Author Update – Birthday Treat

You know when it’s your birthday, and you bring in cakes for everyone at work? Well, this is my version of bringing cakes. 

My book will be on special offer on Friday May 5th so I can celebrate with my book besties. Be sure to go to your Kindle app or to Amazon on Friday and give me a birthday treat by downloading my book. Feel free to share about it everywhere or add it to your Goodreads

Also, for anyone interested in my next book, The Viper’s Library, the beta copy is ready to go. I’m just putting the final touches to the formatting to make it look good. Click here if for updates and snippets from the book, and here are some Instagram posts for fun.


Zelenka hates people, but when and 8yro girl ask for help with her drunk if a stepfather, Zelenka makes him regret hurting his stepchildren. Out this November. #booktok #theviperslibrary

♬ original sound – 𝖖𝖚𝖎𝖓𝖓🧿
My latest TT from The Viper’s Library

Happy reading.

Happy Easter and Happy Spring

If you celebrate Easter, you might be familiar with the Easter egg hunt. Well, I did the hunt for you since I searched high and low for some fun treats to send out to a lucky reader. It took me a while to find the perfect things to accompany my book, but I’m finally satisfied and want to share them. They may be smelly and feathery and yummy, not all at the same time 🤣 

Hint hint on the smelly stuff.

To celebrate reaching 1k on TikTok, I’m doing a giveaway of Out of Ashes with goodies and a signed copy of my book. This is open to my TikTok and Instagram followers, and will close on April 7th. 

If you’ve already entered, then just sit back and wait for the announcement on Saturday 8th of April. 

If you’d like to enter, go my giveaway page and fill in the entry form to get put in the random raffle. I will announce the winner via TikTok and Instagram on the 8th of April. 

Good luck, and I hope you enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed writing it.

February Update – Sneak Peek at The Viper’s Library

I’m so excited about The Viper’s Library trilogy. I started it for NaNoWriMo in November 2022 but was focussing on Out of Ashes, so I kept dipping in and out. Now it’s finally a whole story, and I’m ready for feedback. I have to do a run-through to clear up as many spelling and silly grammar mistakes as possible, but apart from that and a few tweaks, it’s good to go. 

Another reason this has taken so long to draft is because it’s a trilogy, and I’ve been planning those books while writing this one so I can set things up for the rest of the trilogy. 

The release is planned for November 1st.

For more updates and snippets, subscribe below or sign up to be a beta reader for The Viper’s Library by March 31st. If you have already completed the form, then you can DM me on social media or email me at

See below for a sneak peek. Please note this is an early version and only self-edited so far. The final version won’t be ready until September when I’ll be sending out ARCs. In the meantime, I hope you like the opening.

Content and Trigger Warnings: Contains graphic violence, violence involving minors, strong language, suggestive language, body insecurities, suggested SA. There are explicit sex scenes with multiple partners throughout the book but not in this snippet.


Prologue The Viper


Blood pooled in the back of my throat, choking me as I fought for breath. Every muscle in my body was paralyzed, and spots filled my vision. Screams assaulted my ears from next to me, but I couldn’t move to see which of my sisters it was. It sounded like all of them at once.

Horses neighed and whinnied above me, their hooves slamming the ground by my head, juddering the ground. Men shouted to find others who might be hiding on our small farm.

“Aelia?” Octavia rasped, her hand trembling as it spider-crawled along the ground. Her head was by mine, but it hurt to look in her direction.

“On your other side.” My words came out gargled, and I knew I was dying. Pain lanced my side, and when I cast my eyes down, I baulked at the slash from chest to hip. So much blood and parts of me that should be on the inside spilled out of the wound. I must have lost too much blood, for the past few minutes were a void until they crashed unceremoniously into my mind.

Vampires had attacked our village and left most of us for dead. Then the raiders came for what was left. They always followed the vampires, so I’d run to my family’s farm only to find raiders and vampires fighting over my siblings. The vampires won, but not before a raider had used me as a human shield by jamming a blade into my side to distract the vampires with my blood.

A male crouched next to me with eyes the colour of crimson, two elongated fangs and blood smearing his mouth and chin. “Hello, pretty little thing.” He squeezed my chin between his fingers and tilted my head to one side.

My gut roiled at the sight of my sister, Aelia, face down, green eyes glazed and locked on our other sister, Octavia, while a vampire fed on the back of her shoulder. I choked again, coughing and vomiting at the same time as my chest burned.

Tears stung my eyes as Aelia’s hand dragged along the gritty ground to reach Octavia’s. I’d never wanted death until that moment, and I wished it for all of us just to stop the pain.

The vampire above me shoved my sisters’ hands from one another and locked mine above my head. “See that,” he whispered, his breath stale and tinged with the metallic scent of blood. I took in the man atop Aelia as he undid his trousers, and if I’d had much blood left, I was sure it would have drained at the sight. “That’s what I’m going to do to you while I drain you, pretty little thing.” He lifted strands of my deep red hair and sniffed it as if it were a fine red wine.

My tears came hard and fast now, and agonising pain met my attempts to move. The sight of his blood-stained teeth made my stomach lurch as a cry lodged in my throat. I let out a sob and fought harder to move, managing to lift my leg quickly enough to knee him in the groyne.

“Fucking bitch,” he hissed, and pressed my leg down with his, dragging more agony and a scream from me as he pressed his fingers into my wound. “Stay still.” His growling words sank into my muscles, freezing every part of me save for my convulsing chest.

No, no, no. I prayed for anything but more pain, to all the gods and goddesses of Afterlight, to anyone who could make this a swift end. “Please spare us,” I whispered. The Elemental Goddess had once blessed my childhood home lands with the perfect balance of elements, so I prayed to her to bless me once again with a quick death, or to let me pass out until my heart no longer beat.

“That’s not how it works, pretty.” The vampire licked my face, and my chest heaved as bloodied bile spilled from my mouth.

I scrunched my eyes, begging the divine one more time. “Spare us. Please.”

Holding my breath, I was distantly aware of the silence that had fallen around us along with the lack of movement in my periphery when I opened my eyes again. Not even the horses made a sound. The vampire stilled and glanced about. Aelia lay unmoving, just out of reach, but her attacker had gone. Octavia gasped as something rattled within the shadows of the barn.

Black flashed across me in a rush of air, and the vampire was gone. I held in a yelp, and where pain had stilled me before, now fear froze my limbs. Had I summoned a saviour in my prayer, or had something worse come to devour us all?

A scream rent the darkness of the farm, cut off when the shadow flew about. Slowly, I tilted my head in Octavia’s direction, and shock crashed into me at the raiders and vampires all strung up by their feet on a wooden frame that usually held our cattle once slaughtered.

Shimmering black coiled below them, the rattling sound increasing, and violet eyes narrowed in on me and my sisters. As the creature slithered closer, its form became clearer. A giant serpent slid nearer, its head as large as a cow, and the rest of it looked as though it could devour a large sheep, or several, in a single gulp.

It hovered over Aelia, and its form flitted away in plumes of smoke, leaving a woman close to my twenty-three years in age, but the black scales still covered her skin. A goddess, but not the Serpent Goddess whose scales were said to be as green and shiny as spring grass. These were like layers of black fingernails all shifting as she moved.

She smiled down at Aelia and gently turned my sister over. My vision blurred, and my pulse pounded in my already ringing ears and the blood that had pooled beneath her. When my sight cleared a moment later, my sister got to her feet, her movements stiff but nothing beyond waking up after a long sleep.

Aelia rushed to Octavia’s weakened form, the latter’s pale blue eyes fluttering open and closed. “Now her,” Aelia said. “Please save her.”

The woman crouched by my sisters with her back to me, and after what felt like an eternity, but could only have been a few minutes, Octavia sat upright with a gasp. Aelia muttered things about ripping men’s hearts out and ridding the world of the vampires who often plagued these lands.

A shadow fell over me, and the serpent woman scooped up my head to rest in her lap, and I belatedly realised she was naked. It was an odd thing to notice while dying, but the scales, her slender body, violet eyes and lips mesmerised me.

“Who are you?” I asked, the words strained in my throat.

She smiled and stroked my face. “My name is Viessa, and I am the Viper Goddess.” Her voice came out in a hiss as violet stars shimmered on her midnight scales. “Those men up there,” she gestured to the strung-up raiders and vampires. “are still alive. I can give you the power to kill the ones who hurt you tonight. Then you can go after the other raiders and vampires who destroyed your village and killed your siblings.”

My gasp was lost in more blood pooling in my throat. Dead. They were all dead save for Octavia and Aelia. Whatever sobs I expected never came as I took in the raiders and vampires, all male, the Viper Goddess, my sisters standing up as if nothing had happened, and the fresh blood soaking the ground.

The woman leaned down to whisper in my ear. “I can give you immortality to take revenge on anyone you like.”

I didn’t know if I wanted revenge. I just knew I wanted the pain to stop.

She lifted a crystal bottle around the size of a fist from the ground next to me. I had no idea where it came from, but remnants of what looked like red wine slid down the inside. No, not wine. Blood. Lifting my inner forearm to her mouth, she sank her serpentine fangs into the skin and held the bottle below the bleeding puncture marks. A moment passed as I stared at the thick red liquid filling the bottle. My blood spilled over, then she drank from the bottle while I watched in sickening horror.

The Viper Goddess above me bit into her own forearm, refilling the bottle. “It’s an exchange,” she said as her blood spilled into the bottle. “Drink this, and you’ll be like me.” I belatedly noticed the bottle resembled the shape of a large heart, not unlike that of the cows I’d slaughtered for meat. I spat out more blood and was about to protest when she rested the bottle on my lips and poured. “Drink,” she said.

How was she any different to the vampires who fed on the villagers? Another prayer to the Elemental Goddess crossed my mind to spare me from being just like those who’d killed everyone I’d ever cared about.

“Drink,” she hissed, her voice a soft vibrating echo, and this time, I couldn’t resist.

Despite my mind begging me not to drink her blood, my lips betrayed me, and I devoured the blood before I could stop myself. The surge of power struck me like falling into an icy lake in winter, but there was no pain, only silence and darkness and cold.

Breathing became easier, and I leaned forward, half expecting to throw up again. Nothing happened, and I could neither see nor feel my own body. Surely, I was dead and in some in-between place before reaching Afterlight. At least I thought I was going there. I wasn’t perfect, but I’d done nothing so bad as to deserve Underland.

Whispers sounded from a flicker of light beyond, and I followed it, still unsure of how I could move without a corporeal form. The light turned golden like the midday sun, and it pulled me, a gentle string around my wrist.

“Come, Zelenka.” After all these years, I still knew my mother’s voice, and felt her warmth. “Come to me.” I wondered if she’d heard my plea and was taking me to Afterlight. The light was comforting, lulling, as I reached for my mother.

I stopped short when another glowing light burst from next to it in violet. A dark slit formed in its centre in the shape of a snake’s eye. Panicking, I scrambled towards the golden light, but the string snapped, and another grabbed hold of me, cold and sharp, dragging me through the darkness within the violet light.

It blinded me as I rolled onto my side, the snake woman catching me before my head hit the ground. I was back in my body, night air brushing my limbs and the fire torches blazing like bonfires. A dozen heartbeats sounded in my ears from the forest beyond the farmland, and flapping wings sounded far above me. I looked up at the swifts darting about the evening sky, too far for a human’s ear.

No, please no.

The light flared again, exposing the contrast between my sisters. Aelia had hair so similar to mine, and her eyes were a shade darker despite having different mothers. Our father had a type. Octavia, on the other hand, took after our father with inky black hair, sun-kissed skin and eyes the color of clear summer skies.

But the reality of what I had become froze my blood. A snake vampire.

“You are the first vipers I have ever made, Aelia, Zelenka, and Octavia,” the Viper Goddess said to my sisters, stroking their faces before holding their cheeks to her breast like newborns. “You have all my powers and are now goddesses in your own right.”

I didn’t ask how she knew our names.

“Why?” Aelia asked. “Not that I’m not grateful you saved our lives, but why us?”

“Because I’ve been searching for you,” she said and set her violet gaze on me.

My sisters and I shared looks, theirs filled with fury, and mine… Goddess knew what. The thoughts I was so often bogged down by eluded me. I couldn’t process anything save for how my sisters thanked the viper for her gift while I wanted to give it back.

In several breaths, they tore into the raiders and vampires like wolves into cattle. The screams made me shrivel into myself, and I covered my ears to drown out the sound.

The viper hooked her icy fingers around my wrists and pulled them from my ears. “I apologise for the discomfort,” she said as if I were a child. “It will pass, and you can use your new power to exact your revenge.”

“Revenge?” I whispered and shot to my feet, so fast that I nearly stumbled. Everything around me seemed to slow as I moved with preternatural speed.

“Yes,” she said.

“What can we do in return for this gift?” Aelia asked, curiosity glinting in her eyes as she held the head of the vampire who’d I’d seen atop her. His eyes were glazed and wide, and blood dripped from his shredded neck, each drop a crash in my ears as it hit the ground. Seconds. It had taken seconds for Aelia to kill a vampire. 

