Stranger Than Witches (The Witches of Secret Hallow Book 3) (10 page)

15

K
imberly had rarely seen
the Leif farm more beautiful than the evening Beltane began. Maddock had erected a maypole just behind the kitchen window, and the ribbons fluttered like feathers caught in the wind. The family had decorated everything to look like spring despite Secret Hallow’s eternal autumn—no small feat, all things considered.

She had arranged large pots around the back patio and filled them with fresh flowers from the greenhouse. She hung tangled vines of blossoms around the windows. Barrels of mead had been rolled up from the Glenn family’s meadery, too, and the sticky-sweet scent of it was rich in the air.

Everyone had contributed to those decorations, so Kimberly had enjoyed some time building a fairy garden with Keene too. It was around the front, where visitors would see but the coven’s dancing wouldn’t disturb it; the fairy people were shy, and didn’t like intruders among their oversized, twisting mushrooms. She couldn’t see the little people now, but she could hear the chiming chorus of their voices as they had their own Beltane celebration within the fairy ring.

Kimberly was so taken with the loveliness of the Leif farm that she almost forgot her mother was due to come.

“Fancy a drink?” Adora Glenn asked, elbowing her way into Kimberly’s house. She held a giant mug between two hands. It was almost as big as her head, not that it would have been too hard: Adora was as short as she was outrageously curvaceous, like a pinup model turned witch.

“No mead for me today, I don’t think,” Kimberly said.

Adora wasn’t one to press. “More for me!” She took a long swig and sighed. “Best batch we’ve made in seasons! All thanks to your bees, of course. We couldn’t do it without Leif honey!”

Kimberly inclined her head in acceptance of the gratitude. There was little better to do with the honey produced by their many overflowing hives; even the coven could only bake so much using honey. The mead was very popular, though. Even more popular than the skin and hair products Ivy Orchidsbane occasionally made using the beeswax.

Keene’s piercing squeal shattered the air behind Kimberly.

“Fern!”

She turned from washing her hands in the sink to see her bullet train of a child smash into Fern in the living room.

Fern was much quieter than Keene, and usually shyer too. But she shivered with excitement at seeing her favorite playmate. She hugged him so tightly that she all but lifted his feet off of the ground. She was a bit older and much taller, as little girls often were compared to little boys, and she had elemental powers behind her enthusiasm to give her strength.

“Keene…” Kimberly took a couple of steps toward him, fearful that Fern’s excitement would translate into destructive magic.

Maddock wrapped his arm around her shoulders to stop her. “Worried, wife of mine?” he murmured against her neck, holding her tightly.

She bit the inside of her cheek.

Fern and Keene clasped hands and hurtled into the daylight, where they would be closely watched by the rest of the coven. Loud voices greeted them when they ran outside. Gemma hugged them both in turn, then Enid did the same.

Orianna, Fern’s mother, hovered over the children more than anyone else. She knew the devastating destructive power that Fern’s elemental magic could have. Until recently, Orianna had seldom left the house with Fern in order to help protect the coven from her daughter’s magic. But with help from Rowan and the Ash sisters, they had Fern well under control.

Even Orianna was relaxed and smiling, and she was far from a relaxed person. If she could enjoy the day, then Kimberly should have, too.

Kimberly had no reason to be afraid.

At least, no rational reason.

“Are we ready for the ritual?” Kimberly asked, studying her husband. He was draped in layers of formal robes, such as those the coven only wore on truly special occasions. And he carried a crown of flowers in his spare hand.

“Almost,” he said. He rested the flowers atop Kimberly’s head, then gave her a lingering kiss. The pollen’s perfume floated around them. “Now we’re ready.”

She gripped his hands in both of hers as tightly as she could—the only outward sign of her nerves that she dared show.

Kimberly reached silently out to Thorn. He was roosting in the barn’s rafters that day, though he typically left much more physical distance between them than that. The normally solitary creature was showing Kimberly emotional support in the only way that he knew how.

When he sensed her mind turning toward him, he turned to her as well. She could feel his ruffling feathers in her mind.

Thorn could also see that the sun was setting outside the barn, which meant it was almost time for the ritual.

“Here,” Maddock said, gently wrapping ceremonial robes around Kimberly. He cinched the waist.

The cloth was cool and light and it smelled of strawberries.

She looped her arm through his and smiled at him.

