🔥📚Samantha Snow’s House Of Vampires [FREE] Sneak Peak

A special treat for Simply Shifters subscribers who have not yet checked out Samantha Snow’s bestselling series, “House Of Vampires“.

The opening chapter is available to read for free below, enjoy!

Available on Kindle Unlimited. To start reading the book in full then click here!


Blurb:

“One minute she was flipping burgers, the next minute she was living in a mansion with 4 handsome vampires who all wanted to be the father of her child…”

When her grandmother passed away, 19 year old Lorena Quinn was left a small fortune in her will.

Along with a further surprise.

Upon accepting the inheritance, Lorena learned that she was central to a prophecy. A prophecy that forecast the end of the world and Lorena was the only one who could save it.

For this to happen, Lorena would have to have a child with one of the four sons of Vlad. Commonly known as vampires.

Now she has to choose which of the four eligible vampire bachelors will be the father of her child.

However, before she makes her choice, she must first live with them. All of them, at the same time…


CHAPTER ONE

 

I should have been able to recognize my grandmother’s house, even though I had never been there. They were all supposed to look pretty much the same, right? A picket fence, happy little mailbox, and lacy handmade curtains that fluttered in the middle of the midsummer breeze. Maybe there would be a fat dog or a moody cat lounging on a porch cluttered with the shoes of her many visiting grandchildren. My grandmother’s house had none of these things. At least, not as far as I could see.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I muttered under my breath.

I pulled my powder blue VW Bug into the tiny driveway, parked beneath the aluminum car port, and double checked the GPS on my phone to make sure that I hadn’t taken a left turn for the Twilight Zone. 1730 Sparrow Field Lane, middle of nowhere Virginia. Yup. My phone, complete with Wonder Woman phone case, promised me that I was there. Okay, fine. Whatever. I turned off the navigation app and looked at the house, trying not to feel completely disappointed.

I must have pictured my grandmother’s place a thousand times. I mean, my dad never really talked about her or anything, but I had always wondered about her. Who wouldn’t? Especially since I didn’t have a whole lot of family to start with, it was just me and dad, and we were always moving around, so I didn’t have many friends either. Sometimes, I wondered if she was ridiculously rich, like Bill Gates rich, and that she was living in some super fancy place where you had to wear some kind of futuristic implant on the wrist just to get past security.

And sometimes I wondered if she was, like Dad said sometimes, crazy. That maybe her place was really the psych ward at a hospital. I have a really active imagination. Dad blames my choices in hobbies, but I blame my complete lack of friends.

The house, being nothing like I had imagined, was old and shabby, and it looked like it was going to fall right off the side of the mountain that it clung to. Once upon a time, it might have been a cute little rustic cottage, but it was a few decades beyond that. It was built with dark tree logs, cabin style, with a little porch that was decorated with what looked like ten different wind chimes, all made of different materials. There was no cute animal lounging in the sun or pile of kids’ shoes. Just an old rocking chair with a single pillow so faded that I couldn’t tell what the pattern had been.

“Jeez,” I groaned as I opened up my car door, grabbed my lone box of possessions out of the passenger seat, and stepped out into the Appalachian sunshine. For October, it was pretty warm, still hovering in the mid-seventies with a heavy breeze; just cool enough for me to get away with wearing my jean jacket over a t-shirt, complete with screen-printed dragon, and jeans so worn they were almost white. I tugged the jacket closer and pulled a very crumpled envelope off the very top of the box.

The box was what I called “my stuff.” ‘. My dad moved a lot for work. He’s in district marketing. I didn’t t know what that means, exactly, but it usually winds up with us going from one place to the next just as I start to feel settled in.

Since mom disappeared when I was little, I pretty much had to do whatever he said. My best friends when I was a kid were comics, books, and handheld video games. Don’t judge; that stuff can keep you from getting lonely. My Stuff, capital letters please, was chock full of my favorite things: the things that I couldn’t live without in case the moving van lost half of our worldly possessions…again.

Inside the envelope were three things. The first was a letter. It must have been folded and unfolded thirty times.  I knew, because it had been me that did the folding. The creases in the paper were starting to come apart.

