Nominated for Best PNR - Wizard & Witch 2011 by The Romance Reviews (TRR)
Spellbound Series - Book 1 (part one)
Deadly Witchcraft. Ghostly Threats. Doomed Romance.
They say every town has its secrets, but that doesn’t even begin to describe Fallen Oaks. The townsfolk are a superstitious lot and the mystical disappearance of a local teen has everyone murmuring about a centuries old witch’s curse.
When sixteen-year-old Shiloh Trudell takes a summer job at Craven Manor, she discovers a ghost with an agenda. That’s where she meets the new town hottie, Trent Donovan, and immediately becomes enchanted by his charms.
Finally, Shiloh’s met someone who is supercute and totally into her, but Trent is immersed in the cunning deception that surrounds the mysterious Craven Manor. So much so that he may lose sight of what is truly important to him. And she can’t decide whether she wants to shake him or kiss him. Yet neither one of them can deny the immediate, passionate connection growing between them.
But underlying everything is the fear that Trent may be the next victim on a supernatural hit list, and Shiloh is the only person with the power to save him…
With cryptic messages from a pesky wraith, Shiloh will finally begin to understand the mysterious significance of the strange mark branded on her wrist and decide how much she’s willing to sacrifice to protect the other teenagers in town.
Unfortunately, for Shiloh, not all ghosts want help crossing over. Some want vengeance.Chapter One
For as long as I could remember, I’d heard whispers in the shadows. Black, twisting shapes that chilled my blood. Slithering through the night, their greenish skin, crimson eyes, and sharp claws were illuminated even in the dark.
Sunlight now meant the difference between life and death.
I normally felt safe during the day with the heat of the sun brushing my skin, so that morning—when the shadows showed up in my bedroom—I barely recognized the eerie whispering. The desk lamp flickered, startling me. I stared at the last line I’d typed on my essay for English class, one hand hovering over the keyboard.
Homework could wait.
I raised my head and closed the laptop. My heart hammered. A hint of chilling menace climbed up my spine. Finishing my homework was the last thing on my mind.
The spooky whispering, inhuman and ominous, grew more intense.
Setting the laptop aside, I uncrossed my legs and jumped off the bed, nearly tripping over my long nightgown. I scanned the dark bends and edges of the room. The swirling azure colors of the witch ball suspended over the bed rotated in a slow circle. I got down on my hands and knees to check under the bed. Nothing.
The closet door stood open a crack. I stood up and wavered, shoulders hitching.
I dragged my feet over to the closet and pushed the door open wider with my foot. My gut clenched. My skin prickled. On tiptoes, I leaned over the threshold, stretching to grasp the brass chain, then gave it a yank. Light bled across dirty laundry, illuminating metal hangers scattered on the floor. Dusty board games littered the shelf, and haphazardly hanging clothes swayed on the bar. Fuzzy, pink bunny slippers stared upward with glassy button eyes. Nothing unusual.
So why was I feeling so freaked?
The feeling, indistinct, but ominous, lingered like the remnants of a bad dream. I couldn’t isolate the source. But something felt wrong.
The closet light and lamp suddenly blew out. As I turned around, my peripheral vision caught a maelstrom of shadows. Things moved within it. Something snaked past my leg. Writhed.
Stupid, stupid, stupid! I’d forgotten to keep my telepathic shield up. Again.
Shadows murmured in an ancient language, covering the round pink rug like an opaque stain. The creatures fed off my fear, which was doled out like too much bitter candy. Within the inky blobs were gleaming eyes. Red orbs, open and staring. Spiny reptilian fingers reached to grab my ankles. Instinct alone jerked me from their grasp. Demonic things with darkling eyes glared back at me.
Trembles traveled from my legs and vibrated up my neck. Dread choked me like a noose, strangling me from the inside. Bile rose in my throat. I struggled to calm myself; all I had to do was run from the room.
Instead I froze with my back flat against the wobbling closet door. My eyes caught something else. An entity, dense and vertical, detached itself from the other shadows. Bigger. Darker. Malevolent.
The blackness was deep and vast. From within the shadow—a mass of darkness, like a terrible yawning hunger rose in front of my wide eyes. The shadow hung heavily, like a spatter of crude oil, pulsating and swirling until it nearly touched the ceiling. It morphed, muscles expanding over bones, skin convulsing, a resurrection of shiny obsidian, smooth and razor-sharp, created from darkness and shadow. It throbbed, altered, trickled into limbs and flesh and—
Oh, God, it’s almost touching me!
I flinched and stumbled backward, bumping into a chair. My knees buckled. I swayed, leaning hard on the doorframe. Blood roared in my ears.
The nest of smaller shadows shimmered and crouched in terror. They whispered in tangled voices, circling my legs like frightened children. Their panic increased, seeping into my gut. My palms went damp.
When scary things get scared—so not good.
Breathing out desperate little choking noises, I shook my head, hoping the image would fade. The head shake didn’t make a difference. Only reinforced my worst nightmare.
Shadows had come alive and coalesced, taking on form. A human form.
A cold tremor shot down my back. I was in real danger.
Power surged through the demon as he swelled into a seething black mass of energy, bent on blocking my escape. His rough skin, the color of soot, held a sturdy flexibility, more sinuous than flesh, like a venomous viper. His strange features—part phantom, part skeleton—fought to become corporeal. Naked. Partially humanoid. No genitals. No hair. He flexed his hands, revealing long fingernails. Talons on his feet. Knife-sharp teeth. The reptile-looking creature did not move. He watched me with ocher eyes that blazed, searing through my nightgown and scorching my skin.