The coven was rowdy, as usual. Fern and Keene had joined many of the village’s other children in dancing around the maypole, along with several coven members who were certainly not children and had no business engaging in childish pursuits, like Iris Westerly. The flush on her pale cheeks suggested that she had already been hitting Adora Glenn’s mead a little too hard.

She was far from the only one. Nana Winterblossom had made an appearance, despite insisting that she was going to help Rowan and Garrett with Siobhan all day. And she, too, had been drinking the mead, which was obvious because she only started riding the broomstick when she was tipsy.

“Whoa there!” laughed Enid Ash, diving out of the way when Nana blazed past her head with an explosion of twigs and starlight.

Nana shrieked with wild laughter, gray hair whipping behind her as she zoomed around the barn.

Even Thorn was amused by her antics. He watched with quiet humor in the barn, ruffling his feathers. He was thinking of the time he had learned to fly by being pushed from his nest, long before his wings had the breadth and strength they did now. He’d gotten tangled in more than a few branches himself.

Kimberly couldn’t share in his mood.

The coven, rowdy as it was, would have been rowdier still if Kimberly’s mother had shown up. The denizens of Secret Hallow loved visitors, especially family. They wouldn’t have cared about Mary O’Malley’s past; they’d have welcomed her with open arms, and likely invited her into a pie-baking contest with Nana and Iris while they were at it.

Anyone would have been lucky to be welcomed into the Secret Hallow community. It was filled with beautiful, loving souls.

Yet Mary wasn’t there.

Still.

The sun touched the horizon.

“We can’t tarry longer,” Maddock said gently to Kimberly.

She nodded.

He gathered the coven, peeling them away from the mead, and coaxing Nana Winterblossom out of a tree, where she’d gotten the broom stuck. He caught the old woman and helped her down.

“Hands off, I’m capable of standing on my own!” she laughed, swatting his hands away before arranging her skirts around her legs. She was covered in leaves.

Maddock leaped to pluck her pointed hat out of the tree, then plunked it on her head. “That you are, gorgeous Madame Winterblossom.” He kissed her forehead, bushy beard tickling her brow.

Nana pretended it didn’t embarrass her, but Kimberly noted the pink in her cheeks.

The rest of the coven gathered in a circle around the maypole with hands joined. Kimberly hesitantly stepped into the circle, keeping an eye on the children. Fern, Keene, and the other wee ones of the village didn’t join in. They would have been welcome if they’d wanted to, but witchlings typically didn’t have the patience required for fusty adult rituals.

Nor did children need the patience. They paid tribute to the sabbats in the way that only witchlings could: with their unbridled, earnest joy in life, celebrating the wheel of the seasons turning outside Secret Hallow’s borders with play and laughter.

A warm hand took Kimberly’s. Maddock had joined his wife.

As soon as he entered the circle, it felt complete. Their energy settled into a firm ring.

“Merry meet and blessed be!” Maddock called out, acting as high priest as easily as any man of the coven could have.

The entire coven murmured in response, a chorus of “blessed be” and “merry meet” that was mostly sedate as the mood of the ritual came over them all, though. Iris Westerly yelled the words, though. And once she did, nobody could resist the urge to laugh.

So much for the mood.

Nobody could quite manage seriousness in the Secret Hallow coven, though. And why should they? They all adored each other, as beloved family and friends, and they cherished every moment in good company. Beltane in particular was a time of great joy.

There was no magic quite like laughter shared with loved ones.

Kimberly watched down the hill, toward the fairy garden with its sparkling lights and quiet echoes of laughter, and the empty road beyond.

Still no Mary O’Malley.

Thorn took off from the rafters of the barn, promising Kimberly that he would make sure she wasn’t nearby, having gotten lost on the way. She radiated gratitude toward him.

While she was distracted communicating with Thorn, Maddock had started to raise the power.

Magic and energy flowed through the entire coven.

It swirled around them in a colorful whirlpool of light. Every witch would see the colors differently. Kimberly suspected that she saw the least magic of all of them, since she’d never been particularly strong at witchcraft. But even she saw it: the copper and green cables binding all of their bodies together, joining at the hearts, and leading back in long lines toward the Samhain Grove.

The Elder Tree was connected to it all, the shining core that fed their hearts and souls.

Maddock was almost as bright.

When Kimberly looked at their joined hands, she was surprised to see that she shared in his light, too.