To Miss Lorena Meredith Quinn, the first line read. That was me, though I couldn’t remember anyone ever calling me “Miss” unless they were really polite or really pissed. Sometimes both. I have that effect on people.

It is my duty, though not my pleasure, to inform you of the passing of Loretta Quinn, your grandmother, as of August 31st of this year. I am sorry for the late notice. We attempted to reach out to your father first, but received no response.

I snorted. Yeah, like my dad was ever going to respond to the death of the woman he was really busy pretending didn’t exist.

Your grandmother has left all of her belongings to you: the house that she spent her life in and everything within it. Her savings, which totals to an amount of six hundred and eighty thousand dollars and thirty seven cents, is also to be passed on to you. 

Cha-ching, I thought to myself, and then felt immediately guilty about it. Yeah, it was cool to suddenly have money, but I kind of would have preferred to meet my grandma. Still, a couple hundred thousand dollars was going to go a long way to paying off the student loans for that two-thirds of a year of college I had flunked out of and the credit card that I had already maxed out.

I’m not terrible with money, just throwing that out there. I am, or was, a minimum wage employee without health benefits and a totally broken arm last year. While my dad’s insurance paid for most of it, it hadn’t covered the time I couldn’t work and the bills that I’d had to pay while hauling around a cast that weighed half as much as me, which is no small amount, thank you very much.

While no amount of money can replace the love that your grandmother had for you, it was stipulated in her will that in order for you to receive this inheritance, you must spend at least six months at her home in Colt Valley, Virginia. I hope to see you soon.

 

Marquessa Green

I folded up the letter and put it back in the envelope. The second item was a key, pretty much the same size and shape as a billion other house keys in America. The last was a picture, the kind from an old Polaroid camera. The glossy square showed a woman who couldn’t have been more than fifty, holding a small child in her arms. Her ash-brown hair was coiled into a thick braid that trailed over one shoulder, and her nose was sharp and pointed. Basically, just like mine.

In a thick sharpie marker, someone had written on the white rectangle at the bottom, “Loretta with Lorena, 3 mo old.”

It was the first picture of my grandmother that I had ever seen. There was something about the way the woman in the picture looked at the baby that made my throat feel too tight. Like she was just so sure that the little girl was going to amount to something. I am sorry to say that my grandmother would have been really disappointed. Unless she thought that a fast food working college dropout was the absolute best thing a girl could be. Then we’d be just fine. I doubted it though.

“Well,” I said as I plucked the key out of the envelope, “here goes nothing.”

I paused halfway to the side door. I had heard something, I was almost sure of it. A whisper, I thought. A woman’s voice. I thought it had said my name. Then again, maybe I had just been imagining things. I had been driving for sixteen hours and living off  drive-thru food. It was enough to make anyone hear things. That stuff is bad for you. Trust me, I know.

It took a little work, but I got the door open. Time or weather had made the fit imperfect. I had to use my hip, which was a little larger than I would have liked it to be, to bump open the door. It creaked ominously and swung away to give me my very first look at the woman that I had never known.

Messy was the first word that came to mind, or at least unorganized. I found myself smiling. My dad had always hated that I wasn’t as much of a neat freak as he was, and now I knew why. The cabin wasn’t gross; there weren’t piles of food or anything, just a lot of clutter. I could see the kitchen and the living room from the doorway, as well as a tiny little nook that I guess you could call a dining room. All of the space was taken up by…stuff.

I stepped inside, not bothering to take my shoes off, and started to wander. Piles of magazines from twenty different years were tucked beneath a squat living room table with newspapers on top. I set my box of things next to the stacks and took a look around. There were three bookshelves in different heights cluttered with books, pictures, and what my dad would have called knickknacks. Mostly, they were bits of rock and crystal, but there were small piles of what looked like broken glass and metal, too. At first, I thought it was junk, but then I remembered all the wind chimes that were hanging outside. I scratched “junk”  off of my mental list and wrote in “art supplies.”  Grandma was artsy; we had that in common, too. Or at least, we did before she had died.

