Five for Friday

Happy Friday everybody!

As is fast becoming traditional, Lila has assigned me, her Farm Boy to write this week’s Five for post.

I wasn’t sure if anyone in the cyberverse (to Gerald Manley Hopkinise a word) was paying any attention to my mindless ramblings (please get commenting people!). It turns out that many of you have been emailing Lila, telling her that they were (re-)discovering her earlier work. In turn I have to thank you all because (and hopefully this isn’t too much information) I’ve been getting very lucky; Lila has been finding very creative ways to show her appreciation for my posts. 😉

*Farm Boy reluctantly takes his mind from the gutter and gets himself back on-topic*

For this week’s excerpt we are leaving the world of erotic high fantasy romance and moving to the genre of erotic paranormal romance. Below you will find the first five pages of Calling the Wild. If I remember correctly, this was one of the first books Lila wrote but she sat on it for a long time before submitting it to an editor.

Destiny is waiting…

Moira doesn’t know who’s hunting her, but she knows why. In her youth she unleashed a deadly force that killed everything within range—a strange power she has vowed never to use again.

Needing protection, she risks a bit of the old magic to call for backup. She gets more than she asks for. A lot more. A proud, sexually magnetic, enraged centaur who’s far from a quiet, obedient servant.

Kiron at first tries to intimidate the witch into freeing him, but she possesses more backbone than the average human. When she’s attacked again, he realizes she’s not a real witch. In fact, she’s not even human. And the sparks flying between them have nothing to do with the magical shackles that bind them together.

Curiosity grows to admiration, then to a love that in the end may not be enough to protect her. Moira’s enemies are closing in, intending to harness her power to restore a dark kingdom that has lain dormant for a thousand years. There’s only one, heart-wrenching way out—give herself over to the full extent of her powers hoping that her true destiny lies with Kiron, and not in fulfilling a prophecy of death…

Chapter One

They had to die.

Palm trees waved in the tropical breeze, white sand sparkled in the sunlight and the coral sails of pleasure yachts dotted the turquoise horizon. The palette of pastels was marred by a single dark spot. The woman’s waist-length black hair fell down her back in a straight curtain, immune to the breeze. She lifted her face to the gentle sun, eyes slit and teeth bared. The air around her shuddered as she opened her mouth and screamed inrage. She threw out a hand, fingers stabbing toward the ships on the horizon. The depths of the ocean, places that knew no light, and little life save the sinking bones of those that died above, responded to her command. A great wave of water, the gaping maw of a terrible beast, rose and swallowed the ships, killing all aboard them.

She turned her attention to the ocean’s thriving shallows. She walked into the surf and death spread before her, staining the water as if with oil. The ocean recognized, and obeyed her. Fish bubbled to the surface, pale bellies turned up. Those animals that were large enough to fight thrashed in the water, churning up bubbly froth, but there was no escape. They threw themselves on the sand, choosing death by land rather than suffer under her touch. Carcasses of dolphins and seals desecrated the previously pristine beach.

The land would suffer next. Her feet left black impressions in the sand as she abandoned the ocean and walked towards the line of palms that framed the beach. He waited for her in the shadows of the trees.  She could not see him. She could never see him, but she knew him. She smiled as she brushed her fingertips against the first palm, keeping her eyes on the shadowy figure, letting him know she did it for him. A wedding gift. The palm shriveled and blackened, ashes of fronds falling like rain around her.

As death spread to the other trees, sucking the life from both flora and fauna, he beckoned to her. He was not afraid of her, would not condemn her. He would welcome her touch. She could not hurt him. She would be free.

She walked into the dying forest and into his arms.

No, no, no. The litany of denial woke Moira from her dream. She lay still, eyes closed and listened to the frantic thumping of her own heart. The dream lingered with her, refusing to fade as a dream should. She could taste ash, as if she’d opened her mouth to the rain of dying palm fronds.

Moira grabbed her jeans, bra and shirt from the floor beside her makeshift bed. It was nearly freezing in the abandoned house she was squatting in, so she wiggled into her clothes while still cocooned in warm blankets. Dressed, she slid out of bed and made her way to the bathroom. Luckily, there was running water, and she washed her face and hands, looking in the cracked mirror only long enough to confirm she was still blonde.

She was tired, but would not risk sleeping again. Folding a threadbare towel to use as a cushion, she sat on the floor with her back against the cold wall. It was a few hours before dawn, and a few hours more until her destination for the day opened. Sitting cross-legged, she absently opened and closed her right hand. Each time her fingers opened a small flame flickered to life in her palm. The action was absentminded, like a smoker toying with a lighter.

Had it been a dream, a product of her subconscious? Or had it been a vision, a message implanted in her sleeping mind? She didn’t have an answer.

Moira smiled, but not with joy or laughter. Lack of answers was a state of being for her. A year ago she’d been a happy twenty-something college student. So what if she was a witch? Everyone had secrets, and hers was more harmless than most, as her magic was entirely benign. She’d worked hard to make sure of that.

But her life had changed, become a cold place of fear and endless questions. She couldn’t go on like this. A year on the run had worn her down, whittled away the outer layers of who she was. She was not ashamed of what she’d become, because though she’d compromised some of her morals, the core of who she was remained.

