Bestseller Melanie Rawn plunges down the back stairs of the old South into a dark world of family secrets and the international flesh trade that lies underneath the surface of small town politics and romance.
Holly McClure and Evan Lachlan have survived the fiery beginning of their romance and left Manhattan for Holly's ancestral home to raise their children. Evan's the county Sheriff; Holly is still a trouble-making Spellbinder trying to manipulate her family as if they were characters in one of her novels.
But something's not right in Pocahontas County. Churches are being burned down in mysterious arsons with a taint of magic on them. Sheriff Lachlan suspects that they have something to do with the new owners of the old Westmoreland plantation, now a very upscale Inn, but even if he could find proof, it's going to be hard to bring a case of Black Magic before a Judge -- even in Pocahontas County, where witchcraft is the family business of all the oldest clans.
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|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
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About the Author
Melanie Rawn is the author of Spellbinder, The Ruins of Ambrai, and The Mageborn Traitor. Rawn lives in Flagstaff, Arizona.
MELANIE RAWN is the three-time Locus Award–nominated author of the bestselling Dragon Prince trilogy, the Dragon Star trilogy, and the Glass Thorns trilogy, including Touchstone, Elsewhens, and Thornlost. She graduated from Scripps College with a BA in history and has worked as a teacher and editor. Rawn lives in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Read an Excerpt
By Melanie Rawn
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2009 Melanie Rawn
All rights reserved.
September 3, 2006
THE WATER IN THE BUCKET was meant for the tomatoes. As it cascaded instead over the tousled head and shirtless torso of her husband, Holly felt her knees wobble. She'd been watching him from the parlor window for a few minutes now, still amused after two and a half years that her city boy had taken so enthusiastically to life in the Virginia sticks. The vegetable garden had been all his idea. Tomatoes, squash, onions, corn, peas, and four varieties of chili peppers received his intense devotion every evening when he got home; on Sundays like this one he spent hours out back, babying anything that needed extra attention.
Yep — scratch an Irishman, find a peasant. She grinned to herself. He made quite the bucolic picture in the noonday heat: six feet four inches of summer-tanned Pocahontas County sheriff, wearing frayed old cutoffs and a pair of sneakers, with a battered Yankees cap pulled low over his forehead to keep the sun from scorching his nose. All he lacked was a thin stalk of hay sticking out from between his teeth.
When he took off the cap and stretched wide, her laughter faded; when he reached for the water bucket, the shift of muscle in strong arms and long back brought a little whimper to her throat. Now, with water gliding down his chest and belly, heat curled low in her abdomen and she leaned a little more heavily on the windowsill in deference to her shaky knees.
After a moment she unlatched the screen, pushed it open, and called out, "Hey, farmboy!"
Evan squinted, using both hands to rake back the wet hair dripping into his eyes. The gesture flexed chest, arms, and shoulders to noteworthy effect; he knew it, too, damn him. The grin he gave her made him look half his forty-two years. Holly gulped.
"Don't you think it's time you took a breather?" Breathing was exactly what she wasn't doing very well just now.
"Sounds mighty nice, ma'am," he drawled in his atrocious version of her native accent. "Pardon for askin', but y'all wouldn't happen to be one of them desperate housewives I hear tell about, would you?"
Yeah, he knew what he was doing, all right: knuckles propped just above the low-riding waistband, hips and head in a speculative tilt. Holly's thoughts turned to pillage and plunder — and she'd do it right in the middle of the crookneck squash if she had to. As he showed off a few more moves with an artfully artless scratch to the small of his back, she pretended to consider his question. "Now that y'all mention it ..." His answering grin was entirely too smug. So, resting one shoulder against the window frame, she folded her arms beneath her breasts. Instant cleavage. Fairly impressive cleavage, too; becoming the primary milk wagon for twins could do that.
His turn to gulp. But he recovered in a hurry — the rat bastard — and said, "Shucks, ma'am, kinda depends on how desperate we're talkin' here."