I shook off the strange emotions that came with that thought and continued my exploration of the main room. The books were…weird. The ones that I could read had titles like “The Meaning of Dreams” and “Cleansing the Aura of Your House” and others that would have looked right at home in a new-age store. The rest were in languages that I didn’t know, but I was guessing a couple were Latin. My grandmother was new-agey. Neat. We didn’t have that in common. I wasn’t religious or spiritual.

What surprised me most were the pictures. Most of them were of my dad. They started when he was very young, barely more than a baby, but I recognized the dark hair and big green eyes, though I was used to them looking more disappointed. He was on a big red tricycle in one of them, bare feet, bare-chested and muddy. It was a shock. My dad didn’t get muddy. He liked to wear nice suits and loafers. This kid in the pictures? He seemed to live in the mud and the outdoors. I hadn’t really understood the meaning of flabbergasted until right then.

My grandmother, I decided, looked a lot like me; or, rather, I looked a lot like her. We both had hazel eyes and a tawny pink complexion, but the same could be said of half of the people who claimed their roots in the Appalachia. We had the same ash brown hair, though I kept mine deliberately short. Sure, all the magazines said that most guys liked long hair. That was fine since I wasn’t interested in most guys. I wanted a special guy, a particular one; the others could like what they wanted. Besides, when you worked over five fryers, all of them over three hundred degrees, short hair pretty much rocked.

We weren’t twins, my grandmother and me. I was shorter than she was, and rounder too, but it was close enough that looking at the pictures gave me the jeebies. It was hard to look at a woman I hadn’t known, who looked like me, living a life I had never been a part of. It pretty much sucked.

I left the bookshelves alone and moved on. The kitchen was small, barely more than a single massive sink, a fridge, and a couple of counters. Most of the space was taken up with jars of dried herbs with handwritten labels scrawled over the front. I thought back to the new-age books and decided that my grandma had gone all out with her craft. Good for her. I might not be spiritual, but I was pretty much supportive of people practicing what they liked so long as they didn’t force it on me.

The only thing in the fridge and the cupboards was a box of baking soda and a bunch of mismatched dishes.

It wasn’t much, I had to admit, but it was more than I had a few weeks ago. It was mine. Or at least it would be after six months here. I wondered why my grandmother had left this all to me. Why not Dad? What had happened between the two of them that was so bad that they couldn’t even set it aside when she passed away? These thoughts carried me past the tiny bathroom and to the one and only bedroom.

The bed was a full size, with a massive handmade quilt tossed over the top. There were more shelves here, with even more books and crystals and pieces of materials that I assumed she used for her wind chimes or her craft. In the very center of the bed was a large leather bound book.

Not like the kind that you might get at a kitchy thrift store (I love thrift stores) or anything but the kind that you’d have to order from some fancy company in Italy or something. There was a five-pointed star on the surface, with triangles at each point. The triangles faced different directions, and some of them had lines through the center. I had to admit it was kind of pretty.

I stepped out of my shoes and climbed up on the bed. The mattress was old enough that it sagged comfortably beneath my weight. I tugged the book closer and, out of curiosity, flipped open to the first page. “Liber Magika, a Book of Shadows” was scrawled in fancy writing. I flipped to the next page and read:

“A witch, at all times, is neither good nor evil. The magic she wields simply exists. It is the intention behind her words that matters most.”

I frowned at that. I didn’t know a whole lot about the New Age movement, but I was pretty sure that there were rules about white and black magic and things like that. Then again, what did I really know? I flipped casually through the first few pages, which I quickly determined was a list of definitions and a picture to go with them. The five-pointed star on the front of the book was a pentacle. Once I read the word, I remembered it. There were a bunch of other terms I didn’t really know: athame, which turned out to be some kind of dagger, an esbat, which was sort of like a holy day, and a few others.

“Is this why dad hated you?” I asked to no one in particular. I knew that people who called themselves witches got a lot of hate. Tabitha, a girl I had known very briefly in one of the schools I had gone to, got picked on a lot because she had been Wiccan. I never really understood hating people for what they believed. The world took a lot out of you, why hurt people for what they used to get through it all?

