To protect those she loves from herself, Jax will leave them all behind.
She’ll risk everything in a desperate search for answers.
Jax Pherson fled the darkest of covens and from her own father’s evil. For a brief moment, her courage was rewarded. She found everything she’d ever wanted. A normal life. An amazing boyfriend. An envy-worthy best friend .
But her past put them all in danger, forcing a confrontation with the dark covens. In a life-and-death battle to save those she loved from the covens, Jax gained staggering power. Power so intense, so dangerous, she fears the darkness that now dwells inside her like a living thing.
If she can’t control the power, she may yet become as evil as the witches she conquered.
With her friend Egan, Jax leaves all she’s built and heads for the one place that might hold the answers she desperately needs to hold back the darkness—Salem, Massachusetts. Her research unearths a shocking discovery: the Bane, a secret group of witches dedicated to thwarting the covens.
Jax desperately needs their help in her fight against the covens, but finding the Bane is easier said than done and takes all her skills and courage. As Jax gets closer, her dark powers begin to rise and control her actions. If she succumbs to the darkness, Jax may have as much to fear from the Bane as the evil covens and the determined hunter on her trail.
"…a sensational second book in the series… left me sitting on the edge of my seat…" --Naomi Hopkins, Nomi’s Paranormal Palace
"...engaging and fast paced. Just when you think the story has finished, it surprises you with the depth of its twists... You will love this series!" -- Carolyn Tepe, Netgalley
"...my socks have been rocked! ...Milburn finds time to squeeze in plenty of heart-pounding action...she has cooked up one hell of an ending... So. Totally. Worth. It." -- Leisha O'Quinn, A Tale of Many Reviews
"...an interesting, easy and engaging read... Thank goodness 'Magick' is set to release soon so my eagerness to see how the final battle between Jax and the covens comes out is appeased!" -- Jackie Burris, Housewife Blues and Chihauhua Stories
"…a lively read…Trish has created an intriguing world involving witches and the supernatural. She has left me sitting on the edge of my seat at the end of Bane and I can't wait for the next book!" -- Naomi Hopkins, Naomi’s Paranormal Palace
"The book is exciting and very enticing." -- Daniela Marks, GoodReads
"Wow, this book was so full of excitement, and suspense…" -- Michelle Berrynan, Concise Book Reviews Blog
"Trish has done it again with this enticing, spellbinding series!!" -- Jessica Faulkingham, From Me To You Blog
"Trish Milburn's Coven Trilogy is one of the great undiscovered gems of the young adult urban fantasy world!" -- Shalor Toncray, My Book Goggles Blog
I close the thick history of Salem, Massachusetts, and grip the sides tightly, as if the force might miraculously make the book useful to me. It doesn’t work. The dusty old book reveals nothing about the world’s dark witch covens or how I can defeat them. Not even a hint of a mention. Just like all the other books I’ve looked at over the past two hours.
A growl of frustration wells within me, but I keep it contained. The last thing I want from the other patrons of the Salem Public Library is undue attention. More than ever, keeping a low profile is imperative. I can’t have the covens figuring out where I am before I know how to at the very least neutralize them, before I confirm I really am a white witch and what exactly that means.
I look at my fingertips. Smooth, unmarred skin stares back at me. You’d never know that only days ago I had massive amounts of lightning-like power shooting out of those same fingertips, sending the unsuspecting members of my coven fleeing. I can still feel the thrum of power coursing through my body like it had when I was standing on that mountain in North Carolina, funneling magic up from the earth, through my body, and letting it explode into the night. It had frightened me as much as it had my father and other relatives, maybe more. That’s why I have to know what it means, how to control it, if it’s a good or bad thing.
I stand and return the book to the shelf where I found it. When I step between the stacks, I do growl. Well, actually it’s my stomach reminding me that I haven’t eaten in something like fifteen hours. As I stare at the shelves of books in front of me, I can’t face delving into yet another one right now, not on an empty stomach.
I take a moment to rub my tired, burning eyes before I climb the stairs to the second floor to find Egan Byrne, the only other witch in the world I trust.
"Find anything?” I ask when I find Egan tucked away in a corner working on his laptop.
He leans back and stretches. "Nothing we didn’t already know.” He turns sideways in the chair and stares at me. "Why am I looking at public records? You know I’m not going to find anything useful.”
"You don’t know that. I refuse to believe there isn’t the least speck of information that will point us toward... something that will help us. Some mention of our families, lore about white witches, details about the formation of the covens, even something that’s framed as fiction that might in fact be truth.”
"What if there are no answers for what happened at Shiprock? What do we do then?”
I think back to the spirit coven that had inhabited the Shiprock outcropping on the side of the mountain above Baker Gap, how many people they’d killed over the centuries, how I’d destroyed them. How I’d then managed to turn myself into a type of magical conduit, lighting up the dark night like the sun.
"There areanswers,” I say. "We just have to find them.” I have to believe that.
Movement catches my eye, and I look past Egan to see a librarian looking our direction. When we make eye contact, she smiles. I offer what I hope looks like an easy smile back, then refocus my attention on Egan. When he looks like he might ask another question, I hold up my hand to stop him.
"Not here. Let’s get some lunch. My stomach is about to consume itself.”
"That’s the best idea you’ve had all day,” he says and quickly shuts down his computer and slips it into his backpack.
Egan tries to hide it, but I notice him wincing as we descend the stairs. We’re a block up the street, heading toward downtown, before I mention it. "How are you feeling?”
"You don’t have to be all macho about it. You were seriously injured, Egan. You could have died.”
"But I didn’t.” I can tell by the way he says it that he doesn’t want to think about the injuries he sustained during the battle with my coven. Or how he’d walked out of that hospital, leaving the only girl he’d ever truly cared about behind without even a goodbye.
A lump forms in my throat. I know how he feels because he wasn’t the only person to leave someone he loved back in Baker Gap. I’m lucky if I can go five minutes without thinking about Keller. My greater-good reason for being in Salem might be to find a way to make sure the dark covens of the world can no longer hurt anyone, witch or non-witch. But I have a much more personal reason for wanting to be free to live how and where I want. I want more than anything to be with Keller as I was during my brief time living my dream of being a normal girl. Or as normal as a witch dating a supernatural hunter could get anyway. I want to be able to hang out and do goofy things with my best friend Toni, who happens to be Keller’s cousin and the girl for whom Egan fell hard.