Holly repressed a sardonic snort. Evan Lachlan and hard to get were mutually exclusive terms. She hiked the skirt of her cotton sundress up her thighs, hitched herself sideways to sit in the window, and slung one bare leg over the ledge. Dangling her foot, scraping the soft dirt of a flower bed with her toes, she told herself that if the cleavage and the naked leg didn't get him over here within the next thirty seconds, she would go with her original pillage-and-plunder plan, and the squash could damned well fend for itself. Evan cleared his throat and took a couple of involuntary steps toward her. She hid a smirk. Gotcha! "Y'all got any ideas, farmboy?"
"One or two," he allowed. The self-confident saunter was back, signaling a tweak in the balance of power. "I'm all sweaty and dirty, though." He rubbed one hand across his chest as if embarrassed by his scruffiness. "And there you are, all pretty and sweet. ..."
She heard herself growl. She heard him chuckle. She came out of the window like a tackle going for a quarterback sack.
The crookneck squash never had a chance.
MUCH LATER, after a change of venue upstairs to their bedroom, Evan hummed low in his throat as Holly's fingertips stroked his shoulder. His wife knew every one of his buttons and exactly how to push them; the thing was that she never pushed them in the same order. Systematic sequential insanity on a regular basis he could have handled, no sweat. But Holly was way too creative for that. He felt a corner of his mouth twitch, knowing how many husbands would give their left nut to have this problem, and tightened his arms around her.
"You have the most amazing skin," she mused drowsily, hand drifting down his chest. "Not a mark on you —"
He tried to catch her fingers before they reached the center of his breastbone. He wasn't quick enough.
"— except for the scar that's my fault."
Lachlan was quiet for a long moment, spreading his hand over Holly's on his chest. He didn't try to see her face; he knew she wouldn't look at him. Not that he blamed her; his own mind seemed all bruises whenever he tried to think about that night. Finally, he murmured, "We don't talk much about it, do we?"
"Three years this Hallowe'en."
"It wasn't your fault. I know damned well I've said that before. I've got a scar. You didn't put it there." He waited, but she wasn't talking. "Holly, I'm alive because of —" Something occurred to him, and he drew away from her, turning onto his side. "Why am I still alive, anyhow?"
"Evan?" She met his gaze, frowning.
"I never did ask you why I'm still breathing. What you said about how if I ever raised a hand to you again, you'd kill me —"
"We avoid talking about that night, too," she muttered.
"At the Hyacinths," he persisted, "I didn't just raise my hand to you. I put a gun to your chest."
He didn't know whether he was more grateful or exasperated when she tried on a smile — not a very good fit — and said, "I thought you were supposed to have amnesia about all that. Or did you forget? To have amnesia, I mean —"
"Knock it off. You know what I'm talking about."
Relenting, she bit her lower lip, then said, "It wasn't you."
"Part of it was."
"No. Whatever Noel called up, it took you — Evan, I watched it, I saw it come toward you and — and merge with you. But it wasn't you that night — either of those nights."
"Is that what you've been telling yourself this whole time?"
"What have you been telling yourself?"
He lay back flat again and stared at the ceiling. "That I have to be careful. I always knew that. We've talked about my parents before. We both know I have a temper. If —"
"I have a temper, too."
"Ya think?" He smiled briefly, but didn't look at her. "You don't have a family history like mine. If I ever hit you — or one of the kids —"
"I know you're sure, Holly. I can't be. I can never be sure."
"What does that mean? That you'll only stop tormenting yourself about it when you're dead? Listen to me, a chuisle. The one time, you'd been drunk for a week and you were in martyr mode —"
"You really want to go there?" he asked softly.
"No." Holly took a deep breath. "The other time, you were loaded half out of your skull on that incense stuff to begin with, and then Noel's little playmate came along. I saw it happen, and I was cold sober. You weren't. Not either of those times. Do you remember anything about what happened?"
"Some. Not much." He considered for a moment. "I never knew the flowers on my mother's dress were hyacinths, that day I saw her with the priest. That's what I saw, all those goddamned purple flowers — only it was you wearing the dress. How did Noel do that? What did he tap into?"