I closed the book and tried not to yawn. I’d been driving all day and all I really wanted was a meal that hadn’t been frozen and a good night’s sleep. It was already ten o’clock…jeez, how long had I been looking around at things…and the bed was comfortable.

I tugged the heavy quilt around myself and stretched out on one of the five pillows. My eyelids grew instantly heavy. I was in the middle of nodding off when I saw a shape across the street. I was pretty sure it was a guy, but then sleep worked its magic and I didn’t think about it anymore.

The sound of my phone going off pulled me out of a dream about a crying woman and floating crystals. I reached blindly for my phone and realized that it was still in my back pocket. I whispered a word of thanks to the gods of technology that I hadn’t broken it in my sleep and answered it.

“Hello?”

“Lorena Meredith Quinn, where are you?”

My dad had a talent for making my name into something to be feared. I didn’t have that talent. When I use people’s full names, I just sound like an idiot.

“Dad?” I asked, even though I knew exactly who it was.

“Where are you?” he repeated.

I could have lied to him. In fact, if I had been more awake, I probably would have. I was not above lying to my dad if it was going to make my life easier, but I needed more than a couple hours of sleep if I am going to do that.

“I’m at Grandma’s.” I said it defiantly, angrily even. Was I mad at him? Yeah, I really was. I don’t know if I had been angry since I got the letter, or if it had started when I realized how alike my grandma and I were, but it had happened.

He went silent, and that’s when I knew I was in real trouble. I was nineteen years old. I should be above caring about whether or not I was in trouble with my dad, but it hadn’t happened yet. Maybe if I had stayed in school and got that anthropology degree or something I’d feel more like an adult. Yeah. Sure.

“What,” he asked, pausing ever so slightly between each word, “are you doing there?”

“Inheriting.” I sat up in bed, tugging my feet beneath my body. One of my socks had slipped off while I slept and I decided to dig for it. A quick glance at my phone told me that I had only been out for two hours. “Grandma left her house to me, but I gotta stay here for six months.”

“No,” he said, as if his word was final.

For a moment, just a moment, I had to resist the urge to do what he told me. My whole life had been doing what my dad said. We had to move somewhere else for his new promotion? I went. He didn’t think I should be spending so much time with that guy? I stopped. Plain and simple. I was suddenly really tired of that. Maybe it was the anger. . Maybe it was the lack of sleep. Probably it was both.

“Yeah, so, here’s the thing. I’m nineteen now, and if you want me to give up a house and money you are going to have to do better than that.”

I was almost surprised. I couldn’t remember the last time that I had talked back to my dad. At least not a time when it hadn’t been purely in my head or under my breath while behind a closed door. I wasn’t scared of my dad, not really. He’d never hit me or anything bad like that, but he had a way of making me feel bad for not following his orders.

“Lorena, it is dangerous for you there. Please come home.”

There it was. He sounded sincere. I wanted to believe him, but… “You kept her from me all these years, you even kept her death from me. I’m sorry, Dad, but I’m staying here for now.”

“First of all-”

“Sorry, Dad, I need to go. Love you. Bye.”  I turned off the phone and then switched it to silent. Brave of me, I know, but I didn’t need a point by point lecture on why I should be listening to him. He didn’t call back right away. I laid back on the pile of pillows, hoping that I’d be able to go right back to sleep. No such luck. With a sigh, I rolled out of the bed, nearly tripped over my own shoes, and stumbled back into the kitchen, hoping for something to eat. No such luck. Whoever had cleaned out my grandma’s kitchen had done a really good job.

I pulled out my phone and brought up local late-night restaurants. No luck there either. The only thing anywhere nearby that was still open was a little gas station-convenience store combo. While the idea of prepackaged food wasn’t my favorite, I was hungry enough not to care. I queued up my GPS and then got into my trusty powder blue Bug.

The night was cool enough that I had the windows open while I drove through the unfamiliar town. There were all the necessities, all clustered into a trio of shopping centers, but they were outnumbered by a pretty incredible amount of churches. I drove past all of these and parked in the only lot that still had its lights on. A red hatchback took up another spot.

