Read Winded Online

Authors: Sherri L. King

Winded

Winded

Sherri L. King

 

A Shikar story, set in the world of The Horde Wars
series.

 

Vetiver Device bears the same burden as generations of
Device women, protecting her tiny New England island from the Unnamed.
Merrymint is a doorway, and Vetiver the key. The last of her witch bloodline,
Vetiver calls to the elements to send help in fortifying the island’s wards.
She receives not only aid, but her destiny in warrior form.

Boreas of the Shikar heard Vetiver’s plea through layers of
worlds. She called to his Wind, and he answered, bringing with him a storm to
close the doorway forever. As for Vetiver, Boreas will bind her lush, ripe body
to his, fill her with intense carnal pleasure…and one day his essence.
Transforming her into a warrior-witch to stand by his side as wife, lover,
protector of the entire human race.

 

Ellora’s Cave Publishing

www.ellorascave.com

 

 

 

Winded

 

ISBN 9781419935497

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Winded Copyright 2011 Sherri L. King

 

Edited by Kelli Collins

Cover art by Darrell King

 

Electronic book publication July 2011

 

The terms Romantica® and Quickies® are registered trademarks of
Ellora’s Cave Publishing.

 

With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not
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permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.® 1056 Home
Avenue, Akron OH 44310-3502.

 

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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons,
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Winded

Sherri L. King

As I begin this story, there is a tornado warning in effect
and the wind outside is screaming. If that isn’t a plot device, I don’t know
what the hell is.

 

Chapter One

 

The witch stuck her pierced tongue out at the face peering
through the tiny slit in the lace curtains at the window. There was the faint,
muffled huff of indignation—expected—and the neighbor’s curtains fell shut.
From other houses along the small street, there were more eyes watching the
small, dark-haired woman as she bounded up the steep stairs that led to the
front door of her ancient, dilapidated Victorian-era house, but it was enough
that she’d caught one Nosy Nelly in the act. The others could—and would—stare
at her until her door closed shut behind her. It was the same routine every
morning when she left for work and merely an encore when she returned.

In a lot of ways, the houses lining the street were so
different from hers. On a dead-end road, her home was the odd man out, older,
taller, more ornate than the others. As she walked to the bus stop at the end
of the road each workday and back in the evenings, curious eyes watched her
every step, as if the neighbors expected her to sprout horns or something.

If the house and its grounds weren’t so important, if the
property hadn’t been in the family for generations, she would have given
serious thought to moving. It was, after all, a buyer’s market. But she was
stuck with it, with the responsibility it brought, and truth was, she adored
it. It had character. The other cookie-cutter houses that had slowly come to
occupy the acreage around her family’s estate had none. Neither did their
owners.

Vetiver Device had loads of character.

When the door opened, Ball, her mutt of a dog who was as big
as a Great Dane but covered with the curly, rough hair of an Irish Setter,
bounded to meet her with a grin on his face. His muddy brown hair covered a
powerful, solid body and he nearly knocked her down with his enthusiasm, for in
her hand she carried a brown paper bag—and he knew exactly what was in it.

“Baked fresh this afternoon.” Vetiver held the bag aloft as
she unwound her fuzzy scarf from her neck to hang it on the ancient hatrack.

It wouldn’t have surprised her if Ball had stood up on his
hind legs and taken the bag from her with his front paws. It wouldn’t have
surprised her if he’d opened his mouth and said “thank you” before wolfing down
the contents. Ball wasn’t like other dogs. For one thing, Ball had been in the
family since, well, hmm…

Before the Mayflower.

He’d been her mother’s dog until Vetiver had her first
period. And he’d been her grandmother’s dog until Vetiver’s mom had started her
menses. So on and so forth, for as long as the Device women had been keeping
journals, which has been since the year 1600 or so. He was loyal, faithful,
intelligent and completely devoted to each female heir from the time of her
sexual maturity until the next heiress blossomed into womanhood.