We slip into a sandwich shop at the edge of downtown and place our orders. After we pick up our sandwiches and fill our drink cups, we retreat to the far back corner of the dining area, as far away from the other customers as possible.
Egan is evidently as hungry as I am because he dives into his sandwich like he hasn’t eaten since he left Texas weeks ago. While we’re stuffing our faces, a young woman on her cell phone slips into a chair at the table next to us. Irritation has me staring a hole through her. I’m surprised she can’t feel the burning of my gaze, but she’s too wrapped up in her conversation to notice.
I shake my head and shift my eyes away from her, already planning to get a good night’s sleep later so I’m not so grumpy. I notice Egan giving me an odd look, like he can read my mind. That gives me a jolt and makes me focus on what I’d thought had been my imagination. As I’m trying to figure out a way to ask the questions pressing against the edges of my brain, the chatty woman jumps up from the table and heads toward the front of the restaurant. I look over my shoulder in time to see her hug another woman, and both of them head for a table near the front window.
I turn back to Egan before someone else decides to park next to us. "Did anything change for you that night at Shiprock?” I ask.
"What do you mean?”
I hesitate and look down at my hands wrapped around my turkey club, suddenly worried that he might think I’m crazy, that all that power damaged me somehow. Though I didn’t invite him to join up with me in hiding, I don’t think I can face doing this alone again. He’s the only friend I have left.
"Jax, what is it?”
I meet his eyes. "I feel like I’ve changed since that night, like my senses are heightened.”
"Like you’re not just aware of my energy signature anymore, and you can sense my feelings?”
My mouth opens in surprise. "I thought I was imagining it. So you can sense my feelings, too?”
Egan nods. "I don’t know if it’s just another thing that the covens didn’t tell us about, or if it has something to do with your little glow show during the fight, but something just sort of popped open inside me.”
I consider Egan’s revelation for a few seconds. "Not like mind reading. Just our previous sensory abilities, only heightened.”
I drop my sandwich into the little plastic basket it came in and sit back in my chair. "Instead of answers, I feel like all I find are more questions.” Like if this ability has changed in us because of what happened during the battle, what else might have changed?
"Does feel like we’re stumbling around in the dark, not even realizing the thing we’re looking for is a light switch.”
I pop a potato chip in my mouth as I try to sort out my thoughts. When I swallow it, I lean forward. "I feel like if we can get to the source, something, anything about the formation of the covens, we can pull that thread and see where it leads.”
"You don’t believe what we’ve been told about the covens’ beginnings?”
"After finding out we were lied to about having our full powers before we turn seventeen, I’m looking at everything the covens ever told us as suspect.”
"And what they didn’t tell us.” He looks past me to make sure no one is nearby. "Like do white witches really exist, and what they can do.”
"Yeah. I’d kind of like to know if I’m some sort of freak of witch nature.”
"And if it can help us.”
I nod. "If there is any information on defeating the dark covens, it has to be here where it all began. It’s the only thing that makes sense to me.”
"Even though I found the Beginning Book in Texas a Frisbee throw from the Mexican border?”
"Minus the one page that may have the information we need.” Long thought lost or destroyed or perhaps even a myth, the Beginning Book was supposedly forged at the same time as the covens, created by the same dark magic drawn from the earth in Salem. Egan had found it, but one page was suspiciously missing, torn out for some reason I feel in my gut is important. "We have to have a starting place, and to me Salem is the most logical.”
"And you think you’re going to find your answers at the public library?”
"Maybe, maybe not. But hopefully I’ll find something that will at least point us in the right direction. There has to be a way to defeat them for good, and I intend to find it. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life on the run. I want to go back to Baker Gap.”
Egan doesn’t respond, and I don’t press him to, especially since we get new neighbors, an older couple who might have to be rushed to the ER with chest pain if they knew they were sitting next to real witches with very real powers. I sense the older man staring at me, but I ignore him. I hate that my looks draw so much unwanted attention, but I’m used to it. And it’s definitely not at the top of my main concerns list.
We slip into silence and eat our meals. When I finish, I grab my thick jacket from the back of my chair. "I’m going back to the library, take a crack at the area’s genealogy records.”
I make the mistake of meeting his gaze, seeing his doubt that I’ll find anything useful. But I have to try. My gut is telling me that if I just look long enough, dig deep enough, that I’ll find a clue that will lead to another and so on.
"I’ll catch up with you later,” he says. "I’m going to do some Internet research.” By Internet research, I know he means hacking his normal information sources to see if anyone has figured out where we are yet.
When I head out the door, the wind whips around the corner of the building, smacking me with cold. We’re still more than a month from the start of winter, but already it feels like the inside of a freezer to me. Granted, I’ve lived most of my life in balmy Miami, at least until a couple of months ago when I took the drastic step of fleeing my coven. I know it will be the end of me if they ever find me again and I can’t pull out another miracle, but I long ago accepted that as a possible outcome if the other choice was living within the confines of the coven for the rest of my days. I don’t have it in me to kill without remorse, to take from others on a whim. That makes me a threat to the coven way of life, expendable like my mother was.
A flicker of awareness causes my power to stir. Unwilling to make a sudden move and give myself away, I instead slow then stop and pretend to read a historical marker. Casually, I look back over my shoulder but don’t see anything out of the ordinary. I begin walking slowly then stop at a crosswalk to allow the traffic to pass. I open my senses up a tad more but don’t detect any witch power signatures. But there is... something. What is it? As I try to wrap my senses around it, the disturbance disappears.
I scan my surroundings as I cross the street, wondering why I sensed something not quite right. By the time I reach the library, I still haven’t found an answer, and I don’t like not knowing. I glance back down the street one more time, but all I see is the librarian from earlier getting out of her car, probably coming back from her lunch break. She smiles again as she notices me.
"Back for more reading?” she asks as she approaches while smoothing the sides of her hair that’s pulled back in a cute chignon.
"You seemed very into what you were reading earlier.”
I fall into step with her as we climb the steps up to the brick and brownstone building that was once the home of some wealthy merchant. "Yeah, I tend to get lost in books.”
That much is true. Of course I don’t have to tell her that I’ve often buried myself in books to avoid the reality of life within a dark witch coven.
"Well, if you need anything, just let me know.”
