Cursed

Cursed

by Lisa Childs

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Overview

Cursed by Lisa Childs

Is the FBI Agent her protector or greatest threat?

Again and again, the people Maria cares about are turning up dead. Hanged, crushed, drowned. And in spite of all her powers, Maria can't seem to protect them. All she can do is keep away from the ones she loves the most – and hope that the witch hunter doesn't find them, too.

Because the hunter could be anyone – even Seth Hughes, the brooding FBI agent who claims to be investigating Maria for murder. From the moment they meet, the intense connection she feels with Seth tells her that their destinies are bound together...somehow. As the hunter claims another victim and zeroes in on Maria, can she risk getting close to Seth?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781460378632
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 03/01/2015
Series: Witch Hunt Series
Sold by: HARLEQUIN
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 335,210
File size: 475 KB

About the Author

Lisa has been writing since she could first form sentences and transfer them to paper with crayon. Born soft-spoken into a big, boisterous family where only he who speaks loudest is heard, she learned early to express herself through the written word.

Her first books revolved around the antics of the family dog until she discovered Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Then writing mysteries became second nature for the author who arrived in the world on a dark, stormy Halloween night. When she was 11, the local paper interviewed her for a book she had written involving a kidnapping plot.

During the day Lisa is a part-time insurance agent and full-time wife and mother. She has two beautiful daughters who share her love of the written word and a husband who provides loving support with praise and extra housecleaning duty. When night falls and fog from their 15-acre swamp wraps around their house, Lisa becomes the focused writer, spinning stories she hopes her readers will enjoy.

Readers are welcome to contact Lisa at Po Box 139, Marne, MI 49435, USA.

Read an Excerpt

Energy flowed from the cards up the tips of Maria Cooper's tingling fingers. Warmth spread through her as the energy enveloped her. This will be a clear reading…

She had been blocking her special abilities for so long that she'd worried she might have lost them. But maybe that wouldn't have been such a bad thing. In the past they had proved more destructive than special—more curse than gift.

"What do you see?" the young woman asked, her voice quavering with excitement.

"I haven't turned the first card," Maria pointed out. Only the Significator, the fair-haired Queen of Cups, lay faceup on the table between them. The card didn't represent the young woman's physical appearance—not since the girl had dyed her hair black, tattooed a crow on her face and renamed herself Raven. But the card represented the wistfulness of the young woman's nature, so Maria had chosen it for her.

"But you see stuff—that's what people say about you," the girl continued. "That's why I wanted to learn from you—how to read the cards and how to make the potions and amulets. I know that you have a real gift."

A gift. Or a curse? She used to think it was the first and had grown up embracing her heritage. But then everything had gone so wrong, and she had begun to believe what others had—that she was cursed. That was why she had refused the girl's previous requests to learn to read. Maria had taught her about the crystals and herbs she sold in her shop but she'd resisted the cards—afraid of what she herself might see.

"I have it, too," Raven confided. "I get that sense of déj vu all the time. I know I've already dreamed what's happening. I saw it. Tike you see stuff."

I hope you don't see the stuff I've seen…

"That's why I want to learn tarot," the girl said. "Because I know I'll be good at it."

Raven had been saying the same thing ever since she had first started hanging around the Magik Shoppe. The twenty-two-year-old had spent so much time there that Maria had finally given her a job, and now she had given in on teaching her tarot. She hoped like hell that she didn't come to regret caving in to the girl's pleas.

Maybe Raven had a gift. Or maybe, like so many others, she only wished she did because she had glamorized the supernatural ability into something that it wasn't. Into something powerful, when having these abilities actually made Maria feel powerless, helpless to stop what she might see.

"Thank you," Raven said, "for helping me."

I hope it helps and doesn't hurt…

"To teach you how to read the cards, I have to show you how I do a reading," Maria said. That was how her mother had taught her, having Maria watch her do readings for other people. But Mama hadn't always told the truth of the cards. Instead of telling people what she saw, she had told them what they'd wanted to see.

The old gypsy proverb that her mother had always recited echoed in Maria's head. There are such things as false truths and honest lies.

But there was no one but she and Raven in the old barn on Michigan's Upper Peninsula that Maria had converted into her shop. She had only the girl's cards to read. And she had already told Raven the meaning of each card, so she wouldn't be able to lie to her—even if it would be the kinder thing to do.

This is a mistake…

Her fingers stilled against the deck, which was the size of a paperback novel. She preferred the big cards because of the greater detail. She had always used them, ever since she had first started reading—at the age of four. She had read cards before she'd been able to read words.

"I've been working here almost since you opened a few months ago, but I've never seen you do a reading," Raven remarked.