And he loved cod brain scones.

Vetiver worked at the oldest and most successful bakery in
Merrymint Island’s tourist district. The New England island was tiny, connected
to the mainland by one bridge only, or reached by ferry ride, but many went out
of their way just to have a meal at The Nut.

Every Thursday the local fishermen would bring in their
fresh cod—The Nut was famous for its fish sandwich Fridays and seafood stew
Saturdays—and Vetiver used the castoff pieces to bake Ball his favorite treats.
The heads, brains, eyes and cheeks of the poor dead fish would otherwise go to
waste, and it didn’t hurt anyone if the customers’ mouths watered at the
delicious aroma wafting from the hot kitchen, oblivious to its source. It
helped sell the sandwiches by the dozens and that was all that mattered to the
staff.

It also helped that Vetiver was ruler of the kitchen, and
had been since she’d taken a job there at age fifteen. One glance at her
tri-colored gray eyes and the locals knew her for a Device. No one dared cross
her, for more than one reasons. Which was fine with everyone, since she was
indisputably the best baker The Nut had ever seen in almost one hundred and
fifty years of operation. That, in itself, was a kind of magic—because more than
one Device had ruled those same kitchens before her.

“Come on, they’re still warm.” The scones would stay warm
for as long as she desired, but there was no call to point it out. Ball knew it
as well as she did.

Vetiver nudged him to the side with her hip and led the way
deeper into the house. The enormous kitchen was dimly lit by an overhead
chandelier hung from the vaulted ceiling, shining over a small, sixties-era
café dinette. She set two plates, one for her and one for Ball, laid his scones
out nicely for him—he was tall enough that he could eat from the table without
the use of a chair, though no doubt if it had served him to pull back a chair
and use it, he would have done so—and took from the bag her own dinner, wrapped
in wax cloth. A huge pumpkin and raisin muffin roughly half the size of her
plate, the second one she’d eaten today. Soft and sweet, dense and sticky, it
was her favorite autumn delicacy.

The two dined in comfortable silence, listening to the wind
muttering in the trees that surrounded the house and its grounds. The scent of
nutmeg and pumpkin mingled with the savory aroma of Ball’s meal reminded her of
years past. Good years, all of them. But how many were left? The world was
getting smaller every day. There were too many people and not enough space for
them all, especially not here on this very special island. The Merrymint of her
ancestors’ childhood years was gone. In the place of forests, meadows and parks
there now bloomed allotment housing and luxury condominiums.

It wasn’t easy, being what she was, doing all that she had
to do, with so many curious eyes upon her. Strangers, newcomers, who didn’t
understand why the Device family was so well respected in the community. City
folk, her granny had called them. They had started filling the empty spaces of
land during her childhood, so Granny had understood them better than Vetiver
ever could. City folk—people who had no respect for the mystical purpose of the
land on which they planted their plain, pillbox houses and two-car garages.

Vetiver knew it would only get worse with each passing
season. She owned less than twenty acres of precious land now. The house sat at
the front edge of the plot, and it stretched out behind like a mighty arm,
shielding the island from trespassers. Much of the property had been portioned
off in her lifetime by her mother, who couldn’t afford the taxes that kept
skyrocketing higher each year. Eventually, Vetiver would have to sell some of
the land too. Maybe. Probably. It was how the new world worked. Her family
might be one of the originals in this country, but that legacy meant
diddly-squat when the taxman came calling.

“Things could be a lot worse, right Ball?” she asked aloud,
knowing her companion would have intuited her thoughts just as he had hundreds
of other Device women over his preternatural lifetime. “They may call me a
witch but they don’t believe it. It’s just a word to them. An insult. We know
differently, and I’m better at finding money than Mom was.” She winked at him
and he smiled his toothsome grin, already finished with his dinner. “Still,
it’s not money that’s the problem these days, is it?’ She absently fingered a
long, twisting lock of nearly black hair. “I could own half the island and
there would still be overcrowding. I could stop wearing the piercings, the
morbid clothes, the heavy eyeliner, but with so many new residents, someone is
still bound to notice the
really
weird stuff and that would make my life
hell. Better they just think I wear tri-colored contacts and enjoy the grungy
emo look. Bah.”