Viessa patted the strawy patch where she still crouched, ignoring my growing panic. Aelia and Octavia sat, fresh blood coating their skin and clothes. Despite being grown women, they had the look of children wanting their mother to tell them a story while I wanted to throw up again.

My gaze fell on where the narrow stretch of forest separated the farm from the town, and I wondered who had survived this time. Some had protection glyphs placed by witches to keep the vampires out, but it didn’t work on the raiders. A few were divine-blessed and held power of their own to defend themselves, but most fled for a day or so when the vampires attacked. I didn’t blame them.

“I want daughters and warriors,” the viper said, dragging my attention back to my sisters. “I wish for you to help me rid the world of the plague of vampires and the males who would use us women for their own despicable needs.” She stroked Aelia’s face in emphasis. Her eyes turned serpentine, and she pressed a kiss to my brow in a way that brought tears to my eyes over being so close to my mother only to be dragged in this Underland. “Take your revenge, Zelenka.”

I cringed at her motherly tone towards me, but the scent of the raiders’ blood drifted under my nose. My gaze snapped to the raider whose dagger had been inside my guts, and the vampire who had been about to drain me, and I didn’t dare think of what else they would have done to me in that state.

Ravenous hunger overwhelmed me as the raider’s heartbeat pounded in my ears, and I focussed on the pulsing vein in his neck. I shot forwards with otherworldly speed, aiming for the man’s throat. Fangs swung out in a way that didn’t feel like vampiric fangs, and I sank them into the raider’s flesh.

His screams filled my ears as his blood poured into my mouth. An odd sensation tingled in my mouth as liquid left my fangs and spilled into his veins. Venom. I had venom. Despite the distant disgust over what I was doing, I relished in the liquid that tasted as good as chocolate.

The blood stirred my hunger as I lost myself in the taste and feel of the hot liquid. Power and life filled me as my senses spiked with scents and sounds and vibrant colours flooded my vision.

I unlatched my fangs and set my sights on the vampire. His blood-shot eyes had turned to brown, as human as any other, and he shook his head.

“No,” he breathed, then began begging.

“Shut up,” I said, but my voice came out in a sharp hiss, and he instantly stopped. A thrill ran through me over the sudden reverse of power. “Tell me. How does it feel to be powerless prey?”

His eyes flared before I grabbed his head and ripped it from his neck the way Aelia had done. I’d think of something more creative for next time as grom satisfaction thrummed in my veins. As I strode back to my sisters and my sire, I tossed the vampire’s head next to the other.

Where the Viper Goddess had a cold blue haloing her form, the raiders and vampires were varying shades of yellow and orange. My sisters’ haloes were blue-green, turning more blue the longer I looked. Crimson speckled their irises, and Aelia’s smile was as wicked as when she’d made my brothers throw me in the river with a rock tied to my ankle.

“Perhaps this will make you more amusing,” she said.

“Only if it makes you less of a fucking bitch,” I snarled, and felt a trickle of blood on my chin.

Octavia giggled and clapped. “It’s so funny when you talk back to us like—”

“Do not fight,” my sire hissed, and stroked Aelia’s face again. “You will have to work together if you want to learn what it takes to be a viper.”

I wiped the dribbles of blood around my mouth, cringing at the mess and the raider’s torn throat. His heartbeat had stopped, and his body was going cold as his life force drifted past me like an icy breeze. The satisfaction at his death both thrilled and disgusted me, but at least he couldn’t hurt anyone else. Maybe the Viper Goddess was right. Maybe I could rid the world of vampires and men who took whatever they pleased.

I straightened my back and nodded to my sire. “Then I will be your warrior.”

1 The Library


He was late, and I was bored and hungry, or thirsty, depending on how one considered the need for blood. I’d been tapping my fingers on the arm of my chair—or throne, as I liked to think of it—for thirty minutes. If he didn’t bring my fresh food soon…

Lyria’s tail coiled around my arm, her tight grip reddening my skin. I hissed at her, and she snapped her head to face me. Those golden slitted eyes pondered something before she growled and puffed smoke through her nostrils, her sharp gaze narrowing at the wall. A rodent, judging by the distant scurrying sound.

“That’s why I keep you around,” I said to the small dragon through a half chuckle. “You’re a good mouse-catcher.”

Lyria tilted her head, and smoke swirled from the edges of her mouth. She was small for her kind, the size of a house cat with her wings tucked in and wasn’t likely to grow much bigger.

“Fine,” I said, stroking her deep green scales along her spine. “I’d also be horribly bored without you.”

Her tongue flicked at the air, catching my cheek. Her tail slithered around my arm again, black scales catching the moonlight that spilled across the chequered floor in the main room of the library. The scent of old books danced under my nose as I returned to tapping my fingers on my throne, a large sapphire velvet chair with a tall back and gold leafing on its carved wooden arms.

I checked the clock above the arched entranceway. Quarter to one.

Now he’s extremely late.

Crossing one leg over the other, I focussed on the spider’s silk of my black dress, the soft material centering me as it often did when I grew impatient or restless, the long skirt rippling over my skin. There was no need for such finery, but I tended to alternate between something regal and something befitting a huntress to receive my delivery every full moon.

The box of chocolates on the table next to me had lost their appeal a while ago as I waited for the young human to bring me what I truly desired. At least I had wine to dampen my heightened senses, so I didn’t have to listen to every single creature scurrying around outside, and leaves and grass rustling in the evening breeze. Though I could still hear larger creatures like deer or dragons if they ventured close.

My book, wine, and Lyria were my entertainment to pass the time. Tonight, my drink was a fruity white from the dozens of bottles in the library’s pantry, and my book was a raunchy adventure romance of sirens and pirates and sea queens. Goddess, I missed living by the sea.

I stroked my necklace of sea glass, carved into the shape of a long shell or a cocoon depending on how you looked at it. Either way, it meant protection and was a gift from my mother, the only piece of her I had left.

Hooves clicked beyond the library’s grounds and stopped at what I estimated was the front gate. A moment later, crunching grass sounded near the main door just before it creaked open. I always left it unlocked on a full moon. Gentle footfalls grew closer, lighter than usual. Hmm, that doesn’t sound like Thorn.

The person stopped just short of the entrance to the hall, but I didn’t miss the intake of breath and the thudding heartbeat. Poor little lamb.

“Hello,” a small female voice said. I recognized the girl, though I’d only caught glimpses of her in the town’s tavern.

“Enter,” I commanded, and placed my book down.

Barely double figures, the girl stepped into the archway at the front of the room. She dragged the small cart I always left by the gate to bring the many boxes into the library.

I chuckled menacingly and nodded to the dagger tucked into the belt at her hip. “You’ve come to kill me, girl?”

Her hazel eyes widened, and she dropped the blade into the cart. “Nothing of the sort, My Queen.”

A thrill raced through me at her referring to me as Queen. I couldn’t help it. It got me every time. Of course, they had no idea I was more goddess than queen. They thought I was a territorial viper who liked pretty crowns and made a bargain for a simple life. If only it were that simple.

She bowed low and took an uncomfortably long time to get back up. “There’s talk of fiends a few towns over to the west, so I brought the knife for my protection on the way here.”

I scowled and glanced out one of the many windows overlooking the back garden and the Lunar Forest beyond. The valley ended but a few miles east of my lands and met another stretching from north to south. Trouble usually came from that valley, not the west.

“Be sure to raise the flag should they enter my territory, and I will see them gone.” The tall mast over her mother’s tavern held the signal should they need me to keep my bargain with them.

“Thank you.” The girl bowed again, dusty blonde hair draping over her face. “I have your delivery.”

Nodding to the base of my makeshift dais, I took my goblet of wine from the table, where Lyria had coiled herself, and finished it. I sniffed the girl as she opened the back of the cart and slid the crate onto the floor at the foot of the dais. The scent of ale and meat stew clung to her the way it did her older brother, who usually made me deliveries. But there was something else beyond her scent, something I picked up on when venturing to the Moonshine Tavern. Witch, just like all the women in her family.

Her earthen scent awoke an old memory of spells and magic and the Elemental Goddess who blessed this region just as she had my childhood homeland.

“Where is the boy?” Despite knowing his name, I never used it in front of him, for it would create familiarity.

“My…” she gulped as her eyes fell on Lyria. “My brother brought me with the horse and wagon, but he is a little unwell and didn’t want to appear unseemly to you.”

“Has a plague reached the town?” I asked, though I knew if  he was sick, his mother could heal a simple influenza, and I just liked seeing the girl squirm.

“No,” the girl replied. “Just a seasonal illness.”

“As your Queen,” I said in a harsh flat tone, “I need to be informed immediately of any threats to the town. I wouldn’t want my,” I licked my lips and eyed the girl, “sustenance to be tainted.”

“I-I…” She bowed again. “There is no cause for alarm, My Queen.”     

I tapped my heeled sandals on the tiled dais and crossed my arms over my chest. “I had better not hear of deaths because of the incompetence of my subjects. You are all alive and safe because I permit it. And the talk of fiends in the other towns should have reached me sooner. I’ve a good mind to lock a dozen of you in the cellar for your blood and leave the rest to their own fate.”

The girl shook her head. “No. I promise we only heard of the fiends this morning. They came from the west.” I’d expected her to be quivering by now, but she did nothing of the sort. Instead, she smiled and curtseyed. “Anything else, My Queen?”

I handed her the list of things I wanted for next month in a small envelope, and she pocketed it with a nod.

“Sit,” I commanded, gesturing to the cushions next to me.

Sighing, I rifled through the boxes. Outfits in spider’s silk and satin, a box that jingled—likely containing jewels to appease me—and a pair of tall leather boots, and several wine bottles, some unlabeled.

My mouth watered as I popped the cork of one of the unlabeled bottles with my teeth and sniffed the delicacy inside. Tangy and metallic. I half-filled the goblet with the thick red liquid.

The girl winced as I put the goblet to my mouth and took a tentative sip. The blood tasted of more than a hundred different people, all giving me a few drops in exchange for their safety from the dangers to the east. That was our simple deal, along with a few extras for my personal comfort.

“How old are you, witchling?” I asked.

The girl perked up, her smile back on her face. “I’m almost ten.”

A pang formed in my chest at how I would say that when people asked. The idea of being almost a year older made me feel more mature, especially since I was the youngest of eighteen siblings.

“How did you know I was a witch?” she asked.

“You smell of dirt.” I gave her an amused sneer and waved a dismissive hand at her. “I scented it on the women in your family long ago.”

Her lower lip drooped, and her eyes grew wide. “Nobody knows,” she said.

“I am aware of that.”

She looked up, lip quivering as she inhaled. “Don’t you want to feed on me?”

“No.” It was a half-lie. Witch blood was rather delicious, and if she were older, I might have had a few drops. I would settle for the wine, chocolates, and fresh blood in the crate over the blood of a child. Even I had lines I would never cross.

Lyria leaped from the table, her webbed wings snapping out wide to guide her down and approach the girl. The girl stilled as my dragon rose on her haunches to meet her eyes.

“She won’t hurt you unless you appear a threat,” I said. “She’s just curious.”

Slowly, the girl raised a hand to meet Lyria’s face before my pet huffed a little smoke, her throat glowing. The girl’s hand mimicked the glow, and I chuckled. Of all the things I’d expected tonight, a witchling playing with my pet dragon was not one of them.

“She likes you,” I said, amused by the mutual curiosity in the pair.

“I like her too,” the girl said and reached for a chocolate

My hand caught her wrist before she could take one. Her eyes widened, and her fluttering heart played across my ears. I almost balked at her look of horror, but I’d worked hard to get those looks, and I wouldn’t want to undo it because of one little girl.

Her wide eyes stared at our hands. “You’re freezing.”

“I’m cold-blooded,” I said. “And you will learn to respect people’s chocolates,” I said, a hypnotic hiss lacing my voice. I occasionally compelled her brother to forget our casual conversations. It was easier that way.

“Apologies, My Queen.” She blinked as if shaking some thought from her mind.

“You’re Emberly, yes?” I’d heard her mother shout her name enough times in her family’s tavern along with the flash of her honey braids or pigtails through the crowd.

Her gaze shot up at the use of her name. “Yes.”

“And why did your parents send someone so young in here?” I asked.

Emberly shrugged. “My father…”

Shit. I’d forgotten for a moment that he’d died the previous year, and now the girl would become sad and snively.

Her eyes dropped to where I’d just grabbed her, a purple bruise ringing her wrist, too dark to be from my grip just now. Besides, I was always careful with humans and their weak forms. “My stepfather cares little for me and my brother.”

“What has he done?” I asked, blood seething beneath my skin at anyone harming a child.

She sucked on her lower lip, and I wasn’t sure her fear was because of me or her stepfather. She gulped audibly and stared at the chocolates.

Rolling my eyes, I plopped the box in her lap. “Finish them if you want.”

Her dull expression brightened as she tossed three into her mouth and devoured them faster than I’d seen since my sister would sneak mother’s sugared jelly sweets when she wasn’t looking. Maybe that was why I’d let Thorn stay all those times, and now Emberly.