The whole coven was looking at her now, as though they’d never seen her before.

“Blessed be,” Enid Ash murmured again in wonderment.

The crisp spring magic swelled within Kimberly.

It flowed through her and poured out of her skin, stronger than ever before.

She had witnessed dozens of other witches coming into their powers, and expected that it would never happen to her. After all, it most frequently struck during adolescence—the time when a witchling became a witch, when they went from wild and untamed to radiating with specific magic.

Kimberly remembered it happening to everyone outside of her family.

But never her.

Yet this looked just like it: the clarity of the glow, the sheer vibrancy of it.

She was a witch coming into her power.

A bit delayed, yes, but the latest blooms of the season tended to be the most hardy.

Maddock released her, and she stepped deeper into the circle without thinking about it. The magic carried her into the core of the coven.

She lifted her arms and realized they felt strange, both heavy and light.

Kimberly had grown feathers.

The coven’s shared awe was powerful. She sensed it all the way through her bones, which felt almost hollow.

Thorn
, she thought.
I’ve changed
.

And he told her that he knew. Of course he already knew. He had always known.

She had come into her magic.

And right now, she felt no urge to fly away.

The coven thought she was beautiful. Kimberly thought it was, too.

What a wonderful Beltane blessing.

She wished, in a way, that her mother could see it. That Mary O’Malley would see her daughter with feathers, among her family and coven, Keene running around her legs, and know that her daughter was coming into her power.

But Mary wasn’t there. Thorn couldn’t see her anywhere.

She wasn’t coming.

16

K
imberly often woke
with the sunrise, partially because it was her preference as an early riser, and partially because the sun shining in her bedroom was the best alarm to use. Cloudy days meant she slept in a little sometimes, although never much, thanks to Keene.

Days after magical workings, rare though they had been for Kimberly in the past, also meant some sleeping in to recharge and renew. It took considerable grounding in order to return to her body after joining with the spirit of the greater coven, the Samhain Grove, and the Elder Tree.

The entire coven tended to sleep in after big sabbats. Drinking too much mead and getting one’s broomstick stuck in a tree had a way of doing that to a witch.

Kimberly didn’t sleep in the next morning, though.

All the Beltane revelry had died down, all the pie had been eaten, and the guests had left to their own beds, Kimberly never really settled. She hadn’t struggled with her shapeshifted form or anything. She’d shed the feathers as soon as the ritual ended. But her nerves had been frazzled, and she’d been unable to relax knowing her mother was missing.

Again.

Unable to relax, she cleaned up a bit until Maddock urged her to bed—“it can wait until we get some sleep,” he’d said—and she’d gone with him. He had fallen asleep quickly wrapped around Keene’s unconscious form. She didn’t manage more than a couple of hours of fitful sleep.

Not wanting to prolong her unease, Kimberly rose before the sun and did some clean-up on her own.

The problem was, she wasn’t upset about not sleeping. She just looked around the farm, at the footprints in the dirt and the remnants her friends and family had left behind, and saw her mother’s lack.

Mary should have been there.

Why would she have been so desperate to get in contact with Jason, and why would she have talked so
earnestly
with Kimberly, if she hadn’t wanted to be part of their lives again? Did she enjoy making everyone around her miserable?

No, the answer was probably the same as it had been since Kimberly was a kid: Kimberly cared more than Mary ever would, and it had just gotten her hurt. Again.

When the sun started to rise as much as it would through the clouds, Kimberly didn’t really have the pretense of cleaning anymore.

The coven was pretty good at tidying up after themselves—a benefit of having several witches around whose abilities were magical homemaking. A few waves of their hands, and they could assemble the dishes, brooms, and dustpans into a self-tidying army. After that, the remaining work was mostly sweeping up magical residue.

Kimberly did the last of it and probably finished a good hour before sunrise. With a sigh, she put her broom away. It was the one that Nana Winterblossom had enchanted to fly the night before, and it was looking a bit worse for wear; autumn leaves still clung to its twigs.

After that, there was nothing for Kimberly to do except brood.

Probably because of everything the night before, it still took another hour before there were any signs of life from the other members of the house. Even Thorn was absent from her head, besides the occasional sleepy stir. He’d slept in the barn to be available for her and had been awake far too late for a day-dwelling eagle.