The smaller shadows—demonic shapeshifters—slunk away, blending into the dim corners. Beady eyes blinked. However, the seven-foot-tall creature remained. The hellish warmth radiating from his body entered mine like the breath of a dragon.
I swallowed. Hard. My scalp prickled with sweat. It wasn’t as if I were some girly-girl afraid of her own shadow, but when they had glowing eyes and sharp teeth…well, I tended to freak out.
Okay, focus, Shiloh.
My gaze darted to the window. Sunlight was my only ally. If I lifted the blinds, the sun’s rays would swallow the darkness. At least that was the idea. A crack of light ebbed into the room, soaking the crevices.
Inching forward, I kept an eye on the junior shadows with their onyx hands, arms…flashes of carved faces. They continually moved, sliding under the bed in a twisted game of peek-a-boo. The shadow man stood very still. Intent, watchful, calm. Dangerous.
The disgusting odor of sulfur, musty and acrid, wrinkled my nose. I wanted to say something tough and snarky, but I could only gape stupidly at Shadow Man. Big bad evil. Whatever.
I pinched my nose and focused on not throwing up.
Shadow Man raised one hand and pointed at my arm. “Debts must be paid.” His inhuman voice slid across the space between us, resonant and sinister, like the threat of a snake before it strikes. “You bear the Devil’s Mark.”
Say what? Then the ugly scar on my forearm—the one I’d lived with for years—burned at his words, as if I’d plunged it into scalding water. It totally caught me off guard. It had never hurt like this before.
Sucking in a breath, I held my arm against me. Tears filled my eyes. I gritted my teeth, twitching, unsure what to do next.
Move. Now. My legs refused to budge. Terror clutched my throat. Please, oh, please, go away.
Too bad I lacked the courage to scream or fight rather than stiffen like a statue, immobile and breathless.
Shadow Man glowered. The miniature shadows swarmed around me. Were they his little minions? Or were they still as freaked as me? Didn’t matter because now they had me cornered.
I backed against the closet door and stared, waiting for them to attack. Shadow Man stepped closer. The freaky hellspawn crouched behind him. The circle tightened, then he stopped. He cocked his head to the side.
Someone knocked on the door. “Shiloh?” My mother’s voice, loud and anxious, penetrated the wood. Her frantic tone was almost as odd as the thing standing in the room. “What’s going on in there? I heard a noise.”
Why wasn’t Dad the one pounding on my door? He’d want to protect me.
Wait—what was I thinking?
He would think I was hallucinating. Only I saw paranormals in this dysfunctional family. No way was I letting the big bad evil leave this room to hurt my dad. Who knew what Shadow Man would do?
“Uh, sorry,” I croaked. “Can’t decide what to wear.”
“Be quieter then.” She twisted the knob. Thankfully, the door was locked.
Now I had no choice but to do something about this…this thing. Before it went after my parents. I glanced from the door to the demonic shadow. I recognized danger. I recognized warnings. I bit my lip, tasting blood.
“Okay.” My fists clenched at my sides. Fingernails cut deep into my palm.
“We’re gonna be late…and do something with your hair.” The soft tread of my mother’s feet padding down the hall rattled me enough to do what I’d first intended—run like hell. I took a step, then stopped. I surprised myself with a sudden burst of anger. I didn’t know where it came from, but I was glad for it. More than glad.
The eruption of hostility flushed my cheeks. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror above the dresser—eyes wild and mad and cheeks stained with the blood of roses. My lips tightened.
Come on, Shiloh—think.
I rubbed my hurting arm over the cotton nightgown. Door or window?
Shadow Man stood between the door and me. His black and muscular physique looked invulnerable. No escape there. The heat of his stare slammed into my scar. Yellow eyes expressed lust, thirst, hunger, and death.
He crooked a finger like a hook. “Come here.” The demon’s gaze flicked sideways, settling on me with such heaviness and animosity my skin recoiled. “Now, or pay the consequences.”
Rage uncoiled in my heart. A dark force unfurled within me, as black as the demon before me. I jerked forward, my cheeks flaming. My short fingernails dug into my palms. But I felt no pain. Only the slow graze of terrible rage. I bared my teeth in a snarl as the obscure dark power stirred within my chest: precarious, unwinding.
“Is that a threat?” I asked, but the tone was not mine. This time power and courage flooded my voice.
No one moved. Even the nasty little shadows became rigid. Shadow Man hesitated. Our gazes met in silent combat. I held my breath, watching him. My heart was beating at a dizzying pace.
The demon flung back his head. A thin stream of smoke spewed from his parted lips. The predatory cloud-snake pulsed with electricity. His smoky vomit was viscous and black, generating an electromagnetic vibration and a sulfurous residue.
At that moment, the only things real to me were the rage coursing through my veins and the heat scorching the scar that traced a jagged line from my elbow to my wrist. A constant reminder, ensuring I’d never forget my freakishness.
Instead of screaming like a smart girl, I decided to be brave and sprint for the one thing that might save me: the window.
As I raced past Shadow Man, a blistering heat slashed into my chest. Stumbling, I tripped over a book and fell to my knees. I gripped the ledge of the windowsill.
Panic and fury radiated through my limbs. Blazing strong, a surge of mystical energy encompassed my body, crackling with power. Static electricity lifted my long hair. I squeezed my eyes shut.
Oh, god. Please—OPEN!
Want to read more?
Read the thrilling excerpt from the sequel, SHATTERED SILENCE