These human children reminded me of a time before the blood of an Underland Goddess had tainted me. Some days, I wished I’d died instead of being reborn as this monster. But then there were days like this when I had the finest wine, fresh blood, new silk clothes, and a very good book.

“Is that why you’re here in place of your brother?” I asked finally. “Because of your stepfather?”

“Well,” she said through a mouthful of chocolates, then looked at me as she realized she’d confirmed my suspicion.

I swiped one for myself, slightly regretting my offer to let her finish them. I hadn’t requested any for this month.

Her throat bobbed. “I didn’t know if he would actually ask you or not, but…” another gulp. Fear tinged her witchy scent. Emberly’s pleading eyes cracked something in my chest. The girl didn’t have to say more for me to see the look of shame on her face. For what exactly, I wasn’t sure. Asking me or for whatever I might do.

“I will see him gone.” Killing him would be deserving for making a girl resort to this, but it would forever ruin her to live with his death on her conscience. There were plenty of other things I could do to make sure he never hurt anyone again.

“You will?” she asked with a sheepish look. “Thorn thought you would kill him for just asking a favor.”

I leaned in close, scenting the sweetness of the youth in her blood, akin to the chocolates she’d almost finished. “And what do you think I’ll ask for in return for this favor?”

“I…” She grimaced. “I’ll do anything.”

“Anything?” I crooned, noting one last chocolate in her palm. “Give me that last chocolate back, and I want double next time.”

Her jaw opened and closed as if she were fighting words before she stretched out her hand. “I’ll bring you a dozen boxes of chocolates next month.”

I chuckled, but this time, it was pure amusement. “You have a deal, witchling. Your stepfather will be gone within the week, and I’ll make sure he spends the rest of his days regretting what he’s done.”

Moments passed as the moons’ light swept across the rows of books. It wasn’t until the girl yawned that I realised I’d kept her so long, far longer than her brother. To account for the girl’s lost time, I pressed the tips of my sharp incisors to her wrist. Everyone would assume I’d fed on her. I turned back to the crate, lifting out the boots with a matching corset and sheer lace hanging from it, just as I’d ordered.

“You may leave,” I told the girl, not facing her.

She didn’t move judging by the lack of footsteps.

“I. Said. Leave,” I growled and spun to face her, baring my teeth and letting my eyes shift into the slits of my inner viper.

Her already pale skin turned white as she froze in place. If she wasn’t scared before, she certainly would be now with my fangs on display. I’d also forced my deep green eyes to turn red, a sign of my bloodlust. Then there was the hiss in my voice, an irresistible command that had people doing my bidding.

I hissed and snapped at the air for added effect, which finally sent her running. A moment passed as I listened for the door closing as she fled, leaves crunching under her hurried footfalls.

Too long. I’d let her stay too long and… Fuck. I knew I should have compelled her to forget everything the way I did with her brother.

A scream startled me from my thoughts, and I whirled to face the direction of the front gate as another scream echoed around the grounds. Emberly.

I kicked off my sandals and ran down the hallway and out the front door. Overgrown shrubbery tore at the hem of my dress, but I ignored it as shouts came from beyond the tall iron gate that met the narrow lane from the town. More screams sounded, and I leapt over the gate with little effort.

My sight narrowed in on Thorn and Emberly’s small wagon, its lantern fizzing out on the ground and the horse neighing with panic. I recognised Thorn’s lanky frame, on the cusp of manhood, and a mop of dark curly hair bobbing as he held out a silver-tipped blade.

Clever boy bringing that.

A tall female hooked an arm around Emberly’s small frame, her fangs glinting in the moonlight and eyes glowing red.

“Laura,” I hissed. It had been over a hundred years, but I recognised my sister’s minion. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Looking for you,” she said with a bloodied sneer, and my stomach dropped over her tasting the witch in Emberly. She unlatched a pouch from her belt and dropped it at my feet. “And look who I find leaving your… What is that place anyway?”

“Mine, and you’re on my land. These children are my sources, so you can fuck off and find your own food.”

She licked the side of Emberly’s neck where she’d bitten her. “They don’t taste like yours.”

Shit. Even lesser vipers like Laura could taste if another viper had claimed a blood source. Emberly’s hand glowed, burning into Laura’s arm, but the viper didn’t seem fazed by it. In a single breath, I was on her, one hand shoving Emberly towards her brother, the other digging my nails into Laura’s throat.

“You should have been more careful whose lands you fed on,” I hissed, my tongue shifting into a lengthened fork and spitting venom at her face.

Sharper than hers, my fangs slipped out. A warm breeze blew over the back of my neck, unseasonably warm. I snapped my gaze to the morning sun cresting the distant hills. It wouldn’t kill her, but it would hurt enough for her to reconsider going in the sunlight. Me, on the other hand, sunlight did nothing.

“Thorn, Emberly.” I shouted. “Get to the clearing by the well.” It was on a small hill where the sun would soon reach.

Nothing happened. Nobody moved.

A male viper stood between the children and the hill, licking his lips. Damn fiends. And my night had been relatively pleasant until this. I threw my hypnotic hiss in my voice. “Leave the children alone.”

His pupils widened, and he blinked, fighting it but loosening his grip long enough for Thorn and Emberly to run. The fiend gave chase and overtook them in a heartbeat. I was faster.

I caught the back of the fiend’s short coat, tossing him to the ground as Thorn and Emberly raced past. I breathed in the deliciousness of the blood pooling under his head where he’d hit it on a rock. Bloodlust took over as it often did in these situations, and I sank my teeth into his neck and spilled my paralytic venom into him.

Delectable warm liquid dribbled into my mouth, and I sucked hard. It was like fine wine, intoxicating and fun to drink, but no viper could survive on the blood of their own kind. Shame.

I was vaguely aware of the sun’s light a fraction closer to the clearing where the children had run to, but I couldn’t tear myself away from my treat. Every sense dulled but the taste of that blood. Drinking him dry would kill him, but the bloodlust… Once it started, it didn’t stop until it was satisfied.

Emberly’s scream finally dragged my logic back, and I pushed myself away from the limp form as it melted into the ground. Spinning on my bare feet, I ran towards the children.

They’d made it to the clearing, their huddling forms visible through the gaps in the trees. Laura closed in on them. Light kissed the metal hook holding the bucket above the well. Sunrise wasn’t moving fast enough. Stupid sun. Laura reached for Thorn, canines latching onto the boy’s neck. If I dragged her off him now, she might rip half of his throat out.

Creepers tugged at her arms, and Emberly had her hand outstretched, fingers gripping in the same way the creepers were until they snapped. “Get off him.” Her scream tore through me, screams I was more than familiar with.

Snarling, I ran to the clearing and hissed in Laura’s ear. “Let him go.” I pushed all my will into it, imagining her fangs retracting and releasing him.

She did, and I pressed my nails into the back of her neck. She spun away from Thorn and tossed me against a tree surrounding the clearing. I groaned as sharp pain crashed into my nerves, and I looked down to see a protruding branch sticking into the side of my waist.

Pushing slowly off the tree, I gritted my teeth at the sting as the branch slid out of my side. Blood seeped through my fingers where I held the wound through my torn dress, and I snarled at the viper.

“You ruined my dress, you fucking waste of a being.” I stepped closer, glancing briefly at Thorn and Emberly, who were alive, albeit a mess of cuts and scrapes. “This is my queendom, small as it is, and I don’t take kindly to shits like you and your dead friend feeding off my subjects.”

Laura shrugged. “You’re rather protective of the sprogs. Don’t tell me you’re slipping into those old ways your sisters told me of.”

I shot forwards, ripping into the viper’s throat with my teeth. I tore her head from her body before she could say another word. Lost in the euphoria of her blood, I didn’t stop drinking, not until the body sizzled and melted like her companion’s. Panting, I took in the dark patch in the ground, the blood staining my clothes, and my skin now completely covered in my viper scales, armor against almost any blow.

The sun finally graced us with its presence, casting long shadows from the trees. I let its warmth wash over my scales in an attempt to soothe the bloodlust. My head snapped in the children’s direction, the scent of the witchling’s blood drifting under my nose, stirring my bloodlust again. I bared my fangs at them.

“Go,” I said before I did something I couldn’t undo.

“Thank you,” Emberly said as Thorn tugged her back, and they both fled.

Good. They got to see what I was capable of and why they kept away from me, but also why I was their Queen. What was a few bottles of blood a month in exchange for this kind of protection from fiends?

Laura’s pouch still on the ground caught my attention, and I picked it up and pulled out a small letter with my name on it. My heart stopped at the insignia on the wax seal. A serpent coiled around a heart, signifying our bloodlust as if it were something to celebrate. And Aelia’s writing. Fuck. My sisters had found me again.

Back in my library palace, I paced the bathing chamber while I finished off a whole bottle of blood, cursing how I’d missed vipers in my territory who had revealed my location to my sisters and probably my sire too.

As much as I feared my sire and sisters’ influence on me, the woman in the mirror was my truest fear. The red glow beyonds her green eyes, the blood drying around her mouth and neck, sharp fangs still on display, and the layered scales in place of human skin.

And my dress. Huffing, I lifted the shredded layers of satin, baring my filthy feet. One of the rips exposed a fine scar from the side of my breast, arcing down and part way across my stomach, ending just under my hip bone. I could still see half my insides spilling out on the ground, horses’ hooves nearly missing my head, and my sisters half dead on either side of me.

Gripping my sister’s letter in my hand, I read the first words from my sisters in over two hundred years.

Dearest Zelenka,

I hope this finds you well, dear sister. It has been many years, I know, but Mother misses you.

If you could call the woman who forced this life on me my mother. I supposed that was exactly what mothers were, someone who gives life without being asked, though most mothers cared what their children did with their lives. My human mother cared. My sire, as I preferred to think of Viessa, couldn’t give a shit about my choices. She was born from a union between the Blood God of Underland, maker of vampires, and the Serpent Goddess of Afterlight. Not long after her birth, the other gods and goddesses vanished, and the magic of their realms ceased to bless humans and their lands. Trapped in the mortal world, my sire named herself the Viper Goddess. Though some call her a Viper Demon.

Octavia and I heard of your quaint town and decided to visit. I am sure you can accommodate us in that interesting palace of yours, and we’ll be with you at the next full moon.

Ugh, I hated Aelia’s tone even in a letter.

I look forward to spending time with my dear sister and having the three of us together after all this time.

Your dear sister,


“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” I crumpled the letter and scrunched it in my hand.

The first time my sisters found me after my sire let me leave, I had recently compelled an entire royal family to leave their palace and their lands to me. But all I received from my sisters were insults disguised as compliments before they turned the surrounding towns into a bloodbath. 

Blood always spilled where my sisters were concerned.

So I came to the most inconspicuous place I could find. But it wasn’t far enough.

I stomped up and down for several heartbeats before I glugged down the goblet of blood I’d poured upon my return, promptly filling it with more wine. Neither relieved the seething under my skin.

With a roaring scream, I threw the goblet across the room and cursed.

2 The Hunters


Several hours earlier

We’d been tracking the vipers for days, helping their victims as best we could after they’d attacked in multiple towns. According to the map we’d obtained in the previous town, the valley ended not far from here and we could trap them before the river. The forest surrounding the town gave us cover from the vipers’ sight.

The vipers were arguing over delivering a letter. A fucking letter of all things. The lone male boasted about being the one to deliver it, and whatever it was had him and the four females vipers excited.

The cool night air bit at my skin, but my inner heat fought it off quickly.

“Not too hot,” Naveed warned. “They’ll see it.” He nodded to the vipers. His gold-bronze eyes caught the moonlight, but his dark skin was barely visible among the trees.

I nodded back and turned to Kian on my other side. His heritage was the same as Naveed’s though his eyes were a fraction lighter and dark hair a shorter than Naveed’s shoulder-length waves.

“Drunken stupor?” Kian suggested.

We shared a grin and nodded. I slowly slid my sword from my back while Kian handed Naveed his bow and quiver and tucked Naveed’s twin daggers into his belt, covering them with his jacket. Kian was the better shot by a fraction, but both could hit most moving targets save for the faster vipers.

“Hello ladies,” Kian said, his voice wobbling as he swayed towards them. “I errr…” he slurred his words, “I could have sworn I left my horse around here somewhere.” He spun and stumbled, making one of the females, a brunette, roll her eyes.

Another, a petite blonde, licked her lips, and my gut roiled at the look of hunger as her fangs slid out. “Looking for a drink, stranger?”

Kian gave a wild grin. “You offering?”

The other females sniggered as the blonde stalked towards him. “No. I was talking about drinking you.” An arrow shot through her skull before she could touch Kian, and he dropped his façade and pulled out his daggers. Swinging both arms across one another, her rid the viper of her head.

Naveed stayed back while I shot forwards, swiping my sword across the brunette’s chest. She spun away before I could do any serious damage and screamed at the male and another female to run.

“Nav,” I shouted.

“On it,” he called back before his footsteps hurried after the two escaping vipers, leaving me and Kian with the brunette and a black-haired female.