I walked in, a bell chiming over my head, and the girl manning the counter looked up. I guessed that she was close to my age, with high cheekbones and skin in a shade of olive dark enough that I might have called it brown if it weren’t for the harsh fluorescent lighting washing her out. Her braids, tipped with more stones, hung nearly to her hips. She wore a smear of blue eye shadow over her amber eyes and a t-shirt that said “Welcome to Night-Vale.” She took one look at me and her jaw dropped.

“Grandma!” she called, her voice thick with Appalachia, “You betta come quick. That witch from the prophecy is here.”

CHAPTER TWO

 

There are maybe three or four things that could have been said that might have surprised me more, but I couldn’t seem to think of them right then.

“What?” was about all I could manage as I took a single step back towards the door.

The girl behind the counter smiled a billion dollar smile at me. She leaned down and rested her elbows on the countertop so that she could palm her chin between her hands. She had a slew of rings on, all in various precious metals, and a range of stones so wide I couldn’t even name but one or two. A necklace slid out of her top, a chunk of clear crystal that reminded me of the collection back at my grandmother’s house. “You ain’t as scrawny as I thought you’d be.”

“Huh?” I looked down at myself. She was right. I wasn’t scrawny. I wouldn’t call myself fat either, but what did that have to do with anything? Why did she think I’d be anything at all? “What?”

“Might be kinda stupid though.”

“Hey!”

“Jenny? What’s all this yellin’ about?” Another woman stepped out of the backroom. She was older, plump and pleasant to look at. Her hair was every shade of silver and brown and formed a large semi-circle around a face that had the look and texture of carved mahogany. Her shoulders made a perfect line beneath a floral button down shirt. Her dark eyes fell on me and I felt like she could see everything I had ever done. I hoped not, because some of that was embarrassing. “Well now,” she said, “what have we here?”

I swallowed hard and put my hand on the door, wishing that my legs would move. The glass was cool beneath my fingers, but I couldn’t bring myself to push on it.

“You Ms. Loretta’s grandbaby?” the younger girl wanted to know. She brought her hand to the top of her head and patted at the roots of the many braids her dark hair was coiled into.

“No,” I said instinctively, remembering only a second later that Loretta was my estranged and now deceased grandmother’s name. “Yes. I mean…I think so.”

“Well,” the girl asked, looking at me like I had grown a set of limbs from an awkward location, “which is it?”

“Hush, Jenny,” the older woman admonished. She came around the counter, moving with the kind of speed and grace that you only got if you were really fit. “Come on, then. Let’s get a look at you.”

She took my chin between two warm fingers that smelled of herbs I couldn’t name. Her eyes were big and brown and warm. I couldn’t seem to look away, even if I wanted to. Her face had a kindness to it that you could just see, like you could tell her every terrible thing you had ever done and she’d tell you that it was okay. I didn’t feel like running anymore, but I was still very confused.

“Yeah,” she finally said, turning the single word into twice as many syllables as I would have given it. She dropped her hand from my chin and nodded. “That’s her. You look a whole lot like your grandma, you know that?”

I thought back to the pictures I had gone through. I nodded back. “Yes, ma’am.”

My father had taught me to say “Ma’am” and “Sir ” when the occasion called for it. Four years in customer service had done nothing to help that. She smiled at me, and I knew that her and the girl behind the counter; Jenny, the woman had called her; were definitely related. Both of them had incredible smiles.

“I’m sorry,” I said, realizing I could think again, “I don’t think you’ve got the right girl.”

“Pshaw,” said Jenny, rolling her eyes. Hers weren’t brown so much as they were gold, and even from this distance I could see they had a sparkle. “If you Loretta’s girl, then you the one from the prophecy, plain and simple.”

“Hush, Jenny,” the woman said again. She put an arm around my shoulders and guided me deeper into the convenience store. “You gonna scare the girl. Now then, let’s try this one again. My name is Marquesa.  Most call me Ms. Marquesa or Momma Marquesa; and this is Jenny, my granddaughter.”