"Okay, thanks.” I wish I could enlist her help, but I can’t exactly ask the local librarian if she knows how to rid the world of dark witch covens, can I? But suddenly the needle-in-a-haystack nature of my search for answers hits me. I shake it off as we cross the threshold. It’s too soon to be discouraged. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what the library has to offer. With that in mind, I head for the Salem History Room on the second floor.
Several people are busy searching the Internet on the Reference Room’s computers. Most of them don’t pay me any attention, for which I’m thankful. But before I can sigh with relief, one guy glances up and gets that dazed look I so hate. Before he can say anything, I open the glass door etched with a sailing ship and slip inside the history room. Fate must be otherwise occupied today because the guy thankfully doesn’t follow me.
I close the door behind me then scan the offerings—birth and death records, city statistics, newspaper clippings, annual addresses of the mayor. My gaze lights on the section devoted entirely to the Salem witch trials, and a sense of dread and foreboding shifts within me. Sixteen months of hysteria that led to three centuries of retribution by the dark covens I aim to destroy. I glance toward the door and take a deep breath.
There’s a part of me that whispers that it’s no more than wishful thinking to expect that I’ll find anything here that will tell me if I’m indeed a white witch, if that was how I was able to win the battle I should have lost. That doubt tells me that if the covens have a vulnerability, I won’t find it here where mere mortals could stumble across it. Still, what choice do I have? I have to start somewhere. I’m certainly not going to find a way to live free from fear by moving from one town to the next in an effort to stay one step ahead of my coven. That’s no sort of life.
I step forward and run my fingers over the spines of the books, wishing my power would somehow let me know which volume, if any, holds clues. Why can’t I be more like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and have a brainy Giles to go to for help?
I pull a book about the families involved in the witch trials from the shelf and grab a collection of old maps on my way to the table in the center of the room. I lose track of time as I go back and forth from reading the book to examining the maps of 17th century land holdings.
My heart speeds up when I see my last name, but then I realize the correct combination of letters doesn’t spell Pherson but rather MacPherson. Still, I make note of where I find it in case it’s a connection to my ancestors. Had our family changed our name in the intervening years? Lots of families did that to escape persecution of one type or another.
When the door starts to open, I stiffen. But it’s only the friendly librarian again.
"Is there anything I can help you with?” Am I imagining a hint of too much curiosity in her eyes? Or is it just a librarian’s natural need to know more?
"No, I’m fine. Thank you.”
"Okay, but if you change your mind, this is my area of expertise,” she says as she taps the cover of one of the books about the Salem witch trials.
My mouth opens a little, wanting to ask the dozens of questions that come flooding into my mind. But I only nod, not sure if this turn of events is lucky for me or something I should be concerned about.
She crosses to the shelf on the back wall and retrieves a thin volume. She returns to the table where I’m sitting and places the book next to the ones already there. "This is one of the better ones, in my opinion.”
I glance at the title. The Salem Witch Trials, a Concise History.
"Thanks.” I glance past her toward the shelf. "There certainly are a lot of them.”
"People are fascinated by the dark periods of history. The Plague, the Holocaust.” She motions toward the shelf behind her. "The infamous Salem witch trials.”
She retrieves a book someone has left unshelved and puts it back in its proper place. "Are you visiting Salem? I haven’t seen you here before yesterday.”
A frisson of unease makes me want to squirm, but she’s really given me no reason to think she’s anything other than a friendly, eager bookworm. Still, I have to be careful until I know more about my situation and what it means for not only my future but also Egan’s.
The woman keeps watching me as if she expects more. When I give her nothing else, the librarian smiles and glances at the clock. "Okay. We close this level fifteen minutes before the library, so you’ve got five more minutes.”
I glance at the clock and see that I’ve read the afternoon away. I nod then deliberately lower my attention to the book in front of me.
"Well, if you come back and decide you need help finding anything, just let me know. My name’s Sarah.”
"Okay,” I respond without looking up. I hope she attributes this to my desire to make the most of my research time and not rudeness or anything suspicious.
When Sarah closes the glass door behind her, I stare after her. I don’t sense anything supernatural about her, so at least she’s not a coven witch.
I return my attention to the materials spread out in front of me and feel suddenly overwhelmed, as if I’ve only taken a tiny bite out of an enormous pie. How in the world am I going to get through all this information without help?
I press the base of my palm against my forehead to stave off an encroaching headache that feels like someone has started a jackhammer against the inside of my skull. I have to find some balance between wanting all the information right now and the reality of what I can do on my own.
I glance toward the closed door, thinking about Sarah’s offer to assist me. Is there a way I can take her up on her offer without telling her the whole truth? I take a deep breath and tell myself I’ll think about it more after I get some rest. Since I can’t check out any of the special collections, I use my new phone to take pictures of several pages of the book and a couple of the old speeches by former mayors. In response, the jackhammer gets turned up a notch, and I grind my teeth to keep from screaming at the tiny jackhammer operator. Yeah, that wouldn’t make me look crazy at all.
As I stare at the piles of research and think of the hours it’s going to take to sift through it, I realize that maybe I am crazy.
Sarah and her fellow librarian are otherwise occupied when I head downstairs five minutes before closing time. I slip past the circulation desk and out into the night to find Egan waiting for me.
"What are you doing here?” I ask as I descend the steps to the sidewalk.
"I’m starving. Thought you might be hungry, too. And no offense, but you can’t cook. I’ve never known anyone who could ruin ramen noodles.”
I shrug. "It’s a talent.”
He snorts then nods toward the Jeep behind him.
"Do I even want to know where that came from?” I ask.
"We said no powers, Egan, not unless absolutely necessary.” Like when we’d used the tiniest sliver of our power of manipulation to maneuver our way into a rental cottage this morning. After several days of lying low after leaving Baker Gap and sleeping in my Volkswagen Beetle, we’d needed actual beds and to hide the Beetle and Egan’s Ducati. "We can’t afford for the covens to find us before we figure out how to defeat them for good.”
"Have a little faith in me, will you? I don’t have to use my powers to be persuasive.” He gives me a wicked grin, and it makes my heart sink because it’s all too familiar. I’ve seen it at least a dozen times over the years—all before he met and fell for Toni.
"Don’t give me that look,” he says.
"What look? Oh, you mean the one where I can’t believe you’ve screwed around on Toni after only two weeks.”