They flashed their fangs, and on closer inspection I noticed they were slightly curved. Fuck. Not the weaklings we often came across. Good thing we’d kept up our training while on the road.

Some of the brunette’s blood had spattered the sword, and I took a long, slow lick. The blood’s power surged in me, heightening my senses.

Kian spun, his daggers flashing and slashing at the brunette, but she was fast. The other viper, a tall female, launched at me, and I swung my sword as she rolled away, avoiding the blow.

Drawing on the power the viper’s blood gave me, I shot forwards, faster than her thanks to my own inner beast, and this time, my sword cut through flesh and bone. Her eyes went wide for a moment until her torso slid away from her lower half and thudded on the ground.

A scream caught my attention, and I spun to Kian stabbing both daggers into the other viper’s neck before splitting it open, blood spattering everywhere. Shaking my head, I handed him a handkerchief to clean his face. It was a nasty habit of ours to end up covered in blood, so I always carried something to at least get it off our faces.

The dead vipers melted into the forest floor, and Naveed returned with a grim expression. “They were too fast and I lost them. They can’t get far with the valley ending beyond the forest and dawn on the way, so we should rest up for the night.”

“We could get them now,” I said.

He gave a look that reminded me why I kept him around. He was my voice of reason. “Rest. Those two will be more difficult to take down if they outran me that easily.”

I nodded.

“What do you think they were getting all squealy over?” Kian asked, hading Naveed his daggers back.

“I overheard the runners mention it wasn’t worth their lives to lose that letter they were talking about.”

“Hmm.” Squinting in the direction they’d run, I wondered just what in Underland that was all about. Nothing good if they were that desperate to deliver it.

Nav nudged my arm. “Come on. There’s a town along here according to the map. It’s on the silk merchant route so probably has an inn or two.”

“Sounds good to me,” Kian said, flinging his arm around my shoulders. “I need a drink.”

A close-up of a snake

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

Morning brought a dire need for a cooked breakfast after living off stale bread and apples for three days. Fortunately, Moonshine Inn’s tavern served freshly baked bread, bacon, and eggs, which had set my stomach growling. Flavours blended with each bite, chasing back the mild hangover from far too much ale.

I deserved it for killing three out of five vipers last night. The celebration had started with arm wrestling the locals, then cold cuts of leftover roast venison because I wouldn’t let the innkeeper cook at that hour. Sure, two vipers got away, but that was tonight’s problem. Right now, I just wanted to lose myself in food.

Kian sat across from me nursing his head after too much ale while Naveed rolled his eyes at us. He might as well have been our father with the look of disappointment he gave us. Ironic since I was the eldest.

“You two never learn,” Naveed said. “I don’t know why you have to drink so much when we have a job to do.”

I half thought about having another ale to take the edge off. “Barely feel a thing,” I said in defence. It helped that my metabolism had fought off most of the effects by the time I’d woken.

The barmaid, Alice, hovered behind the bar, giving us a not-so-subtle wink as she handed a platter of bacon to her older sister, Beth. The sisters were as different as night and day with Beth’s darker hair and delicate beauty compared to Alice’s fair hair and sharp features. Both likely fought off men left, right, and centre.

Beth placed the platter on the table next to us, the farmers tucking into it. Clicking hooves from their cart horses had passed the inn hours ago, and now they were back for a late breakfast.

I’d expected Beth’s husband to be helping with the breakfast, what with her being heavily pregnant, but he’d been drunker than Kian and I last night. I’d overheard that she’d lost her first husband a couple of years ago and had two children I was yet to see.

“You think I should go for that barmaid again tonight?” Kian asked me.

I shrugged. “Since when do you ask my opinion?”

“Well…” His deep gold eyes lit up as an eyebrow arched. “She said she could find a friend to join us. I swear, her breasts are softer than the finest pillows.”

Nav and I snorted. “Thanks,” I said, “but I’ll let you have all the fun while I stick to my ale.” I said, keeping my voice low so neither the barmaid nor the innkeeper could hear us. We may have enjoyed a good discussion of women, but we knew better than to be obvious about it.

Kian was always the first the ladies fawned over with his dark skin and golden eyes that marked him his White Dessert heritage. Naveed’s family was from the same region and had similar features apart from his shoulder-length hair compared to Kian’s short curls.

Naveed tsked. “We have vipers to kill.”

“And we will,” I said. “Those two can’t have made it far. We’ll start getting the lay of the land right after breakfast.”

“There’s a forest and valley to the east,” Naveed said. “I asked a drunked last night if he knew where the vipers might have come from. He said they often come from the north where the valley splits.”

“Then why have we chased these from the west?” I asked.

“Because of that letter?” Kian asked.

Naveed and I nodded in unison.

The door slammed open, and a boy in his teens and a younger girl ran in, filthy and breathless. “Mother,” they both called out repeatedly.

“What is it?” Beth said as she leaned on the surface, reading the morning’s news on a single sheet of paper, the headline being our little victory from the previous night along with a warning to stay inside after dark. Her eyes shot up from the news, and she hurried around the bar, taking in her children and pressing a hand to her swollen belly.

The poor woman had been up late seeing to the patrons and up early to cook breakfast, so she must have thought her children were in bed. “Emberly, sweetheart, what happened?”

Emberly ran to her mother, wrapping her little arms around the woman. The boy joined the embrace.

“We made the usual delivery with no problems,” he said.

“Thorn,” Beth scolded, a hand hovering over her mouth as her gaze flicked between the two children. “You took your sister to the library?”

I almost laughed. What could be so dangerous in a library that she would react like that?

“I begged him,” Emberly said, clutching her brother’s hand. “She saved us from two fiends.”

That got my attention. “Fiends or vipers?” I asked, standing.

Kian’s gaze shot to the children, and Naveed’s face went pale at the mention of young humans around vipers. We all knew they preferred youthful blood.

The woman pushed her children behind her. “It’s probably nothing. They get excited during a full moon and tend to exaggerate perfectly normal goings on.”

Naveed and Kian couldn’t hear the skip in her heartbeat like I could, but judging by their hard stares, we’d all see the slight shift in her stance and the way she glanced back at her children.

“Apologies,” Naveed said. “We are the hunters who took out three vipers last night, but two got away.” He peered around to Thorn. “Can you remember anything about them?”

Thorn stepped out. “Yes. They had slightly curved fangs.”

“Are you sure they’re dead?” I asked.

The boy nodded.

“How?” Naveed asked. “You said she saved you. Who is she?”

“That’s enough,” Beth said, ushering the children to the stairs at the far end of the room. “I’ll not have you interrogating my children. They’re obviously upset and it was just the fiends from the north. We don’t get anything worse around here.”

“Please,” Naveed said. “We need to be sure, and they had something we need more information about..”

The woman whirled on us. “We can take care of ourselves, and we don’t need hunters to keep fiends like that away.”

Fiends like that? Her wording set off warning bells. “And what about other fiends or stronger vipers?” I stalked towards her, glancing at the children who still hadn’t left.

“It doesn’t matter,” Thorn said. “The fiends are dead, and my sister and I are fine.”

His use of vipers then fiends had me glancing back at Kian and Naveed who seemed to have noticed too. “So why are you so worried about a library?” I asked as Kian and Naveed flanked me.

“It’s our job to track and kill fiends and vipers,” Naveed said.

“Not here, it’s not,” Beth said. “We’re fine.”

I was always suspicious of that word when said more than once. “Right. Fine.” I gestured to the filthy children. “Whoever this… she is who saved your children missed the three vipers who were on their way here. If we hadn’t been there…”

“She was with me,” Emberly said. “She would have stopped them herself otherwise.”

“Shut up, Emberly,” Thorn snapped.

“No,” Emberly said, pushing past her brother. “She didn’t hurt me, and she never hurts my brother.”

“Stop it,” Beth said and scooped up the girl. “You’ve had a traumatic experience, and you need sleep.”

“But why can’t I tell them about—”

“Emberly!” Beth’s sharp tone finally hushed the girl, and they strode from the bar. Just before they left, the mother turned. “We appreciate what you did last night, but the threat is gone, and you should leave too.” Her command was clear, but so was the fear in her shaking voice and wide eyes as she followed the children upstairs.

Sighing, I sat back down and wolfed down a ration of bacon. She never said we couldn’t finish our breakfast first.

“You think there’s something in what she said?” Kian asked through a mouth of bread.

“Definitely,” Naveed replied. “Something’s got them spooked, and it wasn’t the vipers from last night.”

We packed what little we brought and left the inn, leaving a little extra coin for the trouble of scaring the woman and her children. Alice made us several sandwiches for the road, and made Kian promise to visit on the way back, which he was more than happy to do.

After someone directed us to the town library, we realised this wasn’t the library the children were referring to. It was little more than a bookshop with a few desks at the back.

Kian and Naveed distracted the librarian, while I looked for anything on the town’s history. Judging by Beth’s reaction, I doubted the librarian would let us poke about in local history section.

I found one with an outdated map and promptly found the building I suspected was this mysterious library based on the direction the vipers were running in the previous night. Tearing out the page, I nodded to Kian and Naveed, and they made their excuses to leave.

We followed what looked like a main road on the map but ended up being more like a glorified walking path to the edge of Lunar Forest, which was more like a wall of trees surrounding a fortress. The path faded through the trees, its lack of regular use evident.

A horse whinnied from beyond the layer of trees, and a simple travelling cart lay half overturned to one side of the path. We stalked closer, wary of the sounds of our footsteps. Signs warned us that this was private property and trespassers would be punished.

Good thing we weren’t any normal trespassers. If there was a viper in there, like I suspected, she wasn’t exactly announcing it with the usual speared heads and markings in blood like others who’d held dominion over a specific area.

As we reached the cart, a glint of light dragged my attention to a set of gates and a vine-covered wall. I focussed on the gate, the lock clean and quarter-circles marking the ground where the gate had recently opened.

“Someone’s entered there recently,” I said, keeping my voice low. “This is where the children were. I’m sure of it.”

“Doesn’t look like a library,” Naveed said, his light footsteps barely audible even to me.

We stopped short of the gates, peering through to more vines veiling the stone of the massive building that was more like a small palace. A spacious garden surrounded the structure, overgrown and half dead. The central building had tall arched windows on two levels with towers on either side with five levels. A glass dome peeped out over the centre, and a row of columns held up a sheltered walkway along the front.

“Doesn’t look like we can get in this way without making any noise,” I said, inspecting the rusted hinges of the gate. They would announce our presence to any viper within a mile, if not further.

Naveed leaned back, glancing up and down the wall. “Give me a minute.” With near silent steps, he jogged along it, pausing every few feet to place a hand through the foliage.

I scanned the area around the library, nothing but trees for around a mile towards the town we’d just come from, and even further in the other directions. The top of a well stuck out from a clearing, and something rancid drifted under my nose. Dead fiends.

“I smell them,” I said. “Someone killed at least one of them over there.” I pointed to the well. “And another in this general area.”

Kian sucked in a breath. “Why would a viper kill their own kind?”

“Territory wars,” I mused. I’d seen it a few times in my life as a hunter, vipers battling for feeding grounds, but usually clans, not a lone viper judging by the silence from inside the building. I could often hear movement from this distance if I took a moment to concentrate, and we’d been too quiet for someone to hear us. “Or to protect those children, like they said.”

“That’s odd as fuck,” Kian said.

“There’s a gap around the back.” Naveed whispered from behind me. “It’s tight, but no leaves or crumbling stone to make any noise.”

Kian and I nodded and followed Naveed along the wall, making sure to place our feet where Naveed had. He reminded me of my sister sometimes, the way she would sneak up on me or stay out all night without our parents knowing because she never made a sound coming in and out. A pang formed in my chest at how long it had been since I’d seen her.

The hole was more than fucking tight. I doubted a teen could fit through it at first, but if we removed our weapons and angled ourselves right, we might just fit. I removed my bow and quiver of silver-tipped arrows, carefully placing them beyond the gap for me to use the moment I was through.

Pausing, I turned to the others. “I’m bait this time,” I whispered.

Kian’s brows creased. “Why not me?”

“Just something off about this,” I said.

“What’s the plan?” Naveed asked.

I grinned. “The teaser.” It wasn’t my favourite, but it worked as a distraction.

Kian covered his mouth to muffle a laugh. “Oh, Goddess. She’s in for a world of trouble.”

Ducking my head and extending one leg in an awkward position, I bent over and placed my other leg on the ground by my bow, my hand ready to grab it if need be. It took a few breaths and careful manoeuvring, but I shimmied through.

Kian went next, cursing under his breath as Naveed and I pushed and pulled the male’s limbs through. Naveed slipped in as if ducking under a common fence.

A low hedge lined this inside of the wall, but we could see a partially open window on the upper floor through the gaps in the leaves. Again, we followed Naveed’s footprints until we were as close to the building as possible.

The creepers made for an easy ladder as we scaled the wall of one of the towers. Once on the roof, we tiptoed along and stopped above the open window. Holding tight onto the roof, I peered over the edge and into the window.