I did not think the woman was old enough to have a granddaughter, much less one who was old enough to have gone to school with me. I looked between the two of them. The family resemblance was undeniable.

“Hey,” Jenny said, her voice thick with the slow speech of Appalachia.

“I’m Lorena,” I said, as if they hadn’t already figured that one out, “and I am really confused.”

“I’m the one that sent you the letter,” Ms. Marquesa told me, “I was real good friends with your grandma. We was in the same circle.”

“Circle?” I asked.

“Witches,” Jenny offered. She made it sound like it was no big deal. Like they had been in the same sewing circle or softball team.

“Oh.” I remembered all the crystals and books in my grandmother’s house. I had already come to the conclusion that she was into all that new-age stuff. Why I didn’t think that she was also in some kind of coven, I don’t know.

“I see you gone and figured that much out for your own self,” Ms. Marquesa said, “I think that’s alright, but you don’t know much about the rest, do you?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

“Well, that’s alright. We can fix that up. You hungry?”

I was going to say no out of politeness, but my stomach picked that moment to growl. I blushed. “A little.”

“Come on, we got dinner in the back. Let’s go sit down. Connie!”

Another girl stuck her head out of the back. She had freckles and a riot of red hair. I could see a series of tattoos peeking out below her olive-green sleeves. “Yeah?” she asked.

“Come watch the front. We gotta go and talk to Loretta’s grandbaby,” Ms. Marquesa ordered.

Connie gave me a look. It didn’t have the same weight as Ms. Marquesa’s did, but there was something behind her hazel eyes that made me feel like she was seeing more than just my face. I resisted the urge to cross my arms over myself.

“Yeah, alright then,” Connie said. Her voice was so soft that I barely heard it.

Before I knew it, I was being ushered into the employee lounge. There was a whole slew of food. Chicken and seasoned rice and some kind of mixed vegetables in sauce, enough of it to feed a family of five. My mouth watered. I didn’t make drooling sounds, but it was a close call.

“Go on, then. Sit down,” Jenny pointed to one of the folding chairs. I sat. It was cold against my back.

Ms. Marquesa picked up a plate and started loading it up. I thought she was making it for herself before she shoved it in my direction and took the seat across from me. Jenny stood in the doorway.

“I think I oughta start at the beginning,” Marquesa said, “best place after all. I could start with once upon a time or something, but that’s best for fables, and this ain’t no fable. It’s the truth, pure and honest as can be.”

“Yeah, it is,” Jenny chimed in, moving past her grandmother to pick up dinner for herself.

Remembering that I had my own food, I picked up a plastic fork and took a bite. It was good. Better than good. Maybe it was because I had been living off of fast food recently, but I didn’t think so.

“Thank you,” I said, indicating the meal.

Ms. Marquesa shook her head. “Think nothin’ of it. I know there weren’t nothin’ to eat at Loretta’s place; cleaned it out myself. But anyhow, like I was sayin’, once upon a time is for fables, and this isn’t one of those. I tell ya that all the things you’ve read about, faeries and vampires and witches, are all real. Magic is real, it’s just sleepin’.”

She said it all with that matter of fact tone that another person would have used to describe the weather. I blinked at her, and then at Jenny, and then down at my plate. My mind, being the bastion of witty repartee that it was, could only form one thought: “Wait, what?”

She chuckled. “I could complicate it all, talk about how the world has magic in it, great big roads of it that the average person can’t see. I could even give you fancy names like Ley Lines or Magical Weave, or names in a hundred different languages, but the truth is, ya don’t really need to know that. What you need to know is that magic used to be strong, but it’s grown weak.”

“Why?” I asked, feeling intrigued despite myself.

I loved magic. Okay, more accurately, I loved the idea of magic. I liked reading about it, hearing about it, watching movies with it. You name it. Call me a nerd if you want, but I’ll just tell you that’s a vague and outdated word with no real meaning and keep reading my comic books.

“We don’t know,” Jenny answered. She shrugged her slender shoulders in an elegant motion and I decided that she wasn’t just pretty, she was Cover Girl gorgeous. The blue shadow matched the blue in her jeans and I didn’t think it was on accident. “We just know that it stopped working.”