"Toni’s in the past, same as Keller.” He pauses, letting his words sink in. "And you’re making assumptions. You know what they say about that.” Egan climbs into the driver’s seat of the Jeep.
I’m tempted to just walk home, but it’s flipping cold. I can’t imagine what full-on winter is going to feel like. Of course, I might be nowhere near Salem then.
I slide into the Jeep and shut the door harder than necessary.
"You don’t have the right to be mad at me. It was your idea to leave,” Egan says.
"I did, and I’m moving on. You should, too.”
I stare at him. "How do you do that, just turn off emotions?”
I expect him to give some flippant answer, but instead he stares out the windshield. "Lots of practice.”
So he isn’t over Toni, no matter how much he might act otherwise.
"I’m not so sure that’s a good thing, considering who we are.”
He looks at me then. "There’s a difference between turning off what has to be turned off and giving in to our darker natures.”
I don’t respond, instead looking back at the thus-far useless library.
"No luck?” he asks.
"Not yet, but I’m not giving up.”
"We can do the impossible, and it’ll make us mighty?”
I shift my gaze to Egan and laugh a little. "You got that from one of Toni’s FireflyT-shirts.”
His eyes dim, and my new sensory abilities tell me he is hurting the same as I am. But before I can pull a girl move and ask him about his feelings, he turns the ignition key.
"Where to?” he asks.
"Wherever. I’m not all that hungry.”
"You better fuel up because we’re going to have a long night,” he says.
"You got something planned I don’t know about?”
He nods toward the library. "I figure it’s time I fall on my sword and drag my ass back here. We’ll get a lot more research done if we both go at it without interruptions.”
"You know they’re closed, right?”
He smiles that wicked grin of his. "And I know the security in some rinky-dink library is no match for me.”
I shake my head. "Okay then, I’m going to need some industrial strength coffee if I’m going to stay up all night. And an ibuprofen the size of a grapefruit.”
"I have the perfect place.” Egan puts the Jeep in gear and drives away from the curb.
As we stop at the end of the street, I look over to find Sarah the librarian standing next to her car in the parking lot. Despite the dimness of the light out there, I get the weirdest feeling that she’s watching us. And that she knows exactly what we’re up to.
In that moment, I wonder if our new sensory abilities extend to regular humans. Or if Sarah is much more than a helpful librarian.
Thanks to Egan’s breaking-and-entering abilities, we are able to examine the majority of the books and documents in the Salem History Room in three nights. What little is left, I plan to get through today. I try not to feel discouraged that so far nothing has given me anything approaching the answers I need.
Egan’s mood isn’t faring any better. This newfound ability to sense each other’s feelings isn’t really a blessing. I don’t know if his sour mood is because of our lack of progress or him missing Toni, but I can’t take much more of it. I’ve already nearly bitten his head off half a dozen times. So I send him off to play tourist at the various witch-related sites around town to see if any of them hold anything more than hokey dramatizations of the infamous Salem witch trials.
When I enter the library, I don’t see Sarah. The librarian isn’t on the second level either. Finally, something is going my way.
Of course, that thought jinxes everything. When I open the door to the Salem History Room, someone is already seated at the table, a guy about my age. By the time I see him, it will draw more attention to me if I turn around and leave. So I make my way toward the drawers of maps.
"Hey,” the guy says.
"Figured I’d be the only teenager spending my Saturday afternoon in here,” he says.
I turn toward the table with a stack of old property maps. "Guess not.” Come on, dude, take a hint. Short answers mean I don’t want to talk.
He taps the book in front of him. "History homework. You?”
"No, I’ve graduated.” It’s the first time I’ve had to use the story Egan and I concocted on the way to Salem, that we’re brother and sister and already eighteen. We can’t risk compelling someone to help us enroll in school, so we have to rely on our fake IDs to keep away the questions about why we aren’t living with adults.
"Just a history lover then?”
Chatty, isn’t he? I meet his gaze for the first time and realize not only is he good-looking with sandy brown hair and hazel eyes, but he doesn’t have that stunned look on his face that most guys get around me. I don’t know whether to be wary or thankful.
"Yeah. Doing a bit of genealogy.” I’m not sure why I added that last bit, but it’s out there now, and I have to go with it.
"Your family’s from here?”
"Maybe I could help. I’ve lived here my whole life. I’m Rule, by the way. Rule Latimer.”
Odd name. I nearly laugh at the irony of a girl named Jaxina thinking anyone’s name is unusual.
"That’s okay. Don’t want to keep you from your homework.”
"It’s no problem.” He knocks his knuckle against the book in front of him. "I’ve got plenty of time to work on this.”
He seems so open, so willing to help that I find myself smiling. At the same time, I let a minuscule fraction of my power reach forth to examine him. When I detect no power signature, I make an executive decision. After all, I’ve been able to ask Sarah a question here and there without revealing too much of the truth. Maybe this Rule Latimer will prove useful.
"I think my family lived in this area ages ago, maybe in some of the earliest settlements.”
"What’s the family name?”
I don’t immediately answer, wondering if I am about to make a huge mistake. But what I’ve done so far has yielded next to nothing of use. Maybe it’s time for a leap of faith. And if it is a mistake, I’ll deal with it then.
Rule doesn’t respond. Instead, he stares at me long enough to make my senses twitch. But then he scrunches his forehead for a moment before standing and crossing to the shelf next to the map cabinet. He scans the spines of several large books, and I get the distinct feeling the gears in his head are turning faster than normal. He seems to find what he’s looking for and pulls a book from the shelf. He places an old, fragile-looking text on the table in front of me.
"These are some of the oldest land records for this part of Massachusetts.” He opens the book to the index and starts running his finger down a list of names written in that old-timey, flowing script that’s hard to read.
I don’t move, don’t even dare to breathe too much. Rule stands close enough that I feel the warmth from his body and smell the scent of some sort of woodsy soap. It would be an intoxicating combination were I not in love with someone else. Even so, I can appreciate his attractiveness and wonder if I read too much into his initial reaction to my surname.
"I’m not seeing any Phersons.” Why doesn’t he sound surprised? Is it just because he’s never heard it before, or because he has? He straightens, giving me room to breathe. I glance up at him, trying to read his expression. While he wears a friendly smile, it seems... more reserved.
