The Twin Willows Waterfall is now under the control of the Benandanti, but for Alessia, the victory comes at a steep price. And the arrival of Nerina, one of the seven Concilio elders from the Friuli Clan, only complicates her life. Now she’s hiding a 450-year-old immortal on her farm, juggling school and her increasingly frustrated friends, and trying to keep the Malandanti from regaining the Waterfall. But it’s the passion that still lingers between her and Jonah that really keeps Alessia awake at night.
After a fatal visit from the Malandanti’s mage, Alessia brings in Jonah’s twin sister, Bree, to serve as a Benandanti spy. Bree has her own reasons for wanting to bring down the Malandanti, and soon she and Alessia find themselves in a tenuous alliance. But not even the powerful magic that Bree possesses nor the strong leadership that Nerina provides can stop the vicious Malandanti. As the two Clans barrel towards their inevitable collision, Alessia and Jonah are swept into the devastation and forced to make the ultimate choice.
About the Author
Nicole Maggi: Nicole was born in the suburbs of upstate New York, and began writing poems about unicorns and rainbows at a very early age. She detoured into acting, earned a BFA from Emerson College, and moved to NYC where she performed in lots of off-off-off-Broadway Shakespeare. After a decade of schlepping g
Read an Excerpt
In the Mouth of the Wolf
By Nicole Maggi
Medallion Press, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Nicole Maggi
All rights reserved.
The tiny town of Twin Willows, Maine, looked like a toy village from five hundred feet in the air. Most people never got to see that view, but most people didn't have my ability. They couldn't pull their soul away from their body and transform into a Falcon as I could. They couldn't fly high into the air and see their houses in miniature. There were only two other people I knew who could do this. One was another Benandante like me, who transformed into an Eagle. The other was of my enemy Clan, the Malandanti. It took the form of a Raven, and it was currently bearing down hard on my tail.
I swerved around the tip of a pine tree, shaking needles loose in my wake. The Raven couldn't match me in speed, but its need for revenge spurred it on. Not long ago, I had broken both its wings in an all-out battle between the two Clans, and it clearly wanted to return the favor.
Moonlight shot through night clouds. The Raven appeared at the corner of my vision. Its silver aura gleamed. I dropped below the treetops. In the distance I saw the copse of birch trees, their bark ghostly white in the darkness. Just beyond it lay the Waterfall that was the source of all this conflict, the reason the Benandanti and the Malandanti were here in this dead-end, know-nothing town ...
I heard the Waterfall before I saw it, rushing end over end. The silvery glow of the Raven disappeared. I didn't look to see where it had gone. The birch trees loomed in front of me. I soared between them. Through the brush, I saw the celestial light of the Benandanti that protected the Waterfall. Once I reached that, the Raven couldn't touch me.
A flash of silver blinded me. I screeched, blown backwards as the Raven blocked my way. Its little trick of turning off its aura was extremely frustrating—and useful. I needed to learn how to do that.
Alessia! Where are you? The voice of my Guide, Heath, rang through my head. The Benandanti communicated telepathically—a convenient, if sometimes annoying, power.
The Raven sniped at me. I circled up and away, out of its reach. At the birch trees. The Raven's giving me some trouble—
I'm coming. It wasn't Heath but the Lynx, another member of our Clan. Ever since we had regained control of the Waterfall, there were always two of us on patrol there, and we were not allowed to leave until our replacement showed up.
Far below on the ground, the Lynx appeared. I climbed, keeping the Raven's focus as it chased me upward. When it was just a feather's distance away, I stopped. All right, jackass, I thought, although the Raven could not hear me. Let's see you catch me now. And I dove.
Before the Raven knew what was happening, I was halfway to the ground. Falcons top two hundred miles per hour on a dive, and I was no ordinary Falcon. Not even lightning could catch me on a dive. I heard a swoosh behind me as the Raven plummeted after me. Just before I reached the ground, I veered sideways.