“When?”

“Again, we don’t know.” Jenny pulled apart a piece of chicken and stuffed a good portion of it in her mouth. “But it was a while ago, a couple hundred years, maybe.”

“Not that long,” Ms. Marquesa interrupted, “but close. Still, we was told it happened because magic needed a rest, it needed to sleep, and so we let it be. Well, most of us, anyhow. Some dabble.”

“Witches?”

“Mmmhmm. Witches an’ beings that need it to live. But they all went into hiding, pretended to be human while they waited for some sign, something to happen to shake it all up again. They stopped doing the big kind of magics that made everyone believe. They waited for a sign.”

“Let me guess,” I said, drawing on my years of playing video games, “signs have happened.”

“You happened,” Jenny said pointedly.

I repeated my super snappy line of, “Wait, what?”

“The prophecy. Didn’t your daddy ever tell you why you weren’t allowed to come back here?”

I thought about that. I know I had asked, but my dad worked in marketing; he was really good with words and messing with them until they said a whole lot and nothing at all at the same time. Had he ever actually told me why me being with grandma was bad? Aside, of course, from a random late-night phone call no more than thirty minutes ago.

“Just that it was dangerous,” I answered, bringing another bite of food to my face.

“Could be, prophecies are fickle things.”

There was that word again. Prophecy. I’d read enough fantasy novels to know how those kinds of things ended up. In short? Badly. Prophecies either meant the end of the world or the rising of some great evil and the death of the person they were about. Of all the numerous daydreams that I’d had, I never wanted to be at the center of a prophecy.

“Okay,” I said, setting down my half-finished meal, “here’s the part where I start to feel confused.”

“Your grandma had a gift for seeing things.”

“Like looking into the future?” I asked.

Ms. Marquesa nodded her head, reaching up to brush her fingers through her natural curls. “Future, yes, but the present and the past, too. If magic hadn’t been sleeping, she’d have been a full-fledged oracle, I believe. Instead, all she got was snapshots, pictures of what had been, and what might be, and a little in between.”

There was a sudden sinking feeling in my stomach. I wasn’t stupid. Sure, I had dropped out of college before even getting an associate’s degree, but that had to do with being lazy, not unintelligent. I could put two and two together. If my dad thought me being here was dangerous, and my grandmother had a gift for prophetic visions or snapshots, and Jenny’s first words about me were that I was a witch? Yeah, I saw exactly where this was all going. “And she had a prophetic snapshot? About me?”

“Hole in one, powder puff.” Jenny smirked.

“What did she say? What was it about?” That squeaky voice was not me panicking, I swear.

“That you would have the child that brought magic back into the world.”

“Oh boy,” I managed right before my head went all light and dizzy. I was not going to pass out. Nope. Not going to happen. I swear I was cooler than this. Who was I kidding? No, I wasn’t. I was not now, nor had I ever been, anything close to cool. I was on the edge of totally barfing all of that food I had just tossed on an empty stomach.

“Breathe, Lorena,” Ms. Marquesa placed a hand on my neck, visible since I had put my forehead between my knees. “It’s okay.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, talking to the denim on my thighs, “I think you and I have really different ideas of what okay means. You just told me I’m going to have a magical prophecy baby. That isn’t even in the universe of what I would define as okay.”

When I glanced up, all three of them were looking at me, even Connie who was supposed to be watching the front counter. Maybe I got a little louder than I had intended. I was justified. “Are you a witch, too?” I snapped at Connie, feeling a little grumpy.

“Yeah,” she answered, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

“Oh good, then you go give birth to a prophecy.” An idea suddenly struck me. “Wait, Jenny said the witch from the prophecy is here. That’s not right. It can’t be right. I’m not a witch.”

The three women exchanged a series of glances that made me feel like I’d said something stupid. I’d like to reiterate that I am not now, nor have I ever been, stupid. I can do stupid things from time to time, but that’s not the same thing.