To my relief, the window was only a couple of feet off the floor, giving us something easy to land on. The edges of bookshelves flanked either side, which we could use to hide out of sight.

As I lowered myself down level with the bottom of the window, more of the room came into view. The floor was a gallery that looked down into a space the size of a large ballroom, the upper floor lined with bookshelves, and the lower floor with the same plus rows of perpendicular bookshelves along two sides. The centre was open save for a few small tables and reading chairs that seemed lost in the massive space.

I dropped in, balancing myself on the bookshelf and gestured for Naveed and Kian to enter. Kian slid in first, using me for balance. Naveed was next and was straight in and onto the gallery floor with barely a sound.

My heart leapt at an amused echoic chuckle that seemed to come from everywhere at once.

“And there was me thinking we’d been quiet,” I said in a hushed tone. I strained to hear where the laughter came from, but the acoustics were playing havoc with my senses.

A hiss rippled through the space, setting my hairs on end. I nodded to Kian and pointed to the corner. In a smooth motion, Kian pulled an arrow from his quiver and held it to his bow, ready to knock and fire.

“Wait for my signal,” I said.

We all nodded, and Naveed dropped over the railing and into the rows of books a moment before I did.

A large chair sat at one that looked more like a throne atop the raised platform. Odd. A pile of books lay on the table next to it along with two goblets. I walked over and sniffed the goblets. One was a rich red wine, the kind only a true connoisseur would have. And the other goblet. I grimaced at the metallic scent. Blood.

A long shadow stretched in front of the entrance way as if a giant snake were slithering out there, and a loud clattering sound had me covering my ears. My companions and I shared uneasy looks. My first thought was that this whole thing was an illusion, and a witch lived here. It would be a clever way to hide from vipers by pretending to be one.

The laughter faded as footsteps clinked outside the room from down the hall, and the shadow shrank into something more human. I glanced up, shaking my head to warn Kian and Naveed not to make a move. I wanted to see what this viper would do, so I sat on the throne and waited for my next kill.

But what stepped into the room was far beyond anything I expected.

She strode in, her long black dress cinched at the waist with a corset belt and tall boots that exposed a sliver of thigh through splits in her skirt. Her hair was near black, but when she stepped through a ray of sunlight streaming through the dome above, it shone deep red like Underland fire. Her plait danced like a serpent slithering towards her prey, and her eyes… They glowed green with slitted pupils as her skin rippled with midnight green scales, and curved fangs slid over her upper lip.

Fuck, they were longer than the usual vipers I came across. It hadn’t escaped my attention at how she’d strolled through the sunlight without so much as a flinch. I’d only seen one viper do that.

She was a perfect balance of goddess and demon.

Oh, I would have fun figuring this one out. Drawing on all my charm, I gave a lascivious grin.

Her full deep pink lips curled into a snarl as she spoke. “Are you lost?”

If you like what you’ve read, and you want more, sign up to be a beta reader.

Out of Ashes Release Day

Also, Happy Valentine’s day, but if you want a cute romance, my book is not for you. 

Wow. It’s been a long journey to get to this point and I’m all kinds of excited and terrified at the same time. This book means so much to me on a personal level, but also is the beginning of what I hope is a fruitful career. My ARC readers are amazing with their reviews and some publicity on social media, so I hope there’s enough there for anyone who’s interested in reading the book to be encouraged to check it out. It’s also on Kindle Unlimited to give readers more incentive to give this debut author a try.

No, I’m not going to quit my day job. I love teaching and find it so satisfying and fun. But I want more. I’ve been working up to this for almost 8 years now, and what started with a dream and short story turned into a whole bunch of novel ideas, which I’ll be working on one-by-one. 

I’m close to finishing the draft of The Viper’s Library which will be a trilogy, so I’ll be balancing that and marketing Out of Ashes.

Out of Ashes Update – 3 Days to Go

All is well and on track for release day on Amazon in paperback, hardback and Kindle Unlimited. Unfortunately, there was a hiccup with Barnes and Noble, and release day will be the 17th. 

I swear it wasn’t completely my fault, but due to a minor mistake in the formatting, I had to re-upload the final files to B&N at the last minute. I did this before the deadline, but when I went to set the publication date, it wouldn’t let me choose a day before the 17th. 

This might not seem like the end of the world, but someone had pre-ordered a copy and now has to wait for them. 😭 And as an author, I want to make sure my readers get the best from me and the places I choose to sell my book. 

Live and learn, I guess.

But it did prompt me to get some bookish goodies for a special reader and for a giveaway if I reach 1k on TikTok by or on release day. I hope to have two exciting things to celebrate next week. I’m just waiting on my personalised goodies from my local printer, and I’ll be sending out my treats.

Out of Ashes – A Sneak Peek

Less than a month until release day, and I’m sharing the first 3 chapters of my book Out of Ashes for anyone who wants to check it out. Maybe even sign up for an ARC. It’s freeeeeeee. Find the form here or DM me on Instagram or TikTok for more about the book.


  1. Prologue – Elements
  2. 1 – Moontrance
  3. 2 – Fire Within

Prologue – Elements

I dream of raging flames, of wild magic I refuse to embrace, for it is nothing more than a curse to me. So I cast it away and pretend I never held such power.

If there is a worse time to interrupt me than during my evening reading, I cannot think of one as service bells chime from outside my room. Dragging my attention from my book I’ve been lost in, I sigh. The small clock on the table beside me declares there is still a quarter hour before I am to fetch dinner for my ailing uncle, and I’ll be damned if I lose a precious second of my flighty story.

Rain on the window blurs my vision of the back garden, and dark clouds block the early spring sun from my small room, which is only a fraction larger than the servants’ rooms on the lower floor. I inch my wicker chair closer to the oil lamp on my nightstand and tilt my book to get more light.

Relishing in a world where magic wielders do not have to hide their star-blessed talents, unlike in this one, I read on. My imagination fills my simple room with a magical forest and hovering fairies that jingle instead of speaking.

Harsh service bells replace the fairies’ gently tinkling, and panic rises in my chest. I hurry into the hallway of newly fitted electrical lamps, straightening out my simple blouse and layered skirt.

The hallway leads to a landing that overlooks the lavish foyer. Paintings of my uncle and his five children hang on every wall in the large townhouse. My cousins are all married now, the youngest being several years older than I, leaving me to tend to their father until his wealth becomes theirs.

I cross the upper landing, gripping the bannister before it curves away to lead down the staircase. Velvet-covered benches line the walls just inside the large, glass-paned door on the lower floor. The bland space sucks what little energy I have left at this time of day, and if it weren’t for the vase of flowers in the central table, it might appear as if nobody lived here.

The live-in nurse ascends the stairs, hugging a bowl of ice. The water sloshes with her rushed steps.

“Is everything all right?” I ask her.

The nurse shakes her head. “Mr. Knightflame has had one of his episodes. The doctor is on his way, and I am doing all I can until he arrives.”

I rest a hand over my rapid heart, tears pricking at the back of my eyes. Without a word, I take the bowl from her and move swiftly but carefully to my uncle’s room so the nurse can run on ahead.

My uncle’s room is dim, with only a sliver of light through the dark curtains. He always preferred to shut out the light in his study when working, but to shut it out of his room too… Just another sign he is not long for this world.

“I’ll tend to this,” I say to the nurse and place the bowl on the nightstand by my uncle’s bed. I have been tending to him since his health deteriorated over a year ago, but with the more frequent attacks, his eldest son finally hired a nurse.

A pile of towels sits on another table with various bottles of pre-prepared treatments where the nurse now stands, picking one out. I soak a towel, my hands jerking even before they hit the icy water. The nurse gives a soft smile as if to comfort me, yet it does little.

As I face my uncle, my heart lurches at his flushed skin, clouded eyes, and auburn hair pasted to his face. His unfocussed gaze passes over me until cracked lips twitch into a faint smile, and he pats my hand. “Clair?”

A sob escapes me over the man who took me as an orphaned child and allowed me to stay long after the banks paused my trust fund when I turned twenty. My upbringing was either covered by my parents’ money, and when that stopped two years ago, I earned my keep as a cook, occasional nanny to his grandchildren, and doing other small tasks.

“How are you feeling, Uncle?” I ask, dabbing his burning forehead with the icy towel.

Wide blue eyes dart about, and he clasps the bedsheets, whimpering and trembling. “Where am I?” He blinks and purses his lips. “What am I doing here?” Thrashing in the bed, he knocks the water bowl onto the floor.

With a yelp, I jerk back, bumping into the nurse.

“There, there, Miss,” she lulls, patting my arm. “It’s normal for someone to be disoriented after an episode. Best stay back.”

Nodding, I sob and cover my mouth with my hand. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right.” Her soft voice calms me, but does not take away the fear of seeing my uncle deteriorate with every episode. They have grown more frequent, each time leaving him less and less of the busy man he once was.

Nodding, I bite back more sobs. “I know, I just wish they would let a witch tend to him, not that you’re…” I swallow. “Apologies. I didn’t mean to imply anything other than I wish I could better manage his pain.”

“I understand,” she says. “I have used such treatments on other patients, but the younger Mr. Knightflame insists on only natural ingredients.”

I want to protest and say that magic is natural, but I would be a hypocrite, having not touched magic since I was six years old.

An intent cough tears me away from the woman, and Edward stands in the doorway. He is the spitting image of his father in older paintings, with vibrant auburn hair, eyes as blue as a summer sky, and taller than an average man. His glare stills me as he towers, and I would rather not be around him right now. I step past him, but he grabs my arm, fingers pinching.

Wincing, my gaze shoots to him. “Let me go, Edward.”

He does no such thing. “He will not survive another episode.” Edward’s voice is cold and factual rather than a man losing his father. “It is time for me to make the decisions on how this household is run, and I want you gone by week’s end.”

The words strike me hard, and my gaze shoots to his impassive expression. “But… I have nowhere else to go.”

He leans in, eyes dark and uncaring. “That is your problem, witch. Not mine.”

My face tightens. “I can continue working for my keep, if that’s what you’re worried about.” My uncle tried to negotiate releasing my full trust fund to me, but unless I marry, it will stay with the bank along with my parents’ estate.

Edward contemplates something for a moment, then trails a finger across my cheek. “Such a shame you’re a witch. I might have use for a pretty thing like you in other ways.”

Bile rises in my throat. “I am your cousin.”

He waves a dismissive hand. “Distant cousin, but do not fear. I have no interest in keeping a witch in my house. You are the abomination my family tried to wean out of their blood, but your parents saw fit to curse us with another generation if your kind.”

The slice of his words cut deep, but I pull my shoulders back and hold my chin high. My uncle, while often too busy to spend much time with me, happily gave me comforts, education, a home when I had nothing left. But once again, death steals far more than it should from me.

“Very well.” My voice comes out shaky and hoarse. “There is nothing left for me here, anyway.”

Striding from the room, I hold my breath until I am far from him. I stop just inside my bedroom door, chest heaving and tears dampening my cheeks. The lamp’s flame cries as if sensing my distress. The fire often whispers to me, yet I cannot speak back, not since… 

Blue flames tinge my vision, and screams from the past shatter my attempt to steady myself. My heart pounds, and I stumble into the table, my book dropping to the floor with a slap.

That sound… The chair falling, the dress sparking, the fire spreading and chasing me from my home.

No, please no. I scrunch my eyes and breathe, slow and deep, in and out, reminding myself that is in the past, and I am safe. I lean on the table to steady myself and focus on the droplets of rain pooling on the sill outside the window.

Fires of Hell. What am I going to do now?

1 – Moontrance

I dream of a full moon in a starless sky. Statues stare up at it, entranced by its silver light.

Mooncurses are the last thing I need to deal with on the one-year anniversary of my uncle’s death. The grief still hits me hard, and my body trembles when I fight off the sobs. At least I have the mundane task of collecting plants so that I am alone for a while.

Long after sunset, when twilight descends, the stars greet me one by one as I find what I need by the riverbank. Some ingredients I can collect early and keep for future treatments, but some have a precise time they need to be plucked.

A leaf falling during the moon’s first light.

A blood petal that has seen the stars only once.

The moon and starlight give them a little extra zing that encourages natural healing, calmness, or sweet dreams. In the wrong balance, they could do more harm than good and send someone into a slumber for weeks, or drag them so far into calmness that they become void of all emotion. I’ve seen it happen when inexperienced witches play at being nurses. But I have learned to carefully monitor each treatment and its undesirable effects.

The day’s warmth fades into chilly air that fills my lungs as I gaze along the river. It is peaceful here, calming and freeing on the edge of Sacred Grove. Rows of red-brick terraced houses follow the river on one side, while the other is thick with trees and foliage. 

My eyes fall on the path that leads to the cemetery atop the nearby hill, and choke on a sob. I cannot recall entering my family’s mausoleum to pay respects to my parents, and today is another cruel reminder of this wretched world. A robin perches on the top of the gate to the cemetery. My heart aches over how my mother used to say that robins were the spirits of loved ones watching over us.