But she was tired.

Tired of running, tired of not knowing, tired of living in the moment scared to dream of a future.

She was going to change that. It was time to fight back. She’d already begun to fight by gathering information. Soon she’d know exactly who was after her and why.

She shied away from that, not wanting to concentrate on the “why”. She’d be better off just focusing on her next step.

Moira opened her eyes. Pale light spilled across the floor from windows caked in grime. Time to go.

She used a colorful scarf to cover her hair and changed her sweatshirt for a white peasant blouse. Looking more the part of a young witch, she grabbed a patchwork purse and the bus schedule. She left the dilapidated house, sealed it behind her with a spell, and trudged to the bus stop, alert for any sign of her enemies.

Moira examined a wind chime and waited for the other customer in the store to leave. The plump female patron was chatting with the storekeeper, going on and on about how she was trying to reduce her carbon footprint. Moira started flicking the wind chimes, hoping to remind both customer and owner she was there. After several minutes of this, and several dirty looks from the customer, Moira’s annoyance tactic worked and the plump woman gathered her bag of organic herbs and left.

Stilling the wind chimes, Moira headed for the counter. The shop was a combination garden and holistic medicine store. Jars of dried herbs lined the wall behind the counter, while their live counterparts grew in pretty ceramic pots on a long table.

“Hello, miss, what can I help you with today?” The shopkeeper was a pretty woman in her late fifties.

There were laugh lines around her eyes, but her cheeks were smooth and her short bob of medium brown hair was glossy and unmarked by gray.

“I’m looking for some advice,” Moira said, using her best non-threatening smile.

“Of course, what ailment are you looking for help with?”

“I wouldn’t exactly call it an ailment, what I need is a… power boost.”

The woman’s eyes narrowed, but her smile remained. “Ginseng can help with energy levels.”

“I don’t think a herb is what I’m looking for.”

“Herbs are all I have to offer you.”

“Really? We have a mutual friend in Arizona who might disagree. She said you could help me.”

“Oh? I’m sorry, I don’t know anyone in Arizona. What did you say her name was?”

“I didn’t, and won’t, say her name. I think you know who I’m talking about.”

The woman’s hand twitched towards a slender piece of wood sticking out of the pen cup by the register. Moira grabbed the woman’s wrist before she could grab her wand, giving it a slight squeeze.

“I need help,” Moira said, pretense gone. “All I need is information. If you give it to me I’ll walk out of here, and you can pretend we never met.”

“Who are you?”

“No one. Now, is there someplace more private we could talk?”

The woman came out from behind the counter, lips pressed tight together, the frown forming brackets around the her mouth. She locked the front door of the shop and motioned Moira to follow. The shopkeeper led her behind the counter and through a back door.

As Moira passed through the doorway a hiss sounded from her left. Whipping her head towards the noise she saw a fat gray cat perched on a table. The cat hissed again, and Moira returned the favor, pulling back her lips and hissing. The cat blinked smoke-colored eyes, leapt off the table and bounded over to rub against Moira’s ankles before flopping down on its back, fuzzy belly exposed.

“Sasha doesn’t like anyone,” the shopkeeper said accusingly.

“Lucky me. It’s nothing. Cats like me.”

“What do you want?” The woman folded her arms, radiating dislike.

Moira examined the room, keeping an eye on the woman in case she tried something. The room was a high-level magical workspace. Much like a good kitchen it had plenty of counter space, and a thoughtfully positioned sink, oven and refrigerator. Framed prints of images from famous grimoires, the kind known to everyone in the magical community, hung on the walls.

“This is a beautiful room, it has a powerful aura.” Moira pressed her hand to the wall and felt a faint pulse of residual magic.

Her compliment softened the woman, as she’d known it would. “This is my dream workroom. It took me years to plan it out.”

“It shows.” Moira smiled then looked at the stove, where a teakettle waited.

“Would you like some tea?” the shopkeeper asked, succumbing to manners despite her wariness.

“I would, thank you.”

While the shopkeeper made tea Moira perched on a stool, watching her hostess work. It felt strange not to know the woman’s name, but a year of bitter experience had taught Moira that it was easier if they remained anonymous. The shopkeeper brought over two steaming mugs. Moira made a pretense of sipping, letting the hot liquid brush her lip, but didn’t swallow any. It smelled divine, and was probably perfectly balanced for a witch, but she couldn’t risk it. Not being able to drink that lovely cup of tea was just another small casualty in a long list of things her enemies had stolen from her.

“What do you need?” the shopkeeper asked again, stroking the gray cat, who’d jumped up on the counter to rub against Moira’s shoulder. The woman’s hand brushed Moira. She leaned away from the cat, removing herself from touching range.

“I need power. I’m in a…situation that requires a heavy spell load, and I need more power than I have.”

The woman frowned at her, rubbing her fingers together as if testing what she’d felt of Moira. “You are not magically weak.”

“No,” Moira said cautiously, “but I need more power, I need a way to draw more power from the earth than I get on a daily basis from normal activities.”