Too late, the Raven realized the trap I'd set. It was traveling too fast to stop and didn't have my control. As the Raven neared the ground, the Lynx leapt up and caught it in his mouth.
The bird thrashed and writhed but could not free itself from the Lynx's jaws. I knew the Lynx wouldn't kill it, but the Malandanti didn't trust us to be merciful. We certainly didn't trust them.
I'll get it out of here, the Lynx told me and bounded away, his powerful paws imprinting deep into the earth. But before he reached the other side of the birch trees, a huge black figure blocked his path. Jewel-green eyes flashed in the darkness. I pulled up short, my heartbeat pounding in my ears. For a moment, I was frozen, unable to think, unable to move, unable to breathe.
The enormous Malandante Panther lunged at the Lynx, who stumbled back but still hung on to the bird in his mouth. I shook myself into action and plunged toward them. A piercing cry tore from my throat.
The Panther looked up. Those emerald-green eyes widened at the sight of me.
I circled above the Panther's head. Don't get too close, the Lynx warned, but I knew something the Lynx didn't. The Panther wouldn't hurt me. That, I could trust.
Distracted, the Panther sidestepped. His path clear, the Lynx dodged forward, but before he could get past, the Panther jumped. In one graceful motion, the Panther knocked the Lynx off its feet and sprang into the air, catching me in his mouth.
I went limp, my body numb with shock. What was he doing? Had I been that wrong about him? The Lynx shouted something in my head, but I couldn't make sense of it, so jumbled were my own thoughts. Cold air swept through my feathers, waking my senses back up. I cringed, anticipating pain in every inch of my body. But the pain didn't come.
I blinked and twisted my neck to look up into the Panther's eyes. He was focused on the Lynx, but I could swear there was a warning there, something he was trying to tell me. Something crackled in my mind, like radio static, like he was trying to talk to me. Benandanti and Malandanti cannot communicate with each other, not telepathically, but I understood. He was holding me in such a way that he wouldn't hurt me—but only he and I knew that.
The Lynx backed up, drawing the Panther away from the Waterfall. Once clear of the birch trees, he opened his mouth, and the Raven tumbled out. With a loud squawk, the Raven streaked a talon across the Lynx's nose. The Lynx lunged and his jaw snapped shut, snagging a black feather from the Raven's wing. While the two of them sparred with each other, the Panther knelt in the snow and set me free.
I flew, testing my wings, feeling my bones and flesh for anything out of place. But everything was working, no pain at all. I fluttered in front of the Panther. Our gazes met for several heartbeats. Even though I was unhurt, my insides felt upside down.
Watch out! The Lynx's warning came just in time. I rocketed up as the Raven hurtled itself at me. Get to the Waterfall, the Lynx told me. I'll take care of them.
I rose, hovering for a moment. I don't want to leave you two to one—
And I don't want to leave the Waterfall with just one. Go. I'll be fine. The Lynx disappeared into the thicket. The Raven looked at the Panther before following, and I knew he was getting his orders too.
I winged my way through the trees toward the Waterfall. On the ground below, the Panther loped after me; I needn't have worried about the odds after all. But even so, I knew my first duty was to the Waterfall and its sacred magic—even if that meant sacrificing a member of the Clan.
The glow of the Waterfall brightened into brilliance. Before the Panther reached the water's edge, I plunged through the celestial barrier and spun to face him. He slid to a stop on the banks of the stream, watching me.
Heath stood on a wide, flat rock at the base of the Waterfall, his body rigid, ears tipped forward. What happened?
The Lynx drew the Raven away, I said, fully aware I was telling him only half the story. Heath's eyes moved from me to the Panther, who paced along the stream. He looked back and forth between us but didn't press me to say more.
I flew in slow, wide circles inside the perimeter of the barrier. As long as there was one of us inside, the Malandanti could not breach it, but one of them was always there, just beyond the magic, waiting. Waiting for us to slip up and make a mistake, waiting for a chance to lure us out and retake control of the magic. There had barely been a night without some sort of attack since we had won back the Waterfall, and I knew it was only going to get worse. But tonight was the first time that the Panther—I still could not think of him by his real name—and I had been on patrol at the same time.