And she shouldn't be doing one now. She shouldn't risk it…but it had been so long. She had missed it. Surely it couldn't happen again. The cards wouldn't come up the way they had before…

"I haven't done one in a while," she admitted. But she hadn't lost the ability. Energy continued to tingle up Maria's fingertips, spreading into her arms and chest.

Before the girl could ask her why she hadn't, Maria shuffled the cards again and eased one off the top of the deck. "This first card will represent your environment."

Maria turned over the card atop the Significator, and dread knotted her stomach as she stared down at it. The moon shone down upon snarling dogs and a deadly scorpion.

A gasp slipped through the girl's painted black lips. "That's not good."

Maria's temple throbbed, and her pulse beat heavily in her throat. "No. The moon represents hidden enemies. Danger."

The girl's eyes, heavily lined with black, widened with fear. "You're saying I'm in danger."

Not again…

"That's what that means, right?" Raven persisted, her voice rising into hysteria.

Since Maria had already taught the girl the meaning of each card, she couldn't deny what Raven already knew. So she nodded. "Danger. Deceit. A dark aura…"

Maria saw it now, enveloping Raven like a starless night sky—cold and eerie, untold dangers hiding in the darkness. Goose bumps lifted on her skin beneath her heavy knit sweater, and she shivered.

"Turn over the next card," the girl urged. "That's what's coming up—that's what's going to be my obstacle, right?"

Maria shook her head. She wouldn't do it; she wouldn't turn that card. "No. We need to stop. We can't continue." She shouldn't have even begun; she shouldn't have risked the cards coming up the way they had before. But it had been more than a year.

She had thought that she might have reversed the curse, that her fortunes might have finally changed. She'd been using the crystals, herbs and incense that she used for healing to treat herself.

"Turn the card!" The girl's voice had gone shrill, and her face flushed with anger despite her pale pancake makeup. "Turn it!"

"No." Her heart beating fast, she could feel the girl's panic and fear as if it were her own. But she also felt her desperation and determination.

"I have to know!" Raven shouted.

Maybe she did. Maybe they both needed to know. Maria's fingers trembled as she fumbled with the next card. Then she flipped it over to reveal the skeleton knight.

Raven screamed. "That's the death card."

"It has other meanings," Maria reminded her. "You've been studying the tarot with me. You know that it might just mean the end of something."

"What is it the end of? You see more than the cards. You see the future."

As Maria stared across the table at the young woman, an image flashed through her mind. The girl—herface pale not with makeup but with death—herfearful eyes closed forever.

Raven demanded, "What is my future?"

You won't have one.

"I don't see anything," Maria claimed.

"You're lying!"

Maybe the girl actually had a gift—because Maria was a very good liar. Like reading the cards, she had learned at a very young age how to lie from her mother.

"Raven."

"You were looking at me, but you weren't really looking at me. You saw something. Tell me what you saw!"

"Raven."

"Oh, God, it's bad." The girl's breath shuddered out, and tears welled in her eyes. "It's really bad."

"It doesn't have to be," Maria assured her. "We can stop it from happening. I'll make you an amulet of special herbs and crystals… " And maybe this time it would work.

The girl shook her head, and her tears spilled over, running down her face in black streaks of eyeliner. "Even you can't change the future!" She jumped up with such force she knocked over her chair.

Maria jumped up, too, and grabbed the girl's arms. "Don't panic." But she felt it—the fear that had her heart hammering in her chest and her breathing coming fast and shallow in her lungs.

"Stay here," she implored the girl. "Stay with me, and I'll make sure nothing happens to you."

Blind with terror, Raven clawed at Maria's hands and jerked free of her grasp. Then she shoved Maria away from her, sending her stumbling back from the table.

"No. It's you," the girl said, her eyes reflecting horror. "I've seen it—the dark aura around you."

That was what Maria had been trying to remove. But she had failed. As Raven had said, even she couldn't change the future—no matter how hard she tried.

"It's you!" Raven shouted, her voice rising as she continued her accusation. "You're the moon!"

She hurled the table at Maria, knocking it over like the chair. The cards scattered across the old brick pavers of the barn.

Raven was right: even she, with all the knowledge of her witch ancestor, could not change what she had seen of the future. Like that witch ancestor, who had burned at the stake centuries ago, Maria was helpless to fight the evil that followed her no matter how far and how fast she had tried to outrun it.

The girl turned now and ran for the door, leaving it gaping open behind her as she fled. Just like Maria, Raven wouldn't be able to escape her fate: death.

The night breeze drifted through the bedroom window and across the bed, cooling Seth Hughes's naked skin and rousing him from sleep. He didn't know how long he'd been out. But it couldn't have been long, because his heart pounded hard yet, his chest rising and falling with harsh breaths. The breeze stirred a scent from his tangled sheets, of sandalwood and lavender, sweat and sex.

