Ready for a Shadow Sworn Excerpt?

I think it’s time for a little bit of Shadow Sworn, don’t you? We’re just over two weeks away now! Enjoy!

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ShadowSwornCoverHalfSizeAfter two more days of struggling through work, Sophie was relieved to make it to her day off. She was grateful for the first time since she began working at the resort for the reduced hours that came with the end of the tourist season. Always, before, she’d had her aunt’s debts and the possibility of losing her land hanging over her head. Autumn had always brought the scurry for part time jobs to fill in the missing income.

This year, her meager salary would be enough to cover her living expenses, now that the debt had been paid. Sophie stood in her kitchen and smiled a little to herself. Though, at the time, when Calder had bought her house out from under her at auction, she hadn’t found the situation nearly as comforting.

She leaned against the butcher block counter in her cozy kitchen, sipping one of her favorite herbal tea blends from her favorite antique tea cup. She forced herself to stay, to be calm, to focus on the moment. She forced herself to see the way the late afternoon sun gleamed across the newly-waxed wood floor, the way the light picked up the subtle floral pattern on the area rug in the living room. She held onto Calder’s advice, and hoped that if she could do this one thing, if she could slow down, and focus, and truly exist in the moment… if she could do that, then she could stay mostly sane.

So she stood, the herbal scent of her tea wafting toward her, sun shining in the windows.

And she needed it. She’d spent the entire day with Calder, but he had left a while ago to see Bryce about his ugly car and the hunt the two of them were planning. They did a long hunt every fall, Calder, Bryce, and Calder’s brother, Jon. Calder had initially called it off for that year, and, at Sophie’s insistence, he’d agreed to reschedule with his friend and his brother. She didn’t want his entire life changing, and she didn’t want him to feel like he was singularly devoted to babysitting her.

Though how she would manage for a week, when she was nearly out of her mind having him away from her for even an hour, made her break out in a cold sweat. This possessiveness was part of the curse she’d taken from him. Every time he walked away from her, even if it was simply to leave the house to grab the mail or feed Merlin, it made her edgy, as if she wanted to drag him back and keep him. She’d wondered, at first, how much of that was just her. After a lifetime spent wanting him, she had Calder. She had the one man she’d ever truly wanted, and she knew the rest of their lives wouldn’t be enough.

She smiled, remembering that conversation. How pleased Calder had looked to hear her say those words, the way his face had softened, the warmth in his gaze. The way he’d slowly run his hands down her sides, over her hips, and pulled her toward him. How he’d told her that the insane possessive thing was all the curse, but that she should remember that idea about forever not being long enough for those times when he would undoubtedly manage to piss her off.

She shook her head with a smile and gulped down the last of her tea. She had a quiet house, and time to focus, and she had other things to do besides stand there mooning over Calder. She glanced at the potted plant she’d picked up the day before, sitting on the windowsill near the table where she and Calder ate their meals. She’d bought it on clearance from the local nursery because it was wilted and potbound. That was reassuring, in its way. If she killed it as she seemed to kill so many other plants of late, at least she would have the comfort of knowing it was likely on its way out, anyway.

It had wilted a bit more in her presence, and she supposed it could have been from her Shadow magic. But it could not, as well.

She walked over to the windowsill and picked up the plant, its terra cotta pot cool in her hands. She carried it back to the kitchen and set it on the counter.

And she focused.

She called to mind the magic she’d worked so often, that healing, life-giving magic that had once come to her. It had never roared through her, and it had never come easily. Always, working her magic had been like coaxing a shy animal out of hiding. It had been delicate, painstaking work.

She looked at the plant, and focused first on her gratitude for the Light, for its beauty and richness, for its life-affirming energy.

The fact that she could not longer feel it was something she forced herself not to think about.

She spent a moment sending her apologies to the Light for what she had allowed herself to become. For allowing the Light within her to be profaned, to the point that she’d lost it completely.

She sent a prayer that she would once again be worthy, that the fact that her intentions had been those of a Lightwitch would be enough.

Those things done, she turned her attention once again to the plant. It was an English ivy, and its leaves wilted horribly. Some were brown, some a sickly yellow.