And that could only get worse, too.
In the predawn light at the end of our patrol, Heath and I raced home. The Stag and the Eagle had taken over for us, and the Panther had still been at the edge of the stream, his green eyes wary and watchful. My wings felt heavy, as if I were still tied to the Waterfall even after I was miles away.
When we reached the farm, Heath veered toward his cabin on the other side of the pasture. I descended, my gut jolting as I skimmed over the charred remains of our burned-out barn. Remembering that night, I had a sudden, brutal wish that the Lynx had bitten that damned Raven in half when he had the chance.
Just beyond the ruined barn sat my house, still and silent and dark. My second-story window yawned open, beckoning me. Maybe I could catch an hour of sleep before my morning chores ...
Transform and get to my cabin. ASAP.
My heart skittered. Ever since my dad had died a year before, frantic messages like that made me breathless. I tried to shoot back a question—Why?—but Heath's mind was closed off, already transformed back to human and unreachable to me. There was no chance for sleep now.
I glided in through the window, barely looking at my inert body on the bed before I dissolved into it with a burst of blue light. I lay on my back, breathing deep to steady myself back into my human form. When I was a Falcon, I was expansive. There was always a moment after I transitioned back when it felt as if my body could not possibly contain my soul.
I slid off the bed and tiptoed into the hall. It was still night, but once the sun's first rays touched the hillside, my mother, Lidia, would be up and about. I glanced out the sunburst window over the front door as I eased downstairs; I had maybe an hour before day broke. If Heath was in real trouble, I wouldn't be back before Lidia woke.
As I hurried to Heath's cabin, the cold night air whipped through me. It felt harsh on my skin, so different than when I was a Falcon, covered in downy feathers. I neared the cabin, close enough to see through his brightly lit windows. Inside, Heath stood stock-still. A shadow moved across the wall opposite him. I stopped. Someone was in the cabin with him.
Heath barely knew anyone in Twin Willows, and I had never seen anyone visit his cabin. A thrum started in my chest. I ran the last several yards to the cabin and pounded on the front door. "Heath! Are you—?"
The door opened, and I stumbled inside. A smooth, gentle hand caught me and pulled me upright.
"I hope you're steadier in the air than you are on your feet," said a laughing voice.
Amber eyes peered into my own. I stepped back so I could take in the whole person and then looked at Heath. "Who is this?"
The woman stepped forward and stretched a hand out to me. Her burgundy nails were long, manicured, and perfect. "I am Nerina DaVollo."
"Okay," I said, taking her hand. There was a callous at the base of her right middle finger. For some reason, that made me happy. "Should I know you?"
But as I stared at her, I realized I did know her. My eyes found the picture Heath had tacked up on the opposite wall. A gorgeous woman in profile, laughing. The woman I thought of as Heath's lost love because of the expression on his face whenever he looked at the picture.
It was Nerina.
I glanced between the picture, the real Nerina in front of me, and Heath, who stood motionless in the corner of his cabin. His face was pale and held the same expression I'd seen whenever he looked at the picture. I raised an eyebrow. He shook his head.
"But you know of me," Nerina said, either oblivious to Heath's and my silent exchange or choosing to ignore it. Her words clicked in my brain.
"The Concilio," I breathed. "You're from Friuli."
"Si" Nerina picked up her coat from the bed and shrugged it on. She flounced her snaky, dark hair out of the depths of the fur collar. I recognized the coat from a spread in Vogue that my best friend Jenny had been lusting over during a recent lunch period. Nerina turned to Heath. "Do you have a torch?"
He started. "A wha—? Oh. Yeah." He fished under the kitchen sink for a moment and came back up with a bright yellow, heavy-duty flashlight.
"What do we need that for?" I asked.