Alone, Kimberly took a cup of coffee and sat in the living room. She couldn’t really will her unhappiness away, and while she didn’t want to stew in it, she didn’t seem to have many other options.

Through the front windows, she could see the fairy garden that she had built in honor of Beltane. The fairies were still enjoying it. They didn’t take a single night to celebrate sabbats: they took many days, many weeks, possibly months depending on their mood. If they approved of the garden, they might even remain until midwinter.

From that angle, she could only see the glittering of their lights and the occasional puff of dust, which looked very much like glitter. The ring of oversized mushrooms concealed everything else.

If Kimberly focused, she thought she could almost hear the sweet strains of their music.

When Maddock and Keene appeared, she wished them a good morning, but she didn’t join them for breakfast. It was less about dragging them down and more about…just needing her space.

The house didn’t necessarily feel like the best place for feeling like she did.

And yet, somehow, that left her feeling like she should stick closer to home than ever. Keene needed his mom. She heard the thought like a chant in her head:
Keene needs me, Keene needs me…

“Mommy?”

Kimberly broke from her reverie. Her coffee was cold in her hands, and Maddock and Keene were standing in front of her, dressed for their day.

“I’m taking Keene to school,” Maddock said.

Kimberly frowned. “What?”

“You obviously need some time to yourself. It’s fine. Keene had so much fun with Fern last night. He wants to see the kids again, and—”

“No.”

Maddock frowned. “Hon.”

She stood, feeling suddenly, fiercely protective of him. “He stays here. I want him to stay here.”

“Keene,” Maddock said, not looking away from Kimberly. “Why don’t you go to your room to get Poke? Fern will want to see him again.”

Keene looked uncertainly between them, and Kimberly felt a stab of guilt. He was so little still. Parents disagreed, but it didn’t seem fair that it happened while he was still too young to understand why.

She and Maddock usually agreed on that. They never quarreled where he could see.

Kimberly must have been really out of sorts if she had picked a battle with her husband while their wee bairn was in the room.

“Go get Poke, sweetie,” Kimberly told him gently. “If you want to.”

He nodded and went, but he paused once on his way, waiting for both Kimberly and Maddock to nod reassuringly back.

“I’ve told you,” Kimberly said quietly, as soon as Keene was in his room, “that I didn’t want him going to school.”

“He
likes
it there, wife of mine. And you need the time. A lot is happening right now, and you need to focus on yourself. There’s no shame in that!”

“No shame,” Kimberly echoed.

“I’m not joking when I say that you could use a few days to yourself. You’re always running yourself ragged, keeping Keene close, refusing to take time alone…”

“You want me to leave!”

“That’s not what I—”

“You do. You keep telling me to leave.”

“I say you
can
—”

She held up a hand. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all of this. You’re right.”

Kimberly strode out of the room, clutching a shawl around her, and burst into the cloudy day.

Everything hurt, but she could do this with a little dignity, at least. If there was any dignity to be had when you were leaving your family.

“Kimberly!” Maddock yelled after her.

He never called her by her name. She was “wife of mine,” not Kimberly.

Things were indeed dire if he were calling her by name.

She felt the direness of it all within the marrow of her bones.

Her hollow bones, lightened by the magic of the eagle.

Maddock wanted her to leave? He wanted her to focus on herself, like Mary O’Malley, who couldn’t even come to one accursed sabbat to meet her grandson?

Very well.

Kimberly would take some alone time.

All of it.

She closed her eyes and embraced her magic. It was so easy with the remnants of the coven’s magic from the night before still dancing in the air. She took flight like she normally took breath.

It was probably the first time Kimberly hadn’t felt relieved to be flying.

She wasn’t alone. She felt Thorn take off from where he was in the farm; she hadn’t even noticed him arriving. He wanted her to go back, and if he’d caught her, she knew she would have probably listened. But she used her magic and everything she’d learned, as well as the desperation of someone who didn’t want to be caught.

Before long, Thorn was nothing but a sad echo in the back of her head.

Kimberly was soaring over the forest alone. Just like she’d always known she would.

Other books

Foul Matter by Martha Grimes
Devil's Kiss by Celia Loren
Here's Lily by Nancy Rue
Moment of Truth by Scottoline, Lisa
Lost Among the Stars (Sky Riders) by Rebecca Lorino Pond
Lost & Found by Kitty Neale
Regency Masquerade by Loy, Vera