"I don't know. That's all the answer I've got, Éimhín." Shifting against him, she went on, "We've both had nightmares about it."
"Yeah. I can always tell, because those are the ones you won't talk about."
"And who does this remind us of? My point is that I actually remember both those nights, and you don't, so you're just gonna have to trust me on this, husband mine."
"I am, huh?" He turned his head and eyed her grimly determined face. "Does that mean you're gonna have to trust me about the scar? That it wasn't your fault?"
"Oh, clever man!" she snarled — but her heart wasn't really in it. "Got me that time, didn't you?"
"Yep," he agreed, unrepentant.
Holly sulked for a moment, then settled into his arms once more. "It still doesn't negate the fact that we've never discussed either of those nights in any detail."
"I don't think we want to go there, either."
"Just be glad we survived it, and move on?" she suggested.
"It's worked so far."
She kissed his throat by way of apology. "I can't help it. I analyze."
"And you're only turning analytical about us because you're not writing a book right now."
She groaned elaborately. "Don't remind me."
"You'll find something. You gotta admit you've been a little busy." Time for a change of subject, he told himself. "Speaking of the offspring, are you sure Lulah's okay with us stashing them with her all afternoon?"
"That gawdawful politicking party. I'd forgotten."
His grimace gained him no sympathy. "Democracy in action, Sheriff honey."
"I'm still not clear on why I actually have to run for office. Your family — in all its permutations — pretty much runs Pocahontas County, doesn't it?"
"For the last three and a half centuries," she confirmed.
"So —?" he prompted.
"Cousin Jesse was duly elected every four years. You're an interim appointment so he could retire — and, not incidentally, give folks a chance to get to know you and what a staggeringly brilliant law enforcement officer you are. But you still have to be elected."
"And again I ask: why?"
"And again I reply: democracy in action. Labor Day is the traditional start of the campaigning season — something I wish anybody running for president would remember," she added crossly. "They seem to think everybody in this country really, truly wants to spend two solid years listening to them yammer."
"I'm no politician," he groused. "I don't do the grip-and-grin thing."
"It's free food and free booze. You'll live."
"Can't we just skip it? That place makes me twitchy. Don't tell me I'm being weird — Lulah doesn't like it, either, and for reasons other than you'd think."
Many and many a year ago, Lulah McClure and Jesse McNichol had cleaned out a houseful of neo-Nazis who had taken over the old Neville mansion. The magical decontamination had taken many days and enough spells to fill a fair-sized grimoire. They hadn't known about Holly back then; unaware that she was a Spellbinder, and that her blood would seal any Work they did, they'd had to return again and again to take care of lingering nasties. One would think that the place had been scoured clean. But Evan got the creeps whenever he even drove past the new wrought iron gates marking the entrance to the access road — and he didn't have a speck of magic in him.
Westmoreland, named (though misspelled, as generations of the truly pedantic had pointed out) for the English title which old Archibald Neville had claimed was in his ancestry before emigration to Virginia, had once spread across a thousand acres. Now it was reduced to about twenty, the rest having been sold off as the Neville fortunes waned. Since they had abandoned the place, back in the '40s, it had changed hands many times — and languished vacant and deteriorating for many years. There had been some talk in the '90s of using it as a field project for the archaeology department of the University of Virginia, digs at old plantations — especially the slave quarters — having yielded fascinating finds elsewhere. A preliminary survey was done, and the engineering students had just ascertained that the central staircase, the walls on either side, the vast cellar, and the back of the house were as sound as the day they'd been finished — when a chimney suddenly collapsed, almost on top of their professor. So much for that plan. In March of 2004 it had been purchased by a German businessman who had turned it into the Westmoreland Inn.
The locals had shuddered, certain that an architectural horror would result. Contractors and craftsmen were imported from outside Pocahontas County — partly because almost everybody in the construction business who lived in the vicinity had been hired to refurbish and expand the old overseer's house at Woodhush. It wasn't until Westmoreland was completed that county residents got a look at it: an extravagant grand opening party that November had introduced the new Westmoreland Inn and its owner, Bernhardt Weiss.