The melodic clicking of hooves grows close, and a carriage turns a corner to the riverside passage. The driver nods and tips his top hat. “Evenin’.” He often passes this way, ferrying quarry workers back and forth.

I raise a gloved hand. “Good evening.”

He nods again and urges the horses on. The carriage’s lanterns reflect in the water, and the distorted images captivate me. There is something inexplicably beautiful about the light within the darkness. So clean, so vivid, so mesmerising. Once the carriage has gone, all is quiet again.

“Clair?” A soft light washes over the plants around me and my basket, and I jerk my head up to see a mass of copper curls lit by a floating flame. “I thought that was you.”

 I smile at Scarlett as she lowers the flame to light up the plants. “Thank you,” I say. “But you should be resting.”

She shrugs and pokes around in my basket. “I can’t stand the waiting, so I came to see if you needed any help.”

I take in her naturally pale skin, cheeks a little pink, and press the back of my hand to her forehead. “You’re a little warm.”

Scarlett curls her lip up. “I’m fine. The less time I spend with the Old Wench in the infirmary, the better.”

I snort a laugh. “It’s not so bad.” We share a look over the lie. It was the complete opposite to the clean quarters, good meals, and privacy I had with my uncle despite my wretched cousins. Most days, I stayed out of the way other than the tasks I did to earn my keep.

“I suppose it’s not when we get to sneak rum from the tavern.” She almost skips alongside me as we stroll down the path leading back to the town. 

As we turn from the river and into the row of narrow houses leading back to the infirmary, the stars whisper, begging me to stay in their light. They blessed my ancestors millennia ago, leaving us with the power to wield the elements.

“A star can only shine through the darkness of the night sky. You will shine true through any darkness,” my father used to say. I force thoughts of my father out of my mind, for I have had enough reminders of loss for one day.

Even at this late hour, groups of evening strollers enjoy the tranquillity of this side of town. My uncle’s home is only slightly further along the street, but I have not returned since his son forced me out. If it weren’t for Scarlett arranging a job in the infirmary, I don’t know what I would have done.

A small group of strollers glare at me and Scarlett, tutting and muttering that our kind are not welcome in this part of town. Scarlett’s hands glow, and she jolts her body towards them, laughing as they squeal and run away.

“Humans,” she huffs. “So easily startled.”

I tut and tap her arm. “You are terrible.”

As Scarlett and I weave through the cobbled streets closer to the less desirable part of town, stragglers loiter in doorways, puffing on whatever enhanced tobacco takes their fancy. Familiar faces head towards the Witch’s Brew tavern, where I often have a drink with Scarlett after a long day at the infirmary. It is one of the few places where the magically inclined can use their power without the sneers of humans.

A merry jig sounds from the open door, and I glance through the murky window to the violinist who frequents the tavern. On any other day, Scarlett would swipe the violin and prance about to her own music. Her cheerful melodies always brighten a dull day. 

Once in the small infirmary, I kiss her cheek, and point to the back where the mooncursed patients go. “I’ll be right through the moment the treatment is ready,”

Scarlett goes a shade paler, and fire flares in her eyes before she closes them tightly. “All right.”

I slip her cloak off and refrain from scolding her for being out so late. Uncloaked, she has the figure one might expect of a barmaid. Slim waist, plentiful chest, and thick coppery locks that turn scarlet by the fire, the kind of hair that makes any man’s head turn and the women envious, including myself.

“Mary, we’re back,” she calls out.

A grunt of acknowledgment sounds from down the long hall as I slip into the apothecary kitchen. Cupboards fill one side of the room with a large sink, and on the other, several tables make a workspace with shelves mounted above.

I pull out various knives and chopping boards along with a mortar and pestle, and carefully mix the ingredients I have just collected. Two small oil lamps light the shelves with their rows of herbs. Moonlight trickles in the narrow window above the sink.

Pots boil on a large stove in the corner, the smoky fire inside burning my nostrils. I just cleaned this yesterday. The old thing is a bugger at times. I wipe my loose dark waves from my sweat-slicked face and take a few small vials from the shelf.

A thorn from a rose in bloom. The lady from the flower shop three streets along saves rose thorns for me when they’re in season.

A feather from a star-blessed wing. A swift’s feather is the most reliable since they still fly at twilight.

A pine needle from the sight of the sea. Once a month, a merchant witch delivers various ingredients that we cannot obtain locally.

Star-kissed water. I leave a bowl on the roof the night before.

The kiss of one who possesses magic. Unfortunately, this is the one ingredient I cannot add on my own.

Now that the ingredients are finely chopped and crushed together, I add them to the water on the stove, stirring it and tilting it to the moonlight for added effect.

“Mary,” I call out. “The treatments are ready for the final spell.”

A huff sounds from outside the door as if she has been waiting for me to call for her. She stomps in and wipes blood-stained hands on her apron, which already has a grotesque array of colours from whatever ailments she has been tending.

Her greying brown hair is pulled into a messy bun, and hazel eyes fall on the stove. “About bloody time. The mooncursed are getting restless.”

“Apologies,” I say. “I am still working on the ideal balance of herbs. Last time, it took longer than I had hoped to take effect.”

“They pay a lot for this,” she grumbles. “Better be worth the wait.”

I refrain from frowning at the woman as she shoves me out of the way. “I would like to be as thorough as possible to give them the best treatment.”

“It didn’t kill ‘em last time, so they’ll be fine.” Mary leans over and blows a kiss into the dancing steam. It swirls and coils up in a watery tornado before dropping back into the pot. 

“Should’ve hired an earth witch, not a fire witch with no fire,” she mutters and heads out of the door, tutting as though I have inconvenienced her. 

I scowl at the back of her head. If it weren’t for me, she wouldn’t even have this treatment. Scarlett warned me that Mary was never satisfied. Either everyone was too fussy or too slow for her. Lucky for Scarlett, she is more suited to working for Mary’s husband in the Witch’s Brew tavern. 

Carefully, I decant the brew into vials in a tray and take them into the corridor stretching from front to back of the building. Doors lead off to small rooms, all with patients too poor for the town’s main infirmary or in need of magical healing.

At the end of the corridor, I rest the tray on my hip and open the last door. Four beds line opposite walls. Each bed is sectioned off with bars and locking mechanisms for the entrances in a central walkway. I often wonder why a guest house has such ghastly things that resemble a prison, but Mary is so often in a bad mood that I fear asking. Still, the barred areas are rather useful for our more… troubled patients, and Mary has placed runes on them to protect against wayward magic. A sick witch or warlock can be rather unpredictable. 

Two men occupy the furthest beds, while Scarlett occupies the one nearest the door. She looks up, eyes glazed and skin blemished as she clutches her stomach. Her copper curls are pasted to her face, reminding me of when I tended to my uncle, and sweat beads drip down her forehead.

“Careful. It is still quite hot.” I hand her a vial.

“Thank you.” She scrunches her eyes and gulps it down in one go, accustomed to the treatment now she has had it a few times. 

My lips purse at the awful mooncurse her spiteful mother placed on Scarlett when she was an adolescent. Only the one who placed said curse can lift it. When I started working on a treatment, Scarlett jumped at the chance to try it, though no two people are the same when it comes to the mooncurse.

“How are you feeling?” I ask. 

She opens her palm, and a small flame forms. With a wave of the hand, the flame passes to the candle by her bed. “About as shit as I look, probably.” 

“The treatment should work faster this time. You might still have some discomfort until I can make a more effective one, but it will help you rest.”

“You have a real talent for this, Clair. Shame you don’t have your magic anymore.”

I laugh, and awkwardness squirms in my belly. “That’s what the Old Wench just said.”

Scarlett chuckles and glances over at the grumbling men. “Best see to them. That younger one’s been spouting tornadoes.”

I nod and follow the bars to the end. The younger of the men, a warlock, was here last month, but the other arches a dark eyebrow as I place the vials on the floor by the bars. I hand one to each of the men. 

“It don’t do nothing nasty.” The warlock says to the older man. “Just helps with the mooncurse’s symptoms.”

The older man sniffs the vial before cringing.

“It is not too unpleasant,” I say. “But I will try to make it taste better next month if you like.”

The older man holds up the vial to the light. “How do I know it won’t make me worse?”

Keeping my distance from the bars, I pull the chair out from by the unused bed and take a seat. I often stay to see how the treatment affects the various symptoms of a mooncurse. It is an unpredictable thing. “It works for this gentleman.” I gesture to the younger man. Mary never asks their names, and the patients never offer.

“It helped,” the warlock says. “Better than scaring the missus and little one back at home. I nearly blew the windows out with my air magic the first full moon after I was cursed. But last month, just got the shakes after taking this.”

“And my friend,” I point to Scarlett lying back on the bed, “used to have awful pains and fevers but sleeps through the worst of it now.”

The older man nods and tips back the vial. “How long until it works?”

Scarlett’s snoring rumbles from her bed.

I smile. “A few minutes at most. Just relax. I will stay awhile as to be sure you are comfortable.”

He arches an eyebrow again and sits back on the bed. The air warlock’s eyes flitter open and shut until he is out like a candle. 

“He ain’t gonna start snoring and blowing a gale, is he?” The older man pokes at the bars between him and the younger man.

“You will not notice if he does,” I say with a reassuring smile.

He tips his chin at me. “You speak too proper to be workin’ in a place like this. You runnin’ from somit? Family troubles, or a nasty fella?”

My head drops to my fingers picking at something crusted on my apron. “I…I needed employment after my previous patient passed away. He had an untreatable disease.” I added that last part so I don’t come across as incompetent, though it isn’t entirely true. If my cousin had sought magical treatment, my uncle could have lived out his final years in comfort. Rage brews in me at my wretched cousins and how they let their own father suffer because of their prejudices against magic.

The man leans forward and squints at me. “I recognise you from when the missus used to deliver to the Knightflames. You’re Cassiopeia d’Èclat, aren’t you? You survived that fire at Starfall House.”

My hands clench, and memories of wild blue flames spring up. Heat floods my skin while I force back the thoughts. I twirl the strings of my apron in my fingers. “Yes. But that was a long time ago.” My identity is no secret, but I most do not ask, especially now I go by Clair. They tend to assume I hold an uncanny likeness to the fire witch who fears the fire.

“Thought you were a witch like that one.” He nods in Scarlett’s direction.

“If you call a witch with no magic a witch?”

“Why you got no magic?”

My nose pinches. “Do you always ask this many questions of strangers?”

He shrugs. “Just curious. Got nout else to do until that treatment starts workin’.”

I half-smile. “Next time, I shall bring you a book to satisfy your curiosity over witches and warlocks.” Getting to my feet, I straighten my apron and go to check on Scarlett. 

“Can’t read,” he shouts. 

Of course not. I am surprised the patients here find the coin for mooncurse treatments. Eight people have a standing order to deliver the treatment to their homes, which costs double. Mary sends one of the barmaids from the tavern to deliver them. I often wish I could go to escape this place.

More snoring comes from Scarlett, her breathing steady. In another few hours or so, she may wake up and drift in and out of consciousness, but at least it spares her the agonising pain and fever she used to get.

The older man is still awake, and I return to where I left the vials. “What happened to you that you became cursed?” I ask.

His nose pinches, and he presses a hand to his forehead. “My younger sister pissed off a warlock, and he cursed the whole family. Can’t remember much of the last full moon.” 

“Oh. That must be—”

Doubling over, he groans and grabs one of the bars.

“Are you all right?” I have never seen a reaction like this, and I fear my concoction has harmed him.

A low growl comes from him, and his head snaps up with preternatural darkness in his wide eyes. No. A wild one. He bares his teeth and launches in my direction. His arms flail at me through the bars, and I reach for another vial. It slips away and under the air warlock’s bed.

“Waves and winds!” I drop to my knees, avoiding the wild one’s clutches. His fingers catch my apron as I scramble for the vial. “Mary!” I call out. “Help.”

Within seconds, she is running in and grabbing the man’s hand while I reach for the vial through the bars. 

Growls and grunts sound from above me, and my fingers fumble over the smooth glass containing the concoction. Twirling dust sends the vial sliding in my direction. I swipe it up and get to my feet. The warlock’s eyes are half-lidded, his fingers playing at the air. He smiles before going limp. 

I hold out the vial and open the lid. Mary twirls her fingers over liquid and sends it flying into the wild man’s mouth. He sputters and grabs his throat before stumbling back onto his bed. Eyes rolling into the back of his head, he convulses on the bed until he drops in a sprawling heap. Mary and I do not move for several moments in case he resists the second dose, or worse, dies.

“Double dose‘ll cost ‘im extra.” Mary turns on her heels and heads for the door.

“Thank you,” I say to her and the warlock who is unconscious again. My heart thuds in my ears, and my breath comes in sharp gasps.

Shaking my head, I return to the kitchen to tidy up. My hands shake as I clean the vials and make a list of ingredients I need more of. My shoulders sag, and I drop onto the stool by the window. Is this my life now? Dirty stoves, infections, and wild mooncursed men in cages? 