I shrug. "Oh, well. Guess they must have been from somewhere else. Thanks for looking.” I’m not giving up, just not involving this boy, this stranger any more than I already have. No matter how cute he is.
He seems to shake off whatever was bothering him and smiles, and I find myself liking him on no more than instinct. I just hope my instincts haven’t been compromised by drawing in all that dark energy at Shiprock. I hate that I don’t know the extent of the effects on me. I feel different, but I can’t totally put my finger on it. Sort of tense.
"No problem. Happy to help.” He shifts to return the book to its spot on the shelf.
As he stretches his arms above his head, I notice just how tall and lanky he is. When I see how well his jeans fit, I jerk my gaze away and hate myself. How can I even notice another guy, especially when I scolded Egan for moving on from Toni so easily? Maybe my attraction to him is what’s making me tense, because in my heart it feels wrong.
Needing some fresh air and a lot of distance from Rule, I stand.
"You’re leaving?” he asks.
I don’t look at him. "Yeah. Just remembered I’ve got to be somewhere in a few minutes.” That excuse probably sounds as lame as it feels coming off my tongue, but it doesn’t matter. Something about Rule is putting me on edge, and the last thing I need is one more reason to feel fidgety.
"Okay. See you around,” he says.
"Yeah, maybe.” I quickly return the materials I pulled. I don’t exactly run out the door, but Rule would have to be oblivious to not notice how quickly I make a getaway.
Halfway back to the cottage, my phone rings.
"Tell me you’ve got something,” I say when I answer Egan’s call.
"Sorry to disappoint. I’m beginning to think this town has never seen a real witch.”
"I know the feeling. I don’t think there’s any doubt about the covens doing one heck of a cover-up.”
"Why do you think they did it? I mean, if they were suddenly more powerful than everyone else, why hide it?”
I think for a moment about all the coven members I know, their personalities, their tendencies. "Maybe it started out as protection or even some leftover fear from the trials. But now, I just think they get a kick out of it, watching the non-witches go about their days totally in the dark.”
"Hard to believe no one has let it slip in three hundred years,” Egan says.
"You know what happens if someone makes a wrong step and goes against the covens.”
We both knew it all too well.
"Do you think we’re even looking in the right place? What if every single thing we’ve been told is a lie, and we’re on a wild goose chase?”
I shake my head at that possibility, refusing to believe it. "They’ve lied, yes, but if there’s one thing I think the covens told the truth about, it’s that they began in Salem.”
"Then they’ve been damn good at covering their tracks.”
"We just have to dig deeper. Maybe we’re looking in the wrong places, the obvious places. It would make sense that if there’s information to be had here, it’s shoved away somewhere we’d never think to look.”
Egan makes a sound of frustration. "Pick up a six-pack of Dr. Pepper on the way back.”
"What am I, your errand girl?”
"You owe me after all the garbage I forced myself through today. Seriously, some of these displays haven’t been changed since Kennedy was president. And the hyperbole is crazy. One dude wrote about how the witch trials were God’s way of cutting out the black heart of Satan. I bet he was a barrel of laughs at parties.”
"Pretty sure they thought parties were of Satan, too.”
My stomach churns at the thought that despite my desire to be different, I am still a product of the dark covens. It’s in the blood, and that’s one thing about myself I can’t change. Does that make me a part of the black heart of Satan? Even if I am a white witch, can I ever really leave all my darkness behind?
After I end the call, a prickle of awareness skitters along my skin, that same feeling of being watched again but slightly different. This time I stop and turn quickly, hoping to get a glimpse of whoever is there. But when I search the shadows next to the buildings lining the street, I don’t see anyone. I risk letting go of the tight rein I have on my power and let it sizzle at my fingertips as I retrace my steps and use my senses to search for another witch.
After five minutes of checking doorways and alleys, I come up empty. But just as I turn to head back home, convinced I’ve imagined it again, I catch a scent that seems out of place. I slowly inhale to take in the woodsy scent fully. I’m not sure why, but my heart sinks when I confirm it isn’t coming from any of the trees lining the street. Instead, it smells exactly like Rule’s masculine soap.
He isn’t a witch, of that I’m sure. I sense none of the darkness inherent in witches, no discernible energy signature. So why is he so interested in me, especially when he didn’t act like most guys do around me? I was thankful for his lack of reaction at first, but now I wonder if his not being mesmerized by me is a confirmation that something is actually off about him. The same something that had made him hesitate and pull back at the library.
Only one way to find out. I let my sense of smell lead me down the alley to the next street over. As I exit the alley onto Front Street, the scent angles to the left and across, straight into a shop. The oval sign hanging over the front door says Wiccan Good Herbs. I edge into the darker shadows next to the buildings on my side of the street. From that vantage point, I watch as Rule walks behind the counter and gives an older woman a kiss on the cheek.
I close my eyes and search the building with my senses. There’s a slight vibration I can’t identify, and I don’t like not knowing. I fight the sudden urge to storm inside and seek out the source, to demand to know why Rule was following me. I’m sick and tired of questions and burn with the need for answers. I manage to keep myself from following through on the urge. Barreling headlong into the unknown doesn’t seem like the best tactic if I want to stay under the coven radar, if I want to stay alive.
I want to believe this is nothing more than a boy being attracted to me, but my instincts are insisting there is something else going on. And my instincts are rarely wrong.
"Tell me again why you’re dragging me to an herb shop,” Egan says as he parks the Jeep half a block down from Wiccan Good Herbs. "Haven’t I done enough with my fabulous computer mojo?”
I give him a squinty-eyed stare. "You’re backup. There is something wonky going on here, and I don’t want to walk into a trap alone.”
"So I get to walk into the trap with you. Some friend you are. I really am of better use alive.”
"Maybe we’ll find an herb here that can give you some modesty.”
I roll my eyes and slip out of the Jeep. I’m halfway to the shop before Egan catches up with me.
"You sure you just don’t have the hots for this guy?”
I stop and turn toward him. "That might be the stupidest thing you’ve ever asked me.”
He holds up his hands. "Sorry. But you need to let go.”
"Like you have?”
"You forget you can’t lie to me anymore,” I say. "I can sense when you’re not telling the truth.”
"Well, that’s annoying,” he says.
"How about we just both acknowledge that we miss them, and that we’re probably going to miss them for a long time?”