Not as readily seduced by his kitchen or his wine list as he might have wished, PoCo residents nevertheless admitted, more or less grudgingly, that the Inn was an acceptable successor to the antebellum mansion. Greek columns, gracious portico, grand staircase, great wraparound verandah — everything about the house, with its eighteen guest suites and huge ballroom and muraled dining room, was just an eyelash shy of excessive, just a whisker away from overkill.
Herr Weiss had saved that sort of thing for the Spa.
If the house was Greek Revival, the spa facilities were Roman Resuscitation. It was rumored that at Westmoreland one could even get as classically oiled-and- strigiled as if one were at the Baths of Caracalla, although this turned out to be only a rumor.
Since the grand opening event, Evan hadn't set foot on the property. Holly and Lulah, taking advantage of the certificates handed out at the party, had spent a whole day getting massaged, facialed, manicured, pedicured, moisturized, exfoliated, and waxed. Holly reported a lovely experience — while teasing Evan that without at least one spa afternoon at Westmoreland, his New York Metrosexual credentials would expire. But Lulah agreed with Evan: the place was creepy. Further, she told him privately, the whole time there she'd felt blind.
Other men in the county admitted to the occasional massage, and more readily to using the state-of-the-art gymnasium. This was the one reason Evan might have considered driving the long spur road to Westmoreland again; relaxational farming, the occasional horseback venture, and intermittent jogging kept him not quite in shape. Although if he and Holly kept at it as energetically as they'd been doing this weekend, he'd be able to toss the t-shirt his snide little sister had sent him last Christmas: This is NOT a beer belly. This is protective camouflage for my rock-hard abs.
As often happened, especially when they were physically close like this, Holly picked up on his thoughts. She rubbed a hand across his stomach and grinned at him. "I keep telling you: I'll ogle Brad Pitt's perfect pecs any day of the week, but who wants to cuddle up to a marble statue?"
Lachlan snorted. "So I shouldn't get all crazy jealous of your old boyfriend?" Who wasn't quite as sculpted as Brad Pitt, but certainly came close.
"Only if it amuses you. And I've told you before, he was never a boyfriend."
He stared at her. "You never did it?"
Evan began to laugh. "Oh, that poor bastard! No wonder he looks at you the way he looks at you!"
"How does he look at me?"
"You wouldn't understand. It's a Guy Thing."
"Whatever." She dismissed the incomprehensibility with a wave of her hand. "What I want to know is why we're discussing some other man when I've got you naked as a jaybird and ready for more?"
"Who said I'm —" When she gave him a slow, lascivious grin, every nerve below his waist started chanting her name. "Christ, woman, are you trying to kill me?"
"Time I 'fessed up, huh? I'm after the insurance money."
"Why don't you take that smart mouth of yours and do something useful with it?" When she did, he exclaimed, "You are gonna kill me!"
"Trust me, lover man — you won't mind."
"FOUR-THIRTY. We gotta get dressed."
Holly hid her face in the curve of Evan's neck. "No."
"C'mon. If we're going to this stupid thing —"
"No." His skin was warm and smooth, smelling of sweat and sex and the jasmine and marjoram their sheets were folded in, and she didn't want to leave here, ever.
Excerpted from Fire Raiser by Melanie Rawn. Copyright © 2009 Melanie Rawn. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I bought this book because I have read and enjoyed other books by Melanie Rawn. Unfortunately, I was extremely disappointed with this book. I felt like the author was using this book as a soapbox to voice her personal opinions about political and personal matters and because of this, the story suffered. Also, it wasn't as if she was trying to tackle one pressing issue, every chapter had a different rant from the author, including one where a character was talking about how her readers complained because she wasn't writing the book that they wanted to read and that their sense of "entitlement" was hilarious. As a reader who has been waiting for her to finish her Exiles trilogy for over 10 years, I was personally insulted. The story was only marginally good and where I anticipated twists in the plot, there were none.