I knew it was coming and that my time in my uncle’s home was limited, but I didn’t expect to descend into this vile place. My trust fund is useless without a husband, and who wants a witch with no magic?

“Cassiopeia d’Éclat?” A deep voice startles me, and I turn to face a man a few years my senior standing in the doorway with a kind smile. 

Cassiopeia. My father’s choice of name that I changed the day I lost him.

Gathering the last of my day’s strength, I stand on aching feet. “Yes, but if you need any treatments, you will have to negotiate the price with the owner first.”

He takes off his top hat and places it on the hook by the door. My gaze falls on a bunch of cheerful sunflowers in his hands.

“I am not here for treatments,” he says. “I am here to offer my sympathies.”

“Excuse me?”

“For Mr. Knightflame’s passing last year.”

I never expected anyone to offer their sympathies to me, the unwanted distant niece. Still, his words fill me with warmth and bring a smile to my face. “Thank you. Did you know him?” 

“I knew him a long time ago and wanted to pay my respects, but you weren’t at the memorial earlier. I just came from the house looking for you.”

I purse my lips and slip off my apron since I am done for the night. “Why me?”

He smiles again, blue eyes bright. “My name is Jasper. Perhaps you remember me.”

I search my thoughts for any familiarity of the dusty blonde-haired man, but most of my childhood memories are of loss and pain. Slowly, something appears in my mind’s eye, a young boy pushing me on a swing and picking flowers with his sister. “Jasper Skylark?” Interesting.

He is from one of the six founding families of Sacred Grove, as were the Knightflames and my parents, my mother being the sole member of the Starfall family until she had me. “I remember you, but not much, I am afraid. How have you fared?”

“I suppose it’s no secret that my family has fallen on hard times, and we are…” He shakes his head. “I am in the employment of Lord Landry, who also sends his condolences.” 

I recall the Landry brothers far better, twin warlocks from another founding family. One has gone travelling, as far as I know, and the other offers little more than a casual nod when our paths cross. “That is very kind of him.” Why not come himself? “But I hardly know him anymore.”

“Well, he remembers you fondly. Perhaps we could talk for a moment.”

Any excuse to get out of this place. “Yes. It would be nice to hear of old friends.” I lead him outside and away from the infirmary.

Our feet tap on the cobble streets, and bellows of lewd remarks from the brothel along the street fill the air. The men who frequent the brothel are full of comments and inappropriate gestures to any woman they pass on their way in or out.

“When I went to visit you,” Jasper says. “The Knightflames said you’d left months ago, and they didn’t know where you’d gone.”

Lying bastards. “My friend works at the Witch’s Brew tavern and arranged a job in the infirmary for me almost a year ago.”

“I am sorry. Had I known, I would have come to see you sooner.” He pats my arm as if no years have passed since our last interaction. “Maybe what I have to say will be good news after such a sorrowful day.” The yellow flowers remain in his free hand, unusual for this season.

“In what way?” I ask.

“As you may know, Lord Landry lost his wife a few short years ago, and his children are in need of a certain type of guidance that has been hard to find.”

My eyes narrow. “You mean magical guidance?”

Jasper waves a dismissing hand. “I mean someone who appreciates the nurture and understanding the children require in their… delicate situation. The lord would like to offer you employment looking after the young Nina and Dorian.”

“I see. Well, I have looked after children on occasion, but my experience might not be enough for a nanny.” 

“Not just a nanny. It will involve various tasks like teaching the children, some cooking, and household organisation. You will have your own room, meals, and clothes provided. Plus some coin for personal spending.”

A carriage passes us, forcing us close to an awful stench by the wall. The only unsavoury smell I was used to at my uncle’s home was from the carriage house. What I wouldn’t do to smell horse dung in place of whatever is by my feet right now. “I am afraid I lost my magic when I was younger.” It wasn’t technically a lie, but I never told anyone that I bound my own magic so it might spare me whatever dark fate I felt brewing.

His bright blue eyes hold mine. “Lord Landry is aware of that, and it makes no difference to him. I will help you get settled in the manor and show you your tasks.” He raises the flowers, and their petals give a gentle wave at me. 

The gesture comforts me, and I smile at Jasper. “Do you like it there?”

“Yes. My sister and I are quite happy. She is the maid and an air witch, and the carriage driver is a water warlock. Lord Landry is a kind employer and a little lax with some formalities and magic.” 

This is too good an offer to be so simple. “Why me?” I ask again.

“Because Lord Landry wants to repay your family for the help they gave his father that kept his business going.”

For a long moment, I ponder the offer. The Landry brothers are as good as strangers. However, the idea is tempting. It is not like I will miss the job in the infirmary, and Jasper is offering far  more than I ever had living my with my uncle. I did not mind the cleaning or cooking or caring for my uncle, but my cousins…. And the magic…

I have lived so long without it that I cannot begin to imagine what the children are going through. They lost as I did, yet they still have a parent to guide them. While my uncle had a flicker of Earth magic, he rarely used it, and his children never acknowledged the fact that they were descended from witches and warlocks. I grew up as human as they come. 

“I will help you adjust to any tasks you are unfamiliar with.” Jasper’s voice snaps me from my thoughts.

More shouts sound from down the street. Women with very little clothing whistle and wink at Jasper, but his gaze falls on one of the scantily-clad gentleman puffing on something that does not smell like simple tobacco. He winks at Jasper, making my companion blush.

God, anything has to be better than working in this dank street.

“Yes,” I say. “I will accept his offer.”

“Wonderful, Cassiopeia.” Jasper claps with an elated grin. 

The name brings up a rage I refuse to let control me. “There is one thing. Please call me Clair. It is my middle name.”

He smiles and raises my hand to kiss my knuckles. “Clair. A beautiful name, indeed. I’ll send a carriage for you tomorrow.” 

 If I didn’t just see him acting coy and blushing over a man, I might blush myself over his charm. I return the smile, curtseying a little in gratitude. “Thank you.” 

Jasper tips his hat and heads to the end of the street. He gets in the far side of a shiny black carriage. 

Before heading back to the infirmary, I glance over my shoulder at Jasper’s carriage. Dark eyes gleam through lace curtains on its nearest side, too dark to be Jasper’s. They see something I hide. But what do those eyes hide?

2 – Fire Within

I dream of raging flames, of wild magic I refuse to embrace, for it is nothing more than a curse to me. So I cast it away and pretend I never held such power.

My boots click on the damp cobbled street as I near the Witch’s Brew tavern, and I keep my head down and out of the wind. Despite my new employment, I still deliver my mooncurse treatments for Mary and check on Scarlett during the full moon. I shiver and wrap my coat tighter around myself, a flimsy shield from winter’s bite, but I almost have the coin for a more luxurious one this year.

Footfalls alongside me cause me to glance up, and I smile at Scarlett. 

“Shouldn’t you be more careful in the fancy new clothes Lord Landry buys for you?” She gestures to my hem skimming the ground.

My deep blue velvet skirtand silk blouse are safe from the earth’s stains, thanks to the protection runes that Jasper’s sister puts on all the clothes. There is little that could damage anything I wear now that I live among the magically inclined. “And shouldn’t you be working?” 

She shrugs and tucks a red curl behind one ear. “The Old Wench had me delivering some treatments, and I took the long way through the park. Lord Landry lets you out late, doesn’t he?” 

I laugh. “I meant to come earlier, but I had a little trouble putting Dorian and Nina to rest. They will sleep well with my hot cocoa.” The children in my care can be quite charming when they want to be. But occasionally, I imagine throwing the little sprites in the river and letting them float downstream. “How are you feeling?” I ask, placing my hand on her forehead.

She waves off my doting with a smile. “Your latest recipe is much more effective, and I’m not so drowsy from it. Besides, I needed an excuse to escape the tavern for a short time. The Old Fart was complaining about me playing the violin for the patrons again. They buy more ale, so I don’t see his problem.” 

I roll my eyes. “He is old and cranky, just like his wife.” We chuckle, and I hook an arm in hers, taking in her naturally rosy cheeks and bright smile. Pride swells in me at how effective my treatments have become. The maid I work with adds the final spell that Mary used to, so everything is ready for the patients. “I will walk with you back to the tavern.” 

“I’m honoured.” She pats my arm, and we amble towards the tavern.

We stop at the end of the alley leading towards the tavern. The sign creaks in the light wind up ahead. 

“Best get inside,” I say to Scarlett. “You will catch a chill.”

Her skin glows a soft amber, and its warmth emanates towards me. “I think I’ll be just fine.” She bids me goodnight with a hug.

Smiling, I turn to the quiet alley and head towards the infirmary to drop off my pouch of vials. Air rushes by, unusually tepid for such a cold night. I shudder from the change in temperature and hurry on my way, my footfalls echoing in the quiet street as sounds fade to near silence.

A scream shatters the stillness, and my heart drops into my belly. I hitch up my skirts and rush back to Scarlett and more screams. Almost tripping, I make it to the end of the alley where all is pitch black, not even moonlight. A faint glimmer of amber pulses and illuminates Scarlett as she backs into the alley wall.

“Scarlett!” I scream and take a step to run when a gust of air forces me back. 

Shadows ripple until the shape of a man forms between us, pure black and featureless. Churning smoke blocks my vision, but her scream resonates through the whirlwind. Before I reach her, my lungs burn as the air thins around me. 

Sputters of Scarlett’s fire penetrate the darkness. “Clair, run!”

Sounds of ripping fabric freeze my blood. “Scarlett!” I scream again into the raging shadows. I scramble for her hand, failing to push through and dizzy from lack of breath.

 “Stop fighting, you wretched whore,” the shadowy man grits out, his voice a rumbling echo.

Breath comes in short gasps while my chest tightens. My muscles stiffen, and I lose the will to move. Swirls of light flash before me in shapes of runes, and invisible bindings on my wrists and ankles lock me in place. Scarlett must have them too. I pull and twist in my bindings, but they are like steel manacles in mid-air. Scarlett’s screams ebb into desperate whimpers.

I call for any thought or idea to help. Something within me answers. Fire flares in my mind as I see Scarlett through the shadows. She floats off the ground, still as a statue, while the man rips at her sleeves. Her fingers flinch and spark before gusts of wind snuff out any semblance of a fire.

Heat races from my heart to my hand before glowing in white-hot light. Breathing deep, I finally take in air and rip free of the invisible bind. My burning hand punches through the shadow, taking Scarlett’s hand and pulling her from the man’s trap.

Scarlett drops into me and turns to the shadows still swarming, a fireball emerging in her palm. I stand by Scarlett’s side, my hand glowing and sparking as I hold it up towards the shadow warlock. My hand trembles as I will my inner fire into it. My fire? For a moment, she fixates on the fire before reaching out. Magic sparks between us, and flames entwine around our hands. It explodes in magenta and cobalt flashes.

Shadows battle through the fire, and I tighten my grip on Scarlett. Magic fills me, and I draw a reveal rune in the air. It lights up and launches towards the shadow man. It embeds itself in his chest, fizzling and sparking with the shadowy form. The smoke becomes flesh and clothing. I grab his jacket, but he stumbles back before whisking away in plumes like a wraith.

My head pounds, spots filling my vision. Power pulses in my veins, and fear rages at unleashing the magic I bound as a child. Gasping, I bend over and release my supper onto the wet cobbles while Scarlett rubs my back. 

“Who in all the fire and winds was that?” Scarlett asks, her breath heaving. 

The alley is quiet once again, no trace of the man of shadows. “I have no idea.”

“Are you all right?”

After long moments, I catch my breath and straighten. “No. You?”

“Thanks to you.” There is somewhat of a chuckle in her trembling voice. “But you… you used magic. You told me it was bound.”

I nod, heat still searing in my hand. “It was.” My body drops into Scarlett’s embrace. “I could barely breathe, and I thought he was going to…” I cannot bring myself to finish the thought. 

She sniffs and takes my shoulders, her gaze locking on mine. The lace over her bodice hangs down, and more rips show flashes of skin. “Probably a wild mooncursed warlock. I have a good mind to go and burn his whatsits off for that.”

Nodding again, I bite back the sting of tears and shock that has me trembling. No amount of Scarlett’s warmth can take away the fear of what just happened, yet she seems far calmer than I. She is used to occasionally violent tavern goers, but none so intent on hurting her. 

Dust marks her skin where part of her sleeve was torn. A single line with a coil running along it. “What’s this?” 

Scarlett looks down and scratches at her arm as the dust floats away. “A rune maybe? He was ripping pieces of my clothes and touching my skin like he was drawing.”

I tilt her arm to the moonlight. “It must be the old language. I have never seen one like that before.”

She smooths down her sleeve and heads towards the alleyway leading to the tavern. “Rum?”

Despite myself, a small chuckle escapes me, and I take hold of my senses as best I can. Just a mooncursed warlock. All over. “Please do not say anything about…” I raise my still glowing hands. “If anyone asks, you scared him off.”

She eyes me for a moment then taps a finger to her lips. “Not a word. I promise.” 

We barely take two steps when she halts and picks something up from the ground. She holds a button up to the moonlight and twists it in her fingers. The silver button has leaves engraved on it, far too lavish for those who live around here. They glimmer and shift like tiny runes.