She focused, and recalled the spell she’d used so often.

She could see it. She could see the way the spell was supposed to work, just as she always had. She could see the way she was supposed to cast the spell, the way the magic was supposed to work, the way her power was supposed to wrap itself around the plant, the Light’s power combining with the inherent life force within the plant.

She could see it, and yet she could not call forth even a spark of the Light magic she’d once had.

She focused harder, no longer coaxing. Calling. Commanding.

Begging.

To her utter dismay, instead of Light answering her call, she felt Shadow rise within her. She tried to stop focusing, tried to let the spell drop. She could still envision the way her spell was supposed to work, and as she stood there, she could see Shadow twisting, working its way into the spell she’d been trying to perform.

Sophie gave a strangled cry and closed her eyes, shook her head to break her focus. She felt the spell fall apart, this time with some relief.

The plant looked no worse for wear, she noticed as she looked it over. It didn’t look any better, either, but at least it wasn’t worse.

“One more time,” she murmured to herself. She knew she was reaching the end of her ability to focus at all, as she stood there with her stomach growling in insane hunger, her throat dry with thirst, her body yearning for release. She forced herself to focus. She would have to learn to ignore the hunger. Master it, somehow.

She rebuilt the spell until she was able to see it. This part, she could do. It felt familiar to when she was learning to use her magic, when she was in her teens and early twenties. At first, all she’d been able to do was see the spells she read about online. See the mechanics of them, how they went together. Eventually, she’d learned to fill them with her Light magic, and had been delighted to see plants grow healthier, animals heal, and humans find themselves feeling heartier. She’d worked the magic over and over again, putting a bit of that healing magic into the soaps and lotions she’d once made.

She focused then, holding the spell in her mind, her eyes closed, her hands in front of her, fingers moving every once in a while as she imitated the gestures she’d so often made when casting.

She coaxed. Pleaded. And once again, she was rewarded only with Shadow slithering its way through what she’d made. She groaned in frustration, and the spell shattered.

She plopped down onto one of the dining room chairs and looked at the plant in frustration. She held some hope. At least she could still see the way her magic was supposed to work. As she sat, she looked at the plant without really seeing it, her mind racing as her body nearly screamed with her endless hunger. She could see the way Light magic worked. Did Shadow work the same way? Would she be able to build the spells the way she did with Light?

She shook her head, pushing the thought away. She had no desire to learn how to work Shadow magic. She didn’t want it, and she certainly didn’t want to learn about how to use it.

That crazy, restless energy she’d inherited with Calder’s curse had her gritting her teeth, and she finally gave up. She stood and stepped into her sneakers. She let herself out the back door of her cottage, and headed for the woods, stopping to scratch Merlin’s ears on the way. He gave her a cranky bleat in return, and she shook her head, then took off toward the woods.

She would run off this energy. And then she would come home and try to cook. She hadn’t managed to even cook since the brownie incident.  The two times she’d tried, she’d burned everything, distracted by Calder’s curse.

But today, she’d surprise Calder with dinner, and she’d try to pretend that everything was just fine.

 

***

Calder pulled into his driveway and climbed out of his truck. He pulled the box he’d picked up at the post office out of the back of the truck. The taillights he’d been waiting for to complete Bryce’s slightly-less-ugly car had finally come in. He looked the vintage Dodge over. It was coming along. It ran now, and he’d completed the body work, getting rid of the dings and rust that had accumulated over the years. Of course, there was still the interior to deal with, but he was happy with his progress so far.

He had two more restorations lined up after he finished Bryce’s, and one he was working on while he waited for parts to come in. He glanced at the other car he was working on, a 1970 Barracuda. He’d had more requests for Barracudas in the past few months, and he wondered at the sudden popularity again. There were cycles to all things, and which old cars were trendy was apparently one of them.