Egan looks like he’s going to respond then stops himself and redirects his gaze down the street. "Fine.”
As we enter the shop, my nose twitches with all the fragrances.
"Be with you in a minute,” a woman calls out from beyond a curtained doorway.
Egan wanders off to the left, looking as out of place as a dog at a cat convention. He picks up a jar candle.
"Says it is spelled for protection,” he says. "Maybe we should get one, or a thousand.”
"You don’t sound as if you’re a believer.” An older woman with her hair cut short and wearing long, dangling earrings materializes from behind the curtain. Okay, so she doesn’t really materialize, but she does move so softly she barely makes a sound.
I sense a sort of... hum about her, and I realize Rule had it, too. I just hadn’t been able to put my finger on what was different. I use a touch of my power to dig a little deeper, pulling back layers of energy. This woman’s is unfamiliar, not witch, not mortal human. It feels like it might be benign, but it’s odd enough to make me wary. She’s Wiccan, I presume, but not like any Wiccan I’ve ever encountered. They’ve always read like normal humans, but not this woman.
"That a candle in a jar can protect me?” Egan says. "Sorry, but no.”
The older woman smiles, and as she moves closer to us, I see that one of her earrings is made up of tiny silver moons, the other of silver suns. "There are a lot of things in this world we don’t understand. A little precaution never hurt anyone.”
Hmm, that sounded remarkably like what I’d been thinking.
Egan is on the verge of saying something else, but I shoot him a warning look.
"Don’t mind my brother,” I say. "He’s just grumpy because I made him come Christmas shopping with me.”
The woman offers a warm smile that for some reason makes me think of spice cookies and hot apple cider. Another layer in what I’m sensing is a very complex person. I wonder what she’s hiding, but I know she is hiding something.
"Then I’d best help you find some gifts,” the woman says. "What are you looking for?”
I do a quick scan of the shop, looking for Rule and some answers more than anything. But my gaze spots a display of soaps in the corner, and I walk toward it as I keep scanning the interior of the shop. "Maybe some soaps.”
"Oh, these are nice, made with goat’s milk. Very good for the skin, especially this time of year when everything is so dry.”
I only half listen to the woman talk about how the soap is made. The half that isn’t listening joins Egan in sensing out the place. There’s still that odd little hum in the air, but again, it isn’t something I can identify. Maybe all this Wiccan stuff has a hint of power about it, and this woman is just more practiced than the Wiccans I’ve met before.
"I’ll take two of the lavender and one of the cucumber and melon,” I say when the woman stops talking. Luckily, both Egan and I stashed away a lot of cash before we fled our covens. At least that’s one thing we don’t have to worry about.
"Excellent choices,” the woman says. She grabs the soaps and heads toward the front counter. "You two just in town visiting? Your accents don’t sound local.”
"Just moved here,” I say, wondering why everyone seems to be asking about where I’m from. Are Salemites just that curious, or am I sending out some sort of "I don’t belong here” vibe? I peel back another layer and sense that the woman’s question is more than idle curiosity. But why? Is it because of whatever she’s hiding? Does she sense I’m a threat to it?
Suddenly, I want nothing more than to know what this woman doesn’t want me to know.
"Well, welcome to Salem. I’m Fiona Day.” She looks at Egan and I as if expecting a reply.
"Jax, and Mr. Grumpypants is Egan,” I say.
"What interesting names.”
Before I can focus too much on Fiona’s interest in our unusual names, another woman comes through the curtain with a blue-and-white teapot.
"Oh, just in time,” Fiona says. "This is my daughter, Adele. She’s just made some peppermint tea. You two have some before you go back out into the cold.”
"That’s okay,” I say.
"Oh, I insist. Adele has a knack for making tea.”
Not wanting to protest too much, I accept a cup of tea then jerk my head toward the pot so Egan will do the same. I have to bite my tongue to not laugh at the sight of him with a dainty teacup in his hands.
I take a sip and let the warmth and minty flavor flow through me. But just as the tea hits my stomach, I detect something a little off with the flavor. What is that? Maybe a secret ingredient? This is, after all, an herb shop. My natural suspicion flares, but I push it aside. Despite the odd feeling I get around Fiona, she’s been nothing but friendly. Just like Rule.
My stomach twists a little, and I wonder if I dismissed my suspicion too quickly.
"Are you okay, dear?” Fiona asks.
I force a smile despite the growing discomfort in my middle. It isn’t pain exactly, but it’s not pleasant either. More like that queasy feeling you get when you eat something that’s a little past its expiration date. Maybe it’s nothing more than a mixture that doesn’t set well on my stomach. At least I hope that’s all it is.
"Yeah. I just think maybe the tea wasn’t a good idea on an empty stomach.” I glance at Egan and notice he doesn’t appear to be on the verge of singing the tea’s praises either. In fact, I sense a frisson of his dark power seeping out. I see it in his eyes, feel it in the static in the air.
We have to get out of here before he does something that will bite us in the butt big-time.
I place my tea on the counter, pull out the money for the soaps, and extend it to Fiona.
The older woman stares at me for a moment, as if she’s waiting for something to happen, then smiles and accepts the cash. "Thanks for coming in. Hope to see you again soon.”
I nod and guide Egan toward the door. When I place my hand on his back, his body is vibrating. That stirs my own power, and not in a good way. A witch’s natural instinct when threatened is to lash out, but I remind myself I don’t want to be that kind of witch anymore.
We wait until the women inside can no longer see us before either of us speaks.
"What the hell?” Egan says. "I feel like my stomach is tying in knots and I could blast those women into Vermont.”
I glance back at the herb shop. "I think something more than peppermint is in that tea.”
"But what? And why?”
"I’m not sure we’re going to like the answer to either of those questions.”
"They’re not witches,” he says.
"No, but they’re not quite human either.” If I had doubts before, they’re gone. "Maybe the covens have part-supernatural lackeys.”
"To do what, poison the tea of any witches who happen to stumble into town?”
"Maybe they’re like guard dogs, helping keep the covens secrets hidden away.” I point back at the shop. "Because they’re hiding something. I felt it.”
Egan moans and grabs his stomach. "Well, hopefully they’ll still be hiding it tomorrow when I don’t feel like my stomach is eating itself.”