“I’ll show this to Inspector Grayson in the morning.” She pockets the button. “He might be able to use it to find whoever that was.”

Clutching hands, we hurry inside the tavern. Hunters with pints of ale and flintlock rifles tend to dominate these parts, along with some quarry workers. The fires about the place roar with a flourish of Scarlett’s hand. Scarlett Tamer is of the dramatic type and often refers to herself as a fire tamer through well-stacked logs and a kiss of magic. Their quiet melody hums about, only audible to those who hold the fire element.

I tend to ignore the fire’s music, but the magic in me hums back like a duet out of time. It still tingles under my skin, begging for me to release it again. No. Never again.

“Scarlett!” The Old Fart glares at her, his belly about to burst his buttons. “Get behind the bar, now!”

Scarlett returns the glare. “It’s a full moon. I’m supposed to get the night off if I deliver the treatments.”

He grunts. “‘alf an hour won’t kill you.” 

The only other ladies around are those offering to share a bed for a price, their breasts bulging as the Old Fart’s belly. 

“Clair!” the Old Fart shouts. The man only has one volume no matter how close he is. “We need more of them calming potions of yours.” 

I reach for the pouch of vials under my coat. Where is it? I must have dropped it running back to Scarlett. Luckily, I have some in my coat pockets and hand them to the Old Fart, grateful I do not have to go back into the alley and take them to the infirmary myself.

“The missus has a few influenza patients who could do with a knockout,” he continues. “And I’m close to doing it myself with my fist. Been screaming out back ‘alf the bloody day along with them mooncursed folk.”

Scarlett and I share a look as she reaches for an apron to cover her damaged clothing. He eyes a piece of wayward material from Scarlett’s bodice. “You been rompin’ on work time?”

She snarls at him. “It was a damned mooncursed warlock. Thought it might be one of the men who skipped a treatment. I’ll be letting the Inspector know about it in the morning.”

“Best that be all,” he says.

“The patients,” she says. “Are they the same mooncursed as before, the wild one and the air warlock and have they been here all night?”

“There are two more. ain’t left far as I know. That wild one ain’t capable of making it out of bed, let alone outside. Now get to work. Patrons ain’t gonna serve their own ale.”

When his back is turned, Scarlett gives him an unsavoury gesture with her middle finger. She slides a glass of rum my way. “As promised.”

“Thank you.” I knock back half a glass with shaking hands.

 “On the house, since you did just save my life.” Scarlett cups her hands around mine, still on the rum glass. “I didn’t think there were any shadow witches or warlocks in Sacred Grove anymore.”

A sliver of moonlight creeps in through the tavern’s front windows. “Me neither. And so volatile…” Words halt in my throat as I ponder another gulp of my drink. 

“I am so glad I only have elemental magic and not that pesky shadow magic. Imagine me, mooncursed and with shadow magic.”

I bite my tongue over how little she truly understands of my magic. She has it easy with a spark here, an occasional flame there. If she knew the power that lies in my blood, she would not speak so lightly of it.

Scarlett leaves the bottle by my glass and wipes the bar before hauling a barrel of ale from the end of the bar. The woman has some mystical strength to carry that all by herself. After several glasses of rum, my trembling lessens somewhat, and I feel settled enough to walk home.

The Old Fart grunts and swipes the bottle away. “Concoctions tomorrow, yes?”

“I cannot promise. This was my evening off.”

“Then I’ll be taking the price of the drinks from Scarlett’s wages, shall I?”

If only he knew what she and I had just been through, even he might allow us a free drink. “No need. I’ll get them here somehow.” I make my way to the door to brave the cold air once again.

Buttoning my coat, I hurry past the narrow-terraced houses with apartments on each level. They are barely big enough for a couple, let alone the families of five or more that occupy them. I cover my nose with my hood from the stench of whatever is festering in the drains. Heavy rain is on its way and might wash away the worst of the stink. Shouts echo across the street from neighbour to neighbour. In the park, the scent of flowers and trees floats under my nose, replacing the unpleasantness of the lower town as I near the area where the high society dwells.

Sounds vanish, save for the tapping of my own feet. I tighten my coat and quicken my pace for fear the shadow warlock might have followed me from the tavern. It is a long walk back to the manor, and I regret refusing the carriage my employer lets me use on my free evenings.

The streets are wider with space for two carriages, or the motorcars that have recently grown popular, to pass one another, and the occasional evening stroller nods to me. Gas lanterns adorn the pavements on both sides as I pass the grander dwellings. Gradually, the small gardens become spacious lawns, townhouses become independent with gates and gas lighting. But the one beyond the end of the row is the grandest. Shade Manor.

At the manor’s gate, I fumble for the keys with my frozen fingers. The key is fiddly, and I sigh with relief as I unlatch the main gate. With one last glance out, I close the gate and lock it behind me.

The Lord of Shade Manor keeps a simple garden with a wide pathway to the front door and another leading off to the carriage house. Blackened slate vanishes against the backdrop of the starless sky. The manor towers compared to the nearby houses with an arched entryway and a canopy where a carriage can wait out of the rain. Balconies loom over the dark-curtained rooms of the lower floor. The place fills me with chills I cannot explain, yet within holds warmth in abundance.

Once inside, I hang my coat and open the tap on the entryway’s gas lamp for some light. The Lord insists on keeping it low for when he returns late from his factory or when he plays cards at the gentlemen’s club.

I cross the foyer, only to catch myself in the mirror. The bun in my deep brown hair is a little askew with stray tendrils by my ears, and my cheeks are flushed red against my pale skin. I tuck my loose hair away and run to the fire in the library for its warmth. Not only is it my favourite room because of the hundreds of books in there, but it is also off limits to the children. I stop short at the head poking up from the armchair facing the hearth.

“Miss d’Éclat, is that you?” The Lord stands up and turns to me. His voice is low and soft. Shadows hide him from my sight, but I know he is looking right at me. I feel his stare even through the darkness.

“Apologies, Lord Landry. I was delayed.” I think it best to spare him the story of the attack, yet the magic still thrums through me.

“It is quite all right. This is your free evening to do as you wish. And how many more times do I need to tell you to call me Nathanial, Miss d’Éclat?” 

“As many times as it takes for me to unlearn my manners, Lord Nathanial.”

In the months since I arrived, he has played this silly game with me, and I play along. The formality clashing with casualness is purely for amusement since we both come from Sacred Grove’s original founding families. My mother’s family home, Starfall House, is notably larger than this, though I have not seen it since her death save for a small glimpse through the surrounding woods.

Dark curls rest on Nathanial’s forehead, and his pristine shirt is a little undone under a charcoal waistcoat. The light of the fire catches his face, and he looks at me with wide brown eyes as if he is in shock. I must look a drunken mess after the evening’s events and the rum. 

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” he says with wrinkled brows. “Are you all right?”

No. “Just a little mishap when I visited Scarlett at the tavern. Nothing to worry about.”

His brow scrunches further, and he takes a moment before speaking again. “Come sit with me. I have just finished a book I am sure you will enjoy.”

I smile at the idea of reading one of his suggested books. No matter my previous mood, I always take great delight in all the books in here. Adventures, discoveries, flighty ideas fill the books he reads as they fill my dreams. It is as if the writers saw into my mind and turned my strange ideas into a story.

“What is this book about?” His fingers catch mine as he hands it to me. Stunned, I gape and let his touch linger. I could let him stay there all night. He hands me a glass filled with his favourite brandy. I know that scent, the scent of a sleepless night ahead for him.

“It is a story of love and great power.” He releases the book.

“What greater power could there be in a story than love?” Did I really just say that?

“There are many forms of power. But you are right. A good story begins and ends with love.”

Or tragedy. I want to add.

Logs glow brighter in my periphery, and I bite my tongue at how grand ideas of love and magic irk me so. Love and magic can be either tranquil or chaotic, but together, they can be destructive. My parents taught me that lesson.

My eyes shift to the only painting of his wife. She is with the two children. The youngest is on her lap, just two years old when their mother died almost three years ago. The eldest, now almost seven, stands by her side. No smile brightens her face, no arms hold her children, no light shines in her eyes. She looks sad, lost, broken, like my mother when I last saw her. To lose a wife so young brings me such sorrow for Nathanial, but several years have passed now, and I wonder if he will ever want another.

The book he has given me is a weighty one. “It must be a grand adventure to have so many pages.”

A crooked grin spreads across his face. “Some of the grandest adventures I have read have had just as many pages.”

Do not swoon, Clair. The widower has captured too much of my heart to hide it, but one cannot hide a first love, except maybe from the person one has fallen for. I often wonder if his thoughts travel to where mine do, or if he is just being friendly or thinks me too young. Perhaps he thinks me too innocent, though he would be wrong there. I have had a lover or two despite my lack of husband prospects, and I enjoyed their attention while I had it.

The fire licks toward me. Clamping down my magic with gritted teeth, I glare at the fire, willing it to stop toying with me. “You should try your hand at writing, yourself. I imagine you have plenty of pretty words to fill a book.”

“Can you keep a secret?” His fingers tap on the book in my hand.

Tilting my head, I wonder what possible secret he could bestow on me. “If you ask, I will keep it.”

Swiftly, he turns and rushes to the bureau. He fumbles through papers and pulls out a collection of parchment wrapped inside a black leather cover—somewhat of a book. “I wrote it.” He swipes a hand through his thick, dark hair and says, “I had not planned to share it, but… I wondered… would you read it? Tell me the truth if I should pursue this or if you think it is folly.”

The breath catches in me at such a request. I did not even know he wrote. He is full of surprises. “Why me?”

“You were educated properly, were you not?”

I nod.

“And I trust you.”

“Who else has read this?” I ask.


My heart dances. I put the first book in the bureau and rest my hand on his. “I shall read yours first.”

“Don’t be silly.” He swipes his book from me and hands me the other.

“I am not silly.” Smiling, I take his book. “I will read it and give you my honest thoughts. Unless it is terrible. Then I will run away to avoid you.” I give a playful grin.

Nathanial laughs, deep and infectious, that I cannot help but giggle like a giddy schoolgirl. “Do not run from me, Clair.” His fingers brush my cheek, and his stare locks me in place. “You can tell me anything, good or bad.” Shadows swallow his face as he turns from the fire.

I stare a moment, contemplating my next words. Should I even tell him of the shadow warlock? What good would it do? After all, it would not be the first time a mooncursed warlock went a little wild this time of the month. “I had rum. A lot of rum.” My cheeks instantly flush at my admission. 

“And I had brandy. A lot of brandy.” He laughs again and turns to leave. “Goodnight, Clair.”

“Goodnight, Nathanial.”

The fire flares, and I scowl at its stupid grin-like form. I never respond with magic, only a foul word or two until now. I gulp down the brandy on the table and decide a distraction is in order.

I pick up Nathanial’s book, and with more curiosity than ever, I begin my adventure.

Thank you for reading. If you want more, ARCs are available until the end of January. You can sign up here. The ebook is available for pre-order and will be on KU and paperback from February 14th on Amazon.

ARC and Beta Reader Forms

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Out of Ashes Cover Reveal

I’m not going to lie. I was so emotional opening this and wanted to make a video of my reactions and thoughts. 

Here are the things I liked…

  • My first thought was how perfect the spine was. I was genuinely proud of my amazing layout skills. 
  • The back was also perfectly lined up. 
  • The feel of the matte cover. It’s like velvet.
  • I love the size of the book. I purposely got that size to match certain books I love so it’s a standard size.

What I have to fix…

  • Some of the cloudy smoke at the top of the cover and on the back was barely visible, so I’m going to have to make it more intense for the printed copy.
  • I can’t explain it, but the cover text felt off being so close to the edges. I already made it a fraction smaller.

So to sum up, I’m so incredibly happy with the cover and just have to make those couple of minor adjustments.

Out of Ashes ARCs Go out in Two Days!

Hello fellow fantasy novel lovers,

Exciting news!

Not only are the ARCs for Out of Ashes going out on Friday the 6th, but I’m also revealing the cover on social media, maybe Saturday to give my ARC readers a chance to see the cover.

There’s still time to get the ARc. Just sign up here or email me to add you to the list. Or contact me through social media. Links below.

It’s going to be an exciting weekend to have my book in my book besties’ hands. I hope you all enjoy it and share your thoughts.

I also have my author copy with the cover and will be sharing my thoughts on it and the importance of getting proof copies on my reading and writing ranting blog

Happy New Year! Out of Ashes Is on Goodreads

Happy New Year everyone. I’m so excited to announce that Out of Ashes is now on Goodreads so you can add it to your “want to read” list for your 2023 TBR.

I’m still looking for ARC readers and will be sending them out next Friday 6th of January. To sign up, click here. Don’t forget to read the blurb and check the content warnings in case there’s anything you know you won’t like.

I’ll also be revealing the final cover made by my amazing friend, Ben Carter. He also sells beautiful candles through Star and Carter. I send some to my family in the UK every year. Deliveries are only within the UK though. Sorry.