"I can't very well traipse through the woods in the dark," Nerina said. "Who knows where I'll step? These are Louboutins." She kicked her booted foot out. How she'd made it over the snowy hillside in those spiky heels, I had no idea.
"Sorry—why are we going to the woods?"
"Darling, I can't possibly stay here." Nerina waved, indicating the tiny cabin. "People will ask questions. I need to stay out of sight." She tilted her head. "Catch up, dear. Your intellect was one of the reasons we Called you." She opened the door and switched on the flashlight. "You can bring the bags later," she said to Heath, and only then did I notice the three Louis Vuitton suitcases collected at the side of the bed.
I fell into step with Heath behind Nerina as she marched out into the night. The flashlight bobbed in her hand, jerking shadows over the dark ground.
"What is going on?" I muttered to Heath.
"She was at the cabin when I got back from patrol," Heath whispered. "I knew one of them would be coming here, but I didn't think it would be her."
I wanted to ask why and what their history was—I'd wanted to ask him that for ages—but now didn't seem like the right time to go digging into his personal life. Jogging ahead of him, I caught up with Nerina. "The Friuli site fell over two weeks ago. What took you so long to get here?"
Nerina didn't take her gaze off the pool of light guiding us into the woods. "I couldn't just show up at the Venezia airport and board the next flight to America, darling. The Malandanti's own Concilio was tracking our every move."
"What about the Clan in Friuli? Are they okay?"
"They are all fine." She stopped and swung the flashlight back and forth. "One of us—the Concilio—stayed behind to assist them. This way," she said and pointed her light into a dense thicket of trees.
"How do you know? Have you been here before?"
She didn't answer me—just stepped over a patch of muddy snow. Somehow, her boots had stayed clean. I looked down. My Converse sneakers were so filthy you could barely tell they were once bright blue suede. Nerina flicked an errant leaf off her coat sleeve. She and Jenny obviously shared the same fashionista gene. It had skipped my mother's birthing room the day I was born.
"Here we are." We had reached the low wall that marked the edge of our property. Nerina walked its length, sweeping her light over the crumbling stones.
I planted my hands on my hips. "I could've gotten us here without the flashlight. I know every inch of this farm."
"You don't know this inch," Nerina murmured as she scanned the wall carefully, taking in every nook and cranny between the ancient stones.
"What are you looking for?"
"The door, of course."
The door? What door? Was she nuts? I shot a look at Heath, but he was focused on Nerina, his lips pressed in a thin line.
"Ah. Here it is." She set the flashlight on the wall, its light beaming upwards. Shadows skittered in its circular white glow. Nerina knelt beside the wall and reached her hand into a break between two large stones. She tugged, and there was a loud creak, like something awakening that had been asleep for a long, long time.
My breath caught. The ground below the wall shifted and moved. A narrow space appeared, big enough for a person to squeeze through.
"How," I said, squinting at Nerina, "did you know that was there?"
She grinned up at me, not answering as she lowered herself into the space. I peered into it. A staircase spiraled down—to what, I had no idea.
Heath grabbed the flashlight and disappeared behind Nerina. I looked up at the sky. The faintest line of pale blue sky stretched over the treetops. Daybreak was not far off. Pretty soon, Lidia would be awake. And where would I be? "Underground like a hedgehog," I muttered and lowered myself onto the first step.
At the bottom of the stairs, the space opened up into three rooms with concrete floors and walls. Retro furniture populated the rooms, a small but fully equipped kitchen and a comfortable sitting area. The bedroom was dominated by a vanity I could imagine Marilyn Monroe sitting at. But the bed was covered with a quilt that had a huge peace symbol stitched into the center.
"Whoa," I said. "I didn't know the DHARMA Initiative had a hatch here."
Excerpted from In the Mouth of the Wolf by Nicole Maggi. Copyright © 2015 Nicole Maggi. Excerpted by permission of Medallion Press, Inc..
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
This book is as bad as winter falls. I was hoping I'd be more interesting. Overall bad.