Calder stowed the box in his garage, then pulled the garage door shut and looked toward Sophie’s house. Maybe they’d go out to dinner that night, he thought to himself. He didn’t feel like cooking, and she seemed less freaked out by the idea of going out where other people were. He felt his guilt crash over him, the way it did every time he thought of the woman he loved bearing his curse. And while he understood her reasoning, while he understood that she was stronger and better able to handle it than he was, he still couldn’t deny that he was angry with her for taking it. Her reasoning had been based on love and logic, but all he could see when he saw that insanity in her eyes, the insanity that had been so familiar to him, was the fact that the woman he loved was hurting because of him.

And he’d had no say in the matter.

He loved her, more than he’d ever loved anyone. He would do anything for her. And she’d told him time and time again that she couldn’t stand by and watch him fall into insanity, the way his father and every first-born male in his family before him had. She couldn’t do it, because she loved him.

Yet he was supposed to be okay with watching her fall apart. The love of his life, who’d lived through hell already and now had a whole new kind of hell to deal with. He was supposed to be fine with watching her suffer under a curse that was his to bear.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. They’d been over and over it. They’d both said everything they could on the matter, more times than he could count. And it always came down to the fact that what was done couldn’t be undone, and that she was stronger and better able to deal with his curse. His bear did not combine well with the insanity the curse brought. It was a deadly combination that would have resulted, eventually, in Calder having to be kept imprisoned the way his father had.

I can’t do that to you, Calder. I couldn’t lock you up, and you’d end up killing me or someone else. Is that what  you want?

Words thrown at him when she’d reached the breaking point. Words he hadn’t been able to refute, no matter how much he’d wanted to.

Calder swallowed his anger and guilt and crossed the road to her house. As he walked up the gravel driveway, he could hear music coming from the house. The Supremes, he realized. And, the closer he got to the house, he realized he could hear Sophie singing along.

He raised his nose into the air, scenting it. Venison. She was cooking.

And it didn’t even smell burned, he realized with a smile.

He stepped up onto the small porch at the front of the cottage and walked in, the scent of venison and herbs surrounding him, overlaid with her scent, that clean, wild scent that was his woman. Her back was to him as she stirred something on the stove, and she sang, and he watched as her hips moved side to side with the music. Her long, thick curls cascaded down her back, nearly reaching her luscious ass. He practically salivated at the sight.

And this was why, no matter how pissed he was that she’d taken his curse without asking, it was all too easy for him to forget to be irritated with her. One look, and he was a goner.

She turned then and saw him, and she smiled, her dark eyes sparkling.

“Hey, sexy,” she said, coming over to him and wrapping her arms around his waist.

“I don’t think I’m the sexy one here,” he murmured as he lowered his lips to hers.

“Mm. You have no idea,” she whispered against his lips. Then she smiled up at him. “I didn’t burn anything,” she said, and he laughed.

“It smells fantastic,” he said. Together, they set the table, and she plated up a fragrant stew of venison, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and a rich sauce for him. For herself, a baked potato and a side of roasted carrots. They sat and Calder lifted his fork to his mouth. The rich, meaty flavor of the stew only made him feel hungrier, and he dug in, finishing off one plate and getting up to grab a second helping before he even realized it. Sophie laughed a little, and he threw her a grin.

He polished off his second plate, and contemplated a third. There was enough left in the pot for one more helping, he thought.

He looked across the table at Sophie, mesmerized by the sight of her lips around the tines of her fork. The stew was promptly forgotten, just as quickly as his thought of a third helping had come on. He watched as she took another bite, her lush lips closing over her fork, then sliding down the tines as she pulled the fork back out.

“What?” she asked with a bit of a laugh.

Busted.

“You have the most gorgeous mouth,” he said, aware of the low growl in his voice. She stilled at his tone, and he could smell another scent now, even stronger than the stew, than her wild scent.

The intoxicating scent of her desire.

“Calder,” she began softly. He watched her, the way her ample breasts heaved with her shallow breaths, the way her skin flushed a rosy pink under his gaze. He stood up, and without another word, he picked her up and carried her over to the daybed in the living room, dinner completely forgotten in the maddening haze of his need for her.

***

There you go! Shadow Sworn will be out on September 8th (though there’s a very slight chance I’ll have it ready before then. We’ll see!)

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