with his head in the clouds instead of attending to practical matters, such as making sure those turpentine-soaked rags had been stored properly. That might have been true, but the really scary thing about the incident was that Caitlin had witnessed the whole scene in her head approximately fifteen minutes or so before it happened.

That vision…or whatever it was…resulted in another headache.

She knew she should tell someone, but the mere notion of revealing that she’d begun to see things that came true scared her far more than the visions themselves. The McAllister clan had been without a seer for some time, and they needed one desperately, what with the threat of the Wilcox clan always hanging out there on the horizon, like the smoke of a far-off grass fire. It was Caitlin’s responsibility to let her parents and the elders know that the McAllisters finally had the seer they so desperately needed.

Except…a clan seer couldn’t call her — or his, although seers tended to be female — life her own. People always wanting to know what the future held, the elders always bringing her in for consultations…Caitlin knew she wanted none of it. Her power had revealed itself very late; most witches in her clan began to show signs of their latent abilities sometime around ten or eleven, but here she was, fifteen and being confronted by something she most decidedly did not want.

And so, even though she knew it was wrong, she hid what was going on, dosing the headaches with aspirin or ibuprofen or whatever happened to be in the house at the time, and by around a year or so later, they mostly disappeared. Not altogether; if something big was happening and she had a vision about it, her head would pound for a day or so afterward. When Great-Aunt Ruby died, Caitlin had stayed home sick from school for a day, the pain was so bad, and when Damon Wilcox kidnapped Angela McAllister, the new
prima
…well, that was the worst, Caitlin’s head aching so much she almost threw up. Or maybe the real cause of the nausea was simply guilt at her own cowardice. Maybe if she’d spoken up, she could have rallied the clan in time to stop the kidnapping. True, she hadn’t known exactly what was going to happen, only that it was something very bad. Again there had been that sensation of something oppressive looming over the tiny hillside town of Jerome, like a thunderstorm with such extreme low pressure that it felt as if it was sucking all the air out of your lungs, crushing down on your sternum. A feeling that something terrible was approaching, although she couldn’t tell what it might be. That was probably Damon’s own power at work, concealing his actions. He’d been so very powerful. Surely no one could have expected her own puny abilities to pierce the dark veil of magic he’d wrapped around himself.

Well, of course no one had expected her to do anything, since no one knew she was capable of seeing the future.

In the end, that had all worked out better than anyone could have imagined, so Caitlin tried to reassure herself that if she’d interfered, she could have kept Angela McAllister from being with Connor Wilcox, and that would have spelled trouble for both the clans. Even she was forced to admit that was a rather self-serving argument, but “all’s well that ends well” seemed a good enough excuse to Caitlin for keeping her mouth shut. Besides, now that the clans had been more or less mingling for the past two years, the McAllisters could always call on Marie Begonie, the Wilcox seer, for all their soothsaying needs.

The visions never went away, but they did seem to become somewhat less urgent…although that could simply have been because life had been remarkably placid up here on Cleopatra Hill for some time. Not to say that there weren’t squabbles in the clan, or marriages falling apart or bad business decisions or the sorts of things that seemed to affect everyone at some time or another, witch-born or no. However, there was nothing catastrophic, nothing to tax her abilities or bring on one of those sudden, piercing headaches.

Until now, some six years after the first vision had visited her, letting her know that her life would never be the same again.

The bad feeling was back, that sensation of something dark looming on the horizon, but even when Caitlin tried to will it into revealing itself, into giving her more detail, she saw nothing. Maybe the visions were something that couldn’t really be forced. She didn’t know, because she still hadn’t told anyone her secret, was still living the lie that she hadn’t inherited any special abilities, despite her mother being such a strong weather-worker that she’d been called to take over as elder for Margot Emory when the other witch wanted to step down so she could marry Lucas Wilcox.

And there was no reason for feeling as if the mountainside was about to crumble, or a plague of locusts was going to descend on Jerome. Everything had been sailing along just fine. It was a beautiful spring morning, and Caitlin was packing to go to Tucson for a few days with her friends Roslyn and Danica. Their own mini spring break, so to speak. All right, so Roslyn wasn’t even in college, since she’d gotten her AA a year ago and decided that was enough, that she’d rather hang out in Jerome and wait tables at Grapes in between singing gigs at a variety of local bars and clubs and wine-tasting rooms. Her mother was less than thrilled with her, but since Roslyn actually was earning a living, there wasn’t much else her mom could do.

Danica was a Wilcox, and she and Caitlin had become friendly when Roslyn’s brother Adam began dating Danica’s sister Mason. In fact, they’d become so close that last summer Danica and Caitlin had decided they were done with dorm life and had gotten an apartment off-campus.

Anyway, even if Roslyn might not deserve a spring break, strictly speaking, Caitlin knew that she and Danica had definitely earned one. It had been strange to transfer to Northern Pines, to be someplace where she wasn’t surrounded on all sides by people who’d known her all her life…but it was also liberating. No one knew anything about the secret she was hiding. And since most of Flagstaff was made up of civilians — non-witches — most of them probably wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about the way she’d hidden her powers from her clan members. School was challenging, the coursework much more difficult than the classes she’d taken at the local community college, but she enjoyed it. She enjoyed feeling normal, even though she knew she wasn’t. Not really.