Ball shook his head, trod over to his water dish and took a
deep draught. He didn’t drink like a dog. He didn’t use his tongue to lap up
the liquid. Rather, he lowered his muzzle into the bowl and drew the water in
much like a horse at a trough. Vetiver assumed that from his point of view, it
was probably a more civilized way to drink.

A heavy sigh exploded out of her. “Why can’t the neighbors
just go on holiday for the weekend? There’s so much to do, I’ll have my hands
full enough without having to worry about witnesses.”

Outside, the breezes muttered. The trees seemed restless
this evening too. They sensed Vetiver’s maudlin mood and reflected it. She
needed to think more upbeat thoughts before a real storm brewed. It had thus
far been a relatively calm season and she didn’t want to upset anything by
brooding on things she couldn’t change.

The equinox approached. She felt it looming, boiling in her
blood with the threat it promised. It would be her second Warding ritual
performed without her mother and grandmother beside her. She was a coven of
one. Well, two, if she included Ball.
He
certainly would. Nonetheless,
Vetiver was overwhelmed by the task ahead of her.

Now was a dangerous time. She needed to watch her step, even
as she struggled to muster the power needed to bind the island against the evil
just waiting in the wings to seize it. Vetiver had to be sure no one saw her,
but more than that, she needed to ensure no one saw what she was keeping out of
and off the land.

This was no solstice ritual. That was easy enough. It was
more a celebration than a task or responsibility. A time of blessings. The
autumnal equinox would test her limits. If luck held, the nosy neighbors who
most liked to watch her every step would have something interesting to watch on
television or something.

It was risky.

It would be an immense undertaking.

Someone would see.

A frown playing at her mouth, Vetiver took the dirty plates
to the kitchen sink and washed them. She stared out the little square window
over the basin. The glass was old, handmade, and distorted the view with the
imperfections of a long-lost art. All of the windows in the house were original
and they would never need replacing. Nothing in the house ever broke or wore
down. Just to add a hint of normalcy, Vetiver let the paint peel on the outside
and allowed the old iron fencing to gather some rust, just a few necessary
cosmetic flaws that didn’t need to be addressed. They drew curious eyes to
superficial matters while more important work was being done right beneath
their noses.

“What better way to hide than in plain sight?” her mother
often said. “Let them look, let them wag their tongues, so long as their talk
is all based on the lies we show them. The truth would frighten them and no
matter how tempting it might be, we can’t shock them by revealing what we are.”

But her mother wasn’t here now. Both Vetiver’s mother and
grandmother had died in a car accident. It was a strange twist of fate that two
powerful women should be undone by one careless turn of the wheel. The drunken
driver of the other vehicle hadn’t been hurt too bad—had even been discharged
from the hospital that very night, with only minor scrapes to show for the
great harm he’d done.

He had died in his sleep that night. It wasn’t Vetiver’s doing.
Not directly. She’d wanted revenge, of course she had, but she’d been too mired
in her sadness and mourning to have even dared.

Ball had avenged her family in her stead. When he’d told
Vetiver—through the bond they shared—what he had done, Vetiver had felt oddly
numb about it. She wasn’t glad for what her familiar had done, not exactly, but
neither was she unhappy about it. It didn’t matter how she felt in the end,
because killing the one responsible hadn’t brought her family back.

“Maintain balance,” Vetiver muttered, using an old,
well-worn towel to dry off the dishes. Still looking out into the emerald
darkness behind her house, she repeated the litany that had been instilled in
her since birth. But the world wasn’t balanced and she was only one witch. How
was that fair?

Ball leaned heavily against her, his shoulder pressing into
her hip. She reached down and absently scratched behind his ears. “Let’s take a
walk.”

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