He splayed his hands, reaching across the bed. But she was gone even though he could stillfeel her in his arms and how he'dfelt buried deep inside her body. He could taste her yet on his lips and on his tongue.

With a ragged sigh, he opened his eyes and peered around the room. Moonlight, slanting through the blinds at the window, streaked across the bed and across the naked woman sitting on the foot of it, turned away from him. She leanedforward, and her long black curls skimmed over her shoulders, leaving her back completely bare but for a silver chain and the trio of tattoos afew inches below the chain that circled her neck. There was a sun, a star and a crescent moon.

"I thought you'd left," he murmured, his voice rough with sleep and the desire that surged through him again. She was so damned beautiful with that sexy gypsy hair and all that honey-toned skin.

"I couldn't just leave," she replied as she rose from the bed.

Not after what they'd done? His pulse leaped as the desire surged harder, making him hard. Making love with her had been the most powerful experience of his life. And even though he wasn't certain he could survive it, it was an experience he wanted again. And again…

"I'm glad," he said.

She shook her head. "You won't be."

"Maria?" he asked, wondering about her ominous tone.

"You're going to be dead." Finally, she turned toward him, and the moonlight glinted off the barrel of the gun she held. He glanced toward the bedside table, where the small holster he clamped to the back of his belt lay empty. She held his gun.

"You don't want to do this," he said, holding his hand out for the weapon. But as he reached for it, it fired. The gunshot shattered the quiet of the night and…

The peal of his cell phone pulled him, fighting and kicking, from the grasp of the dark dream. Seth awoke clutching his heart, which pounded out a frantic rhythm. Pulling his hand away, he expected it to be covered with blood. His blood.

But his palm was dry. The room was too dark for him to see anything but the blinking light on his phone.

No moonlight shone through the worn blinds at the window of the motel room. The only scent was dust and the grease from the burger and fries he'd brought back from the diner down the street.

"It was just a dream," Seth said, but no relief eased the tension from his shoulders or loosened the knot in his gut. Nothing was ever just a dream with him.

Drawing a breath into his strained lungs, he reached for the persistently ringing phone. His holstered gun sat on the nightstand next to the cell. His fingers skimmed over the cold barrel before he grabbed up the phone.

Just a dream…

"Hughes," he said gruffly into the phone.

"Agent Hughes?"

"Yes."

"You were right!" The girl's voice cracked with fear as it rose with hysteria. "It's her! She's here."

"Maria Cooper?"

"I lied to you when you were here earlier. I didn't believe what you said about her, but you're right. You're right about everything!" A sob rattled the phone. "I never should have trusted her. Now I'm in danger."

"Where are you?" An image flashed into his mind of the young woman with the bird tattooed on her face.

"Raven?"

"I'm at the Magik Shoppe," she replied.

The old round red barn was hardly a store. But that was another reason he'd known it was her shop even though he hadn't found her there, just the girl.

"Why?" he asked. He had no doubt that she was right; she was in danger. So why was she at the barn?

"I came back here to get you proof that she's the one," Raven said. "I found it. I have the evidence you need. But you have to come quickly!"

He kicked back the tangled sheets. "I'm coming."

"How far away are you?"

"I stayed in town." Although calling Copper Creek, Michigan, a town was stretching the description since it had only a gas station, a diner, a bar and this one ramshackle motel. Despite the girl's denial, he had known the shop belonged to Maria Cooper. Finally, he'd come across one of her witchcraft stores before it—and she—was gone.

He'd stayed in Copper Creek with the intent to keep returning to the store until he caught her there. Hell, if not for the long drive up north having worn him out, he would have staked out the place until she came back. But if he had fallen asleep and she'd discovered him, the least she would have done was run again.

Maybe he should have risked staying; at least he would have been closer when Raven called and he wouldn't have to traverse the winding, rutted gravel road in the dead of night. "I'll be right there."

"You're going to be too late."

Oh, shit. The girl must have warned her boss about him. Maria Cooper was already on the run again. "Stay there. And keep her there if you can."

Another sob rattled the phone. "No. I don't want her to find me. I don't want her to kill me, too."

Seth reached for his gun again. Maybe it would be fired tonight. "I'll protect you," he promised. "I won't let her hurt you. Just wait for me."

Her breath hitched, and he could almost see her nodding in acquiescence. "Please hurry. She read my cards. She told me I'm going to die."

He shuddered. Every time Maria Cooper had read someone's future, they had wound up not having one anymore. They'd wound up dead.

Just as he had in his dream.

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