I am fond of Melanie Rawn's writing as a whole; this is an exellent example. Well wrtten, keeps your attention, several nice romantic atory lines, and with wnough realism to keep the reader engaged.
I find it unbelievable that this women can continue to write new books without finishing a trilogy from more than 10 years ago. I wouldn't trust this woman to complete any of the new series she is putting out, nor will I purchase anything written by her until she finishes what she started.
This is the first book I've read by Melanie Rawn, and it will not be the last. I bought it not knowing it was the second in a series, so I'm particularly anxious to read the first one, Spellbinder.Holly McClure is a novelist, married to Sheriff Evan Lachlan. She hasn't been writing much since her twins were born a couple of years ago. They live in Pocahontas County, Virginia, which has more witches per capita than anywhere else. Holly isn't one of the more powerful witches - her power is that of binding and making more powerful other witches' spells. Her cousin Cam comes home after spending a lot of time abroad as a constitutional lawyer helping newly-formed countries write their constitutions. He sees again Jamey Stirling, now the DA in PoCo. Cam and Jamey had been in love in law school but Cam was unable at the time to accept living a life as openly gay.Evan and the family must attend a campaign event at the Westmorland Inn, a place that leaves the witches feeling twitchy. They are about to discover why.Rawn gets inside her characters' heads and presents them to us better than any writer I know except maybe Jane Haddam. The only thing to dislike in this book was that it meandered a while before getting to the plot. Overall, however, excellent, and a new author whose books I'll happily read.
Unfortunately my library didnt have the first in this series so I probably missed a few threads along the way. Initially I found it hard to get into - I was sick at the time so not at my sharpest and what threw me most was Evan Lachlan being referred to as either name - it took me a while to figure out it was the same person (since Evan and Lachlan are both common first names - and I was feverish lol) There were also a lot of flashbacks that were pretty jarring but I eventually found a rythym and ended up enjoying the story. I enojoyed Evan and Holly's banter and i liked watching Jamey and Cam's relationship develop.It tackles some pretty serious issues - child trafficking, child prostitution, homophobia and gay rights but since I agree with Rawn's agenda on all counts I was happy to see such prosaic issues have a place in a novel of this genre which is pretty rare. The magic is not as center stage as I had initially expected but there are some interesting magical concepts.There are a few threads left dangling, for the next novel I assume - I hope to get my hands on the first of the series before I pick up the next.
This is the first book I had read by this author. I enjoyed the book's characters and will read more books by her.
I can't believe Melanie Rawn wrote this story..must be some kind of cosmic joke. The best story here is what is written between the lines..I wish her luck, she's going to need it.
Evan Lachlan and his Witch wife Holly McClure have moved from Manhattan to her hometown in Pocahontas County, Virginia. It is the place with the most concentration of witches in the country and while Holly is a Spellbinder who uses her blood on spells so they won¿t unravel. While her husband Evan is running for county sheriff, she loves the way he takes in stride her family¿s magical skills.
He takes a break from the rigorous investigation into an apparent serial arsonist burning down churches using magic as the ignition trigger. The couple attends a fundraiser for Evan at the Westmoreland Inn and Spa. Upon arrival the pair chokes on the magic that fills the air. Holly¿s cousin Cam finds a doorway not visible without magic. They all enter only to find some hideous things on the other side and even more horrifying is there is no return exit out.
Melanie Rawn has written a terrific spellbinding action-packed fantasy thriller that will remind the audience of the works of Kelly Armstrong. Readers who became acquainted with the lead couple in SPELLBINDER will especially appreciate how far they have come as a couple since their initial volatile magical meeting. FIRE RAISER is fast-paced and loaded with action from the onset, but ignites when the cast (and spellbound readers) decide to see what is beyond the door.
After enjoying the first book, I tried, really tried to give this one a chance, but I read to escape the news, not rehash political posturing, and quite frankly, after this past winter, maybe the Holly character should reconsider her championing global warming. Sixty pages in, I tossed this one on the donate to Salvation Army pile.