He seems to be getting the worst end of the tea deal, so I take the car keys and drive us back to the cottage. By the time we get there, I’m feeling better but Egan still looks a bit green. While he goes to the bathroom, I lock the cottage door and scan the night outside. Though I don’t sense any witches, real witches anyway, something is definitely tickling my senses. It bothers me that I can’t figure out what. That just spurs me to try harder, drawing on a bit more of my magic to feel out the night. But whatever it was is gone now. Nothing out there but dormant vegetation and a slight breeze.
I try not to feel sick as the sound of Egan making himself throw up comes from the bathroom. Thankfully, it doesn’t last long and is followed by running water and the sound of him brushing his teeth. When he finally emerges, the green tinge is gone.
"Feel better?” I ask.
"My stomach’s not writhing, but I can’t say I’m going to be a big fan of tea anytime soon.” He gestures toward the window. "See anything?”
I shake my head. "Something weird is going on though.”
"Yeah, wouldn’t think trying to poison your customers would be good for business.” He walks to the sink and fills a glass with water then takes a long drink. "It was a good thing we left when we did. I felt my grip on my power slipping.”
"I know. I felt it, too.” I pace across the room.
"Maybe they’re hunters,” Egan says before taking another drink of water.
I shake my head again. "I don’t think so. Hunters are more direct in their methods. Like when Keller’s dad shot me, determined to keep my evil presence away from his son.”
Part of me wishes Keller were here. I miss his kisses, his arms around me, his knowledge of the supernatural world.
"You know what. I’m tired of dead ends,” I say. "I’m ready for some answers.”
"You, me and everyone looking for the meaning of the universe.”
"Why, or even if, I’m a white witch might not be presenting itself, but I bet we can find out why Fiona and Adele felt it necessary to drug our tea.”
Egan leans against the kitchen doorway. "You’re just going to march up and ask them?”
"Yeah. I’m in the mood for a direct approach.”
Egan smiles. "I like it.”
When we reach Wiccan Good Herbs, I use a touch of my power to unlock the front door and stride inside, Egan right behind me. Without pausing, I walk behind the counter and straight into the room behind the curtain.
Adele and Rule jump up from a small, round table covered with herbs and sachets. But Fiona remains seated and doesn’t seem the least bit surprised by our entrance.
"I thought you might be back,” Fiona says.
"What did you put in our tea?” I ask as I stroll around the edge of the room. I spare Rule a quick glance, and gone is the chipper, friendly appearance he wore at the library.
"Shavegrass,” Fiona replies.
"Why?” I ask.
Fiona looks up then and meets my gaze. "We needed to know if you were witches.”
I stop and stare at her. "So you know about witches.”
"Yes,” Fiona says.
Egan approaches the table, his presence large and imposing in the small room. Rule moves to block him from getting too close to Fiona. "You’re gonna want to back away, dude,” Egan says.
"Not a chance.”
Egan gives him a grin that really does look wicked, and I sense the darkness churning inside him.
"Back away, Egan,” I say.
He doesn’t seem to hear me.
I feel him pushing down hard on the dark energy. He slowly backs away from the table, crosses his arms and stares at Rule.
Fiona pats Rule’s arm, and his erect posture eases.
"You two are a puzzle,” Fiona says. "That you were researching the Pherson family, and the fact that you had a reaction to the shavegrass tells me that you are indeed witches. But you’re not flat out writhing in pain as the herb attacks the evil. Have dark witches begun to mix with non-witches? I never thought I’d see the day.”
I glance at Egan, thinking of Keller and Toni. When I meet the eyes of first Adele, then Rule and finally Fiona, I know with absolute certainty that these three know about the covens.
"It seems we’re both facing some mysteries,” I say. "How do you know about real witches?”
"Because we are witches,” Fiona replies.
"No, you’re not. I’d be able to sense your energy signatures if you were.”
"Why do you have those energy signatures?” Fiona asks as she twirls a twig of some herb between her fingers.
"Because we’re witches,” Egan says, sounding exasperated.
"Because you’re post-Salem witch trials witches.”
I meet Egan’s gaze, and he looks as confused as I am.
"Not every witch family chose to accept the dark power,” Rule says. "Some of them fled, hid until the newly formed dark covens left the area.”
I stare at Rule, then at the two women. "Your family fled.”
"Both the Latimers, Rule’s father’s line, and the Brandons, my family,” Fiona says. "And a few others. The Phersons were not among them.”
I look at Rule and realize some of the oddness I’d felt from him at the library was because he wasn’t being honest with me. He’d deliberately "helped” me by directing me to documents and books he knew didn’t hold any information about my family or the covens.
I shake my head and shift my attention back to Fiona. "I’ve never heard about any of this.”
"Of course, you haven’t.” Fiona turns in her seat to more fully face me. "I would imagine there are a great many things your family hasn’t been honest about.”
Though Fiona speaks the truth, I still feel the sting of the words as if I’m being lumped in with the rest of the Phersons. Their blood might run in my veins, but I’m not like them. That night at Shiprock, that bright white light enveloping me proved that. I have to believe that.
"Rule says you were looking for your family line here,” Adele says. "Why?”
I look at the woman, who I’ve figured out is Rule’s mother. I consider just how much truth I’m willing to share. After all, I don’t know these people or their motivations. But if they have information about the history of the covens I’ve never heard before, maybe they know how to defeat the covens. And that’s information I aim to get. I’ll just take it one step at a time and see what I need to reveal in exchange for new information.
"I want to find out if there’s a way to neutralize the covens so they can’t hurt anyone anymore,” I say. "At least not any more than a normal human.”
Fiona looks at Egan. "You feel the same way about your coven?”
I find I’m not surprised that Fiona hasn’t bought the story that Egan and I are siblings.
Egan hesitates before answering. "Yes.”
Fiona exchanges a look with Adele and Rule, then returns her attention to me. "If you’re telling the truth, we have similar interests.”
"We are,” I say.
"How do we know that for sure?” Adele asks, suspicion in her expression.
Annoyance flares within me. Even when I remind myself that she has every reason to be suspicious, my annoyance doesn’t dim. "Because if we were like any normal coven witch, you wouldn’t be alive right now,” I say.
"Because of the tea,” Fiona says.
I nod. "Anyone who attacks a coven witch doesn’t live long enough to apologize.”
"Then why did you come back here?” Adele asks.
"Because we are in Salem seeking information, and I sense that you’re hiding something. From us, specifically.”