“If you need more power you should use more herbs in your spells. That is the best way to use the Earth’s power, use the power that plants naturally draw as they grow.”

“I don’t have the luxury of taking time to prepare potions. If plants are the best way, could I…drink a veggie smoothie or something?”

The shopkeeper blinked, blinked again and then burst out laughing. The tension that had hummed just under the surface wavered and broke under the laughter. The woman rubbed her cheeks and huffed out a final laugh. “It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed like that, so thank you. It amazes me what you young people think. No, you can’t make a smoothie.”

Moira smiled, not offended by the woman’s attitude. She’d rather be laughed at and get what she needed than act offended and leave empty handed.

“Now, to be serious,” the shopkeeper said, “I feel fear in you, not malice, so I will trust you do not need this power for offense. Do you hold by the witch’s creed to harm none?”

Moira looked the woman in the eye, and lied. “Yes.”

“Then there’s a way. Pure magic is too wild for us to draw directly from the earth. If you attempt it the magic will burn you from the inside out, and it would be a painful death. Magic must be filtered. Normally we filter it through plants, in our spells, but it can be filtered through a living being.” The shopkeeper had lapsed into a lecturing tone. Moira would have bet more money than she’d seen in a long time that the woman was a Mistress and apprenticed young witches.

“Do you mean a familiar?” Moira looked at the cat suspiciously.

“No, that would be cruel to the animal because it forces them to hold more magic than they are designed to, though it was done in the dark past. There is some debate among modern scholars as to whether it is ethical to use a familiar if that familiar chooses the witch—”

Moira cleared her throat and fiddled with her teacup. She didn’t need an entry-level magic lecture.

She’d done her apprenticeship like every other witch.

The shopkeeper raised a brow and said, “I’m talking about a magical creature.” The woman looked at the wall behind Moira’s head. Moira twisted in her seat.

The back wall of the workroom was dominated by a framed picture showing a wild, tangled, forest. A faun played a flute in the foreground while fairies danced along branches, and goblins peeked out from under toadstools.

Archaic script beneath the illustration read “The Wild”.

Moira turned sharply back to the woman. “You mean the The Wild.”

“Yes.”

“A witch can draw raw power directly through one of the creatures of The Wild?”

“It is old magic and not often used, but it can be done. I should warn you that not every witch can do it. The ability to do so depends on the will of the God and Goddess.”

“How would I find one of the creatures of The Wild? And if I did, how would I get it to agree to stay with me so I could draw on its power?” Moira’s mind was racing with the possibilities, but she knew the image of The Wild hanging on the wall was romanticized. The creatures of The Wild were not cute and benign, they were, well… wild.

“It is not a matter of asking them. You call them and bind them.”

Moira’s mouth dropped open in shock. “You enslave them?”

“Yes. That is why it is not often attempted.”

“But…a creature of The Wild would hate that. Wouldn’t they attack the witch who performed the spell?”

“The binding spell prevents them from doing so. The spell also forces the creature to stay by the witch’s side. If they get too far away the spell causes the creature, and the witch, great pain.”

Moira tapped her fingers along the rim of her mug. “I didn’t expect this.”

“Many witches condemn the practice. That is another reason it is not common knowledge.”

“It’s not against the witch’s creed?” Moira asked.

The woman tilted her head. “It depends on the intent of the witch. If they call The Wild to use the power for evil, it is. There is some minimal harm done to the creature, as they are forced to leave their own lives to become a part of the witch’s, but nothing lasting, and The Wild is considered a magical element. It is not against the creed to pluck juniper leaves, and The Wild is as much a magical resource as any plant.”

Moira wanted to believe the woman, but there was no getting around the fact that they were talking about a form of magical slavery.

“Have you ever done it?” she asked.

The shopkeeper pulled back. Tension sprang up between them. Moira had gone too far.

“It’s time you left,” the woman said, collecting Moira’s teacup.

“Please, I didn’t mean to offend you. I promise, I will leave. Tell me, what’s the spell?”

“Cast a circle in the heart of the darkest forest, use chalice and blade. Heat blood and wine, draw the smoke of both into a thread, use the thread to bind the creature.”

“What creature will it be?”

“You won’t know until they arrive, prepare for anything. Now, leave.”

Moira slid from her stool and left, feeling the weight of the woman’s dislike on her shoulders as she went. She unlocked the store’s front door and let herself out. Forcing herself not to look back, Moira headed for the bus stop. If she let herself think about what had just happened she would regret not forming a friendship with a witch that powerful and interesting. There’d been a time when Moira easily made, and kept, friends. But now her life was too dangerous. The bitter irony was that she’d met dozens of interesting people over the past year, but could call none of them friend. When—if—she was able to reclaim her life, she would look these people up again. She would once more be the friendly, smiling Moira.

She needed to think about the option the shopkeeper had given her. She needed help, there was no doubt of that, but she was not sure she could bring herself to enslave a member of The Wild. If she did do it, how would she house it, feed it? The logistics were daunting. There had to be another way.

Read more about Calling the Wild here.

Other International Heat authors with Five for Friday posts include:
Bianca D’Arc,
Jambrea Jo Jones,
Mari Carr and
Rhian Cahill.

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