“You are,” Ms. Marquesa said gently, moving her hand from the back of my neck to cup my chin. I looked up into her warm eyes and felt just a tiny bit less like throwing up. “You are the granddaughter of one of the most gifted witches ever born on these mountains. You might have swallowed up all of your talent, denied it, but it’s there.”

“You’ve got the wrong girl,” I protested, “I wouldn’t have swallowed anything. Okay? Let me just…let me explain something to you. I wanted to be magical. Okay? I wanted to be someone special when I was a little girl. I wanted to be the girl who turned sixteen and found out she was a witch. I wanted my mom to come back from wherever she had disappeared to and tell me that she was really a goddess and I had inherited her powers.

If they were looking for kids to try out some cocktail of super drugs in the hopes that they would become better, faster, stronger versions of themselves, I would have been the first one waiving my human rights to give it a go, and eventually throwing on a cape and tight underwear to fight against the undoubtedly evil corporation that spawned me. Okay? I desperately, urgently wanted to be special. But I have not even levitated an object or accidentally cast a spell.”

Ms. Marquesa’s hand, still a comfortable heat on my skin, gave me the slightest pat. “Oh, Honey, that’s not how magic works.”

Before she could explain further, an explosion went off. Not the kind that blew stuff up, but the kind that swept down on you, like a hurricane without any wind or rain. It was a change in air pressure, the pounding of someone’s overdone amp. All noise without any sound. I clapped my hand over my ears as Jenny and Ms. Marquesa stood up. Connie turned in a tiny circle, throwing her freckled arms wide.

The three of them joined hands, palm to palm. The necklace around Jenny’s neck seemed to glow, as did the many rings on her fingers. I was suddenly very aware of that herbal smell emanating from Ms. Marquesa. Connie threw back her head and howled like some kind of wolf. I was pretty sure I heard something answer her.

I wish I could have paid more attention, but the weight of whatever was happening pushed me down to my knees. I pushed harder on my ears but it didn’t help. The pressure was sinking into my bones until I thought they would crack.

“Lorena,” a woman’s voice called. I didn’t know it, but it was light and vibrated, “Lorena come to me.”

I don’t know what I expected to happen. I don’t know what I thought I would see when I looked past the trio of women, but I saw a fourth woman in a robe of gray. The hood was so large that I couldn’t see her face, but I got the feeling that no one else saw her. They were looking up at the ceiling as if there was something there. Then the image of the woman flickered, skipped like a video that wouldn’t stream properly but the sound worked just fine.

“Come to me, Lorena. I’ll tell you everything.”

I couldn’t help myself. I started walking towards her outstretched hands. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to feel her arms wrap around me and make me feel safe. I took one step and then another. My fingers reached out, stretching towards her. I knew if I could just take her hand, everything in the world would be okay. There was a scant inch of space between my hand and hers.

Suddenly, I was jerked backwards, and I found myself staring up into the face of the most attractive man that I had ever seen. Cliché, maybe, but totally true. He had a long sheet of perfectly blond hair, white blonde or platinum. Whatever color you wanted to call it. It was bright. His skin was moonlight pale and his cheeks were sharp as diamonds. He looked like an angel. Not one of those creepy baby ones you saw in those old pictures, or even the alien looking things the Bible actually describes, but a golden-haired angel without the big feathered wings. He swept me into his arms like I was no more than a feather and hugged me to a chest that I was sure had excellent definition. My cheek pillowed against a frilly cravat around his neck, and I realized he wore the outfit of old French Aristocracy.

“No!” the woman cried, but her voice wasn’t soft and pretty anymore. It sounded creepy, like a hundred snakes all hissing at the same time. The hand, which had been perfectly formed, now looked withered and ancient and covered in warts. Ew.

The three women let go of one another, throwing their hands to the sky. The pressure suddenly lifted and I could think again.

“Lorena,” Jenny called, sounding a little out of breath, “are you alright?”

“I have protected her,” the man holding me said.

Being the master of everything suave, I asked, “Who the hell are you?”

Ma chère, I am Alan Pierre Rouergue, of the House of Rouergue, and I am going to be the father of the child that you birth.”


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