“Almost ready?” Danica called out, and Caitlin hopped on her suitcase to smash it closed tightly enough that the locks would engage. It weighed a ton, but she only had to get it down the apartment’s stairs and into Danica’s Land Rover. Danica’s parents had bought it for her used, but Caitlin still felt a twinge of jealousy every time she looked at her roommate’s SUV. She drove a hand-me-down Honda her mother had given her, and knew she should be glad she even had that much. No McAllister witch was poor, but neither were they conspicuously wealthy like the Wilcoxes.

Caitlin rolled out her suitcase, and carried the small weekender bag with her leftover odds and ends in her free hand. Traveling light was a skill she hadn’t quite mastered. “Ready!”

Danica was waiting in the living room, a leather jacket slung over the lightweight cotton top she wore underneath — a concession to the thirty-degree temperature difference between Tucson and Flagstaff. At her feet were her own suitcases, a lot newer and less shabby-looking than Caitlin’s own. “Roslyn just texted me. She’s all packed and ready, too, so we need to get moving.”

“No problem,” Caitlin said. It was not quite an hour drive to Jerome, and sort of out of their way, but they hadn’t wanted to take two cars down to the condo they were renting in Tucson. Or rather, the condo that Danica’s parents were renting for them.

“Oh, you girls just worry about your food and gas, and we’ll take care of the condo,” Danica’s mother had said, and although Caitlin had thought she should protest such over-generosity, she couldn’t really think of a good reason why, so she’d let it go. In a way, she supposed she should be glad Danica’s parents had relaxed enough about the whole McAllister/Wilcox thing that they hadn’t batted an eyelash about their daughter going off for a debauched four days in Tucson with a couple of McAllister girls. Funny how having your daughter married to someone from a different clan — Mason and Adam had gotten married last fall — could mellow a person.

They put their suitcases in the back of the Land Rover and headed down I-17, driving in companionable silence while Danica’s favorite retro metal played on the satellite radio. Caitlin tuned it out as best she could; if the worst that could be said about Danica was her terrible taste in music, then Caitlin figured she really didn’t have that much to complain about.

Not according to Roslyn, though. After they pulled up in front of the big Victorian house on Paradise Lane where she still lived with her parents, she tossed her luggage in the cargo compartment, got into the Land Rover, and wrinkled her nose. “Seriously? Am I going to have to listen to this noise all the way down to Tucson?”

“Yeah,” Danica replied. “Because I’m sure as hell not listening to that Taylor Swift crap you like for three straight hours.”

Roslyn shot a beseeching look in Caitlin’s direction, and she shrugged as she fastened her seatbelt. “Sorry, Ros. I think I’d rather listen to Black Sabbath than Taylor Swift, too.”

“You know, there’s good retro and bad retro,” Roslyn said darkly. But her expression was resigned. Danica’s car, Danica’s rules.

Caitlin smothered a smile as they headed down the hill and back toward the freeway. Even the impulse to smile faded soon enough, though, as that sensation began to creep over her once more, the way thunderheads would pile up above the Mogollon Rim to the east of the Verde Valley, presaging a wild summer storm.

Maybe she should have begged off and stayed up in Flagstaff, or come home to Jerome to spend a few days with her family, the way her mother had wanted her to. At the time, though, the trip to Tucson had seemed like a good idea. The plans had been made long before she began to get these vague feelings of unease. And, once those plans were made, she didn’t want to be the one to back out, since she was sort of the glue that held the other two together. Roslyn and Danica got along, but they were friends because they’d each been friends with Caitlin first.

“The little sister brigade,” Adam had called them once, and it was true. All three of them were the youngest child in their families. It was something else they had in common, something that helped them to bond. Roslyn probably had it worst, since she was the youngest of three, but even so, they all knew what it felt like to not be taken all that seriously half the time.

“Especially since Mason is such an overachiever,” Danica had complained once. “She can call fire out of the air and could make a river reverse its course if she wanted to, but of course that’s not enough — she has to get married and be working on her master’s degree at the same time. So I figure I’ll have to hang on and get a Ph.D. in physics or something before my parents take me seriously.”

At the time, Caitlin had just grinned at her friend’s exasperated expression, but she understood. Her own brother had always possessed an innate sense as to which flavors worked well together, a subtle magic, but one that had gotten him a chef position at one of the hottest new restaurants down in Cottonwood. He’d always known exactly what he wanted to do, whereas she….

Well, she’d been lying to everyone, including herself, for the past six years.

By the time they reached the outskirts of Phoenix, Danica relented and switched the station to one that played the sort of Top 40 pop Roslyn preferred. Caitlin wasn’t overly thrilled with the switch, since she preferred more alternative stuff, but she decided not to protest. They only had an hour to go, and if it really started to drive her crazy, she could dig the earbuds out of her purse and listen to Pandora on her phone.

The readout on the dash said it was eighty-one degrees outside. She shook her head, always surprised by the difference in the weather between Flagstaff and Phoenix, or even Jerome and Phoenix. This time of year, Jerome was still lucky to reach the mid-sixties, and sometimes you got hard frosts even into May. But Phoenix? It never seemed to cool down. Not really.

BOOK: Protector (The Witches of Cleopatra Hill Book 5)
8.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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