"What type of information?” Fiona asks.
"The kind that keeps the covens out of our lives,” Egan says.
"A way to keep them from hurting anyone ever again,” I say.
"We don’t know how,” Adele says.
I look from her to Fiona. "Maybe not, but you’re right when you say the covens have lied to us. We need to know the truth.”
Fiona holds my gaze for several seconds, assessing, as silence settles around us. "Why you?”
This woman is very good at reading beyond the surface, but I don’t detect any malicious intent toward me. "Because I’ve never known a coven witch to fight the other members of their coven, to defy the darkness, and live to tell the tale. Until I did it.”
Fiona’s eyes widen slightly, and I sense surprise from Adela and Rule, too.
I decide to dive in, to trust these people I’ve just met. "Have you ever heard of a white witch?”
I glance at Egan and see the disbelief written plainly across his face.
"No. Why?” Fiona says.
"Because I think I might be one, or at least have the potential to be one.”
"Jax,” Egan says, warning in his voice.
I wave away his concern. "We don’t have all the time in the world,” I say, then return my attention to Fiona. "Before we came here, we were in a battle with my coven. It was only the two of us and two of our non-witch friends versus a dozen dark witches. It was at one of the spots where the covens harvested their dark magic. I knew we’d all die if I didn’t do something drastic, so I drew more power out of the earth. At first, it was all dark, but then something unexpected happened.”
I meet Egan’s gaze for a moment before continuing. "I pretty much exploded in light. It totally erased the darkness inside me, and it literally lifted me into the air. Suddenly, I was more powerful than all those coven witches put together. They fled from me.”
"That’s good, right?” Rule asks.
"It bought us enough time to get away and keep our friends safe. But I’m hesitant to use something I don’t understand.”
"What have you heard about white witches?” Rule asks.
"Next to nothing,” I say. "We always thought what little we heard were just stories told by kids. It wasn’t ever something you’d mention to a grown witch.”
Fiona takes a deep breath then gives her daughter a meaningful look. Another long moment passes before she stands and walks toward a long worktable along the far wall. She opens a drawer and retrieves something I can’t see. When she returns, she extends a crudely made metal cross to me.
"This won’t hurt me,” I say. "I’m not a vampire. I can go inside a church, touch holy water.”
"Then it shouldn’t be a problem for you to hold it, should it?”
I take the cross, but instead of it being cool it feels warm in my hand. I turn it over and look at the opposite side, then switch hands. When I glance up at Fiona, she’s looking at me as if I’m some sort of complex mathematical equation. "What?”
Instead of answering, she nods toward Egan. "Now you.”
With a loud sigh, he takes the cross but immediately tosses it from one hand to the other. "What did you do to make it hot?” He holds it by the tip and twirls it between his fingers.
"Show me your hands,” Fiona says as she takes the cross back.
"Just do it,” I say, wanting to get past whatever test Fiona is obviously putting us through.
Egan holds up his hands, palms out, and wiggles his fingers. Then he points at the cross. "This proves nothing. Any dark coven witch could come in here and hold that.”
"No, they couldn’t,” Fiona says. "That’s not just any cross. It’s made from two of the iron nails that were used to nail Christ to the cross.”
"What, is that more unbelievable than the existence of dark witches with incredible powers?” Fiona asks.
"How do you know it’s real?” I ask. "What is it supposed to do, detect evil?” I think of Keller’s bloodstone and how my magic had made it light up like a red Christmas tree bulb.
Fiona holds up the cross. "This was brought to Salem by a minister who witnessed both the witch trials and the formation of the dark covens. He got it from a reliable source in Jerusalem. If a dark witch touches it, its power will melt their skin.”
"Sorry, but I think the battery’s low,” Egan says.
Fiona gives him a look of exasperation, very much like a tired mother whose child challenges her at every turn.
"How do you know it even works?” I ask. "The covens left here after they accepted the dark power and haven’t been back. At least that’s what we’ve been told.”
"Because the minister saw the power with his own eyes when he pressed it against the forehead of a newly made dark witch,” Fiona says.
"Doubtful,” I say. "He wouldn’t have been allowed to live.”
"He was able to flee while the witch tried to recover from the searing pain. And before you ask, I know this to be absolutely true because that minister was my many times great-grandfather.”
"Lot of ministers in this evil-fighting business,” Egan says under his breath.
I know he’s referring to Keller’s father, a Methodist minister who takes fighting evil very seriously. I ignore him and stay focused on Fiona. "Maybe the tale got exaggerated over time. It was hot to the touch for Egan, but I only detected a slight warmth.”
"Which tells me you two aren’t entirely evil.” Fiona shakes her head. "I’ve never heard of such from a witch descended from the families that accepted the dark magic.”
"Why did it affect us differently?” Egan asks.
I glance at him and know what he’s thinking, that the cross didn’t affect me as much because I may be a white witch.
"You’re more evil than her,” Adele says, matter-of-factly.
Fiona watches me. "Maybe there is something to your white witch theory.” Finally, she turns and heads for a cupboard shoved against the back wall.
"Mom,” Adele says with a note of warning in her voice.
"They passed the test,” Fiona says.
"We have waited three centuries for some sign, some way to rid the world of the darkness born in the wake of the trials. There is something different about these two,” Fiona says. She stares first at Egan then me. "Something that might finally right wrongs.” She turns her attention to her daughter. "Have you ever known my instinct to be wrong about anyone?”
Adele glances at Egan and me before giving what looks like a reluctant shake of her head.
"And it’s the first time anything like this has ever happened,” Fiona continues. "We’ve never had this type of power on our side before.”
I scrunch my forehead. "Your side?”
"We have a lot to discuss,” Fiona says. When she opens the cupboard, there are no shelves holding supplies as I expect. The older woman gestures toward the yawning darkness at the top of a set of descending stairs. "You ready for some answers?”
I stand still as possibilities run through my head. Is this a trap? What’s at the bottom of those stairs? But I think about how Egan and I have been flying blind lately and how the covens are no doubt looking for a way to defeat us once and for all.
I glance at Adele and don’t sense duplicity. When I meet Rule’s gaze, I hold it. To his credit, he doesn’t lower his or look away. For a moment, he reminds me a bit of Keller, not in looks but in an inherent rightness. That’s what tips my decision.
I take the first step toward the stairs.