I recently released the second novel Tapestry Lion in my gothic fantasy series about the House of Landers. The first novel in the series The Witch Awakening begins the story of Safire, a young psychic who struggles to control her abilities in a skewed Renaissance world that burns witches at the stake. Below is a short excerpt from the beginning of The Witch Awakening:
The sky had cracks in it. Then the wind rose, and I blinked, startled, as the cracks moved and transformed into the writhing bare branches of the old oak. Shivering, I sat up and pulled my cloak around my shoulders. Dusk had crept across the fields with shadow feet while I lay here, half in a doze as I watched the clouds. I should have been home an hour ago.
I stumbled up and shook the dust from my clothes. The blood stirred in my veins, stinging my numb skin as I began to walk along the rutted wagon track. The moon hung low and huge over the smudged shapes of the trees. "Go away," I told it. "I'm already late enough as it is."
The house wasn't far. The track wound through two fields, stubby with wheat stalks, and then through a tangle of trees before it stopped at the edge of the cobbled courtyard. My breath made fog as I stared at the light spilling from the large front windows on the first story of the house. Father and my sister Dagmar were there now, eating. Grimacing from the cold, I plucked up my skirt and headed for the side door.
As I went across the courtyard, a horse whickered. I glanced toward the stable and froze. My father couldn't have done this to me. I had told him, insisted that he never invite that man again, at least when I was around. But did he listen? No. There stood the evidence, eating out of its feed bag, oblivious: Peregrine of Bara's horse.
Even in this light, no one could mistake that silver gray coat with the black stripe down the back. The biggest scoundrel on the coast had the loveliest horse. Peregrine. If I had known he was here for dinner, I would have stayed out in the field all night. I threw open the front door and slammed it as I tossed my cloak on a bench.
Dagmar hurried through a doorway, her blond hair piled on her head in an explosion of ringlets. She stopped and stared at me. I glanced down at myself, holding out my skirt. I wasn't dressed for dinner--I wore my oldest frock and my slippers were covered with dirt.
"Where have you been?" she demanded. "Dinner started a quarter hour ago, Safire."
"You forgot! You're always forgetting--and look at you! Get upstairs and put on a decent frock. Father's going to throttle you. And do something about your hair . . ." her words trailed off as I sauntered to the mirror over the hall table.
I had to stand on tiptoe and lean over the table to get a good look at myself. Someone tall must have hung this mirror. I poked my tongue in my cheek. There was a long smudge of dirt running down the side of my face, and my freckles stood out worse than usual. My red curls, my best feature, were stringy. I turned and looked at her.
She stood there, hands fluttering limply at her sides. "Safire . . ."
"I like the way I look. It's fitting for our company." I tossed my hair and strode towards the banquet hall.
"Stop it." She reached for me. But I was already through the door.
Father glanced up from his place at the head of the table, a vein standing out under the wisps of fading gingery hair that drifted over his forehead. He usually had a ruddy complexion, but his skin looked positively crimson tonight, his orange aura aflame. I faltered, taking a half step back. Then my gaze drifted to Peregrine. Bold blue eyes met mine in a look that could only be described as a leer. Lustful toad. I had never been able to see his aura, only smell it--he kept it hidden from sight like an ace up his sleeve.
My head high, I slid into my accustomed chair. "My apologies for my lateness. I was unavoidably detained."
"Obviously not by your lady's maid," Father retorted, stabbing a piece of pheasant with his fork. "You look like you've been digging in the potato patch."
He must be really angry, to let Peregrine see his displeasure. "Father . . ." I began.
"Up to your chamber, Safire."
Biting my lip, I rose as Dagmar crept into the hall and silently took her seat.
"Now, Avernal," Peregrine said, his voice slippery as oiled silk, "Don't tell me I'm to be deprived of your daughter's presence thrice in a fortnight. Last time I called she had a headache, and the time before that she had a fever."
"That's because you make me ill."
Father's face went purple. "Safire, you headstrong . . ." he choked.
I put my hands to my mouth. He was going to have apoplexy right here, just like Dagmar and I had always feared. And it was my fault. I stumbled around the table, reaching for him.
"Father, breathe. Just breathe." My fingers curled around his arm, and I felt the tight ropes of his muscles through his shirt. As I had done many times before, I concentrated on the tension, drawing it away from him and into me. Tonight, it was like swallowing a swarm of hornets. His shoulders jerked with the effort to exhale and inhale, a motion that gradually subsided to an even rhythm. But I backed away only when he raised his palm from the table.
"Enough," he said gruffly. "Sit down, daughter."