In a world where people believe the crimson sun is a dead witch's head and the witch hunter who killed her stalks the night sky, a witch who ventures outside of Haven risks losing her life. Tessa is one such witch. Like many of her kind, she hopes to help the people of Leera, not harm them, and she's on her first mission to heal an ailing man named Jeremiah. But when she crosses paths with a witch hunter, instead of avoiding him like she knows she should, she succumbs to her desires and ends up in his bed.
The local Enforcers believe a witch is behind Jeremiah's sickness, so they call Bastian to town. He's a young witch hunter who normally has a knack for sniffing out witches. But when he runs into the striking Tessa, she scrambles his senses. He's inexplicably drawn to her and abandons his usually cautious nature.
As Tessa and Bastian uncover clues about Jeremiah's illness, Tessa has to face the possibility that another witch may have had a hand in the incident. And if Bastian learns she's a witch, he may point his finger at her. Then her head will surely roll.
About the Author
Alexa's life isn't filled with writing alone. In her spare time, she enjoys gaming. And she has a supportive husband just as addicted to gaming as she is. Reading and thinking up large, impossible projects to work on also top her list of fun things to do.
Most importantly, she has two beautiful daughters who don't give her much spare time to do any of the above.
Please visit Alexa Grave on her author website, www.alexagrave.com, or Born to Write, blog.alexagrave.com.
Read an Excerpt
Mind Behind the Mind
Trinity Torn Book 1
By Alexa Grave, J. Gunnar Grey
Haunted Unicorn PublishingCopyright © 2016 Alexa Grave
All rights reserved.
Tessa's body and mind jostled as the stagecoach pulled up to the depot. She shifted in her seat, unable to calm her excitement, and touched her neck. This was her first mission on her own. Any mistake could cost her her head.
The journey from Haven was short, but rough. Layers of dust coated the coach's worn leather, from ages past and present. It was about time the Council procured new carriages.
Tessa exited the coach, gladly accepting the driver's hand, her legs unsteady beneath her and shaky from the bumpy ride. The two sweat-soaked horses snorted their exhaustion, and she stroked their noses. She missed her Auralaine, but it wouldn't have been acceptable to ride into this town on her horse. People would have questioned a lone woman rider.
The midday desert sun beat down, heating her skin. Time to get on with this and find some shade. She sent an order to the driver, spoken into his mind alone, to find someplace safe in case things soured. He was all that connected her to Haven, even if not a witch himself. Small solace that he would camp near enough for her to send a thought if trouble developed.
Once Tessa's bags were unloaded, the driver flicked the reins and the horses trotted off, the coach soon a dot on the horizon.
Tessa took a deep breath and turned toward the depot, seeking the one she came to meet. The wood on the platform creaked, sand crunching beneath her boots. A single woman fanned herself under an awning. Worry creased the woman's eyes and she stared at Tessa. The fan ceased.
Slowly, Tessa opened her mind, stretching her senses toward the woman. Loss and fear. Yes, it's her. "Betha! Cousin? Is that you, darling?" She waved and hustled toward the woman, acting as if they'd known each other their whole lives. Best to do so even if it didn't look like anyone else was about.
An O of surprise lit Betha's face. "Miss Tessa?"
Tessa embraced the shorter woman, the stranger stiff in her arms. With lips close to Betha's ear, she whispered, "Remember what I wrote in my letter." She backed away and observed the streaks of gray in the woman's curly black hair. "Cousin, I hardly recognize you. You're so thin, a horse's snort could knock you over." Tessa smoothed out the wrinkles in her cotton dress, pausing mid-stroke when she recognized her act of nervousness.
"The years haven't been good to me." Betha averted her gaze. "If only I were your age again." Her pale eyes grew distant.
"Come now. Perk up. Enough of the sadness." Tessa hugged her again, but Betha still didn't soften her body. This woman's suffering struck Tessa's heart. "Let's go. I'm exhausted, and I'd like to see Jeremiah."
Betha picked up one of the bags. "Of course, dear. I reserved a room for you at the inn. Sorry we don't have space to keep you, but we abandoned the larger house a while back for something more suitable to our needs. The inn should be comfortable, though."
Betha would rather not have a witch under her roof – any excuse would have done, even if the house was big enough. Tessa dismissed Betha's words with a wave of her hand. "Don't apologize. We must make do with what we have." She picked up her other two bags. "Shall we?"
"Would you like to stop at the inn first?"
"I have a bag here I'd like to keep at your house. And besides, I can bear the burden of carrying my bags if it means seeing Jeremiah all the sooner."
Betha led the way off the platform and onto the town's main dirt road and turned right, heading away from town and toward the orchards and farmhouses. Tessa marveled at the thriving plants, awed at the knowledge used to irrigate this miracle at the edge of the desert. Her ancestors had created the irrigation system, as her lessons had told her, yet the making was lost to her generation. Tessa's home, Haven, was an oasis – practically a paradise – unlike Sierka.
Silence fell between the two as they walked down the road, clouds of dust rising at their heels. Orchards and stone farmhouses surrounded them. The crimson sun, in the green-blue sky, beat down on ripening fruits and vegetables. A sweetness filled the air, promising the taste of pomegranates and golden desert glowras.
Tessa imagined what the orchards would look like if the irrigation failed. Twining fruitless branches stretching upward, imploring the sky to open and bring forth rain. She regarded the trees, envisioning their lifeless husks, and noticed a tree with two shadows.
One of the shadows shifted.
Cold tendrils wove into her mind. The shadow shouldn't have been there; it was wrong.
Tessa shoved the thought away as they approached Betha's house. Only a farmer tending the trees, she insisted to her nagging feeling of foreboding.
The garden next to the small house withered, but the orchards flourished by some miracle, or by the kindness of a neighbor. No loose shingles or shutters on the house – it reflected a quiet complacency. Tessa followed Betha through the front door and spied the layers of dust and clutter inside.
"Pardon the mess. All my time's spent caring for Jeremiah. There's laundry every day to keep his bedclothes clean, fixing his meals ... I ... I ..." Betha slumped down in a chair at the kitchen table.
Tessa rubbed Betha's back, but stopped when the woman tensed at her touch. "We'll see what I can do. All this is hard, I know." The waves of sadness and confusion emanating from Betha pummeled Tessa, so she shut down the empathic link before she was overwhelmed. May the Goddess not deny me. I must help this woman.
Betha controlled herself and spoke between sniffles. "Sorry about the slip earlier. I ... I wasn't thinking. When I saw you I was expecting someone older, but you're – how old are you?"
"Eighteen. I'm sorry I surprised you. Just because I'm young doesn't mean I can't help. If the situation requires greater expertise, I won't hesitate to contact someone else. The agreement would still stand and nothing extra would be asked of you." She shifted her feet, reminding herself not to reveal that this was her first mission alone. If her father didn't trust in her competence and magick skills, he would have sent another. "Does that settle your nerves?"
"I won't be satisfied until my husband is healthy and tending to the orchard and garden again." Betha lowered her eyes.
Until the witch was a safe distance off too, no doubt. "You're allowed to be skeptical, but I'll do my best. Just make sure no one finds out who I really am. Otherwise we may find our heads on a pike."
"Then there'd be no chance for my Jeremiah." Her voice strained. She sounded like a woman who was beyond hope, grasping for that last chance but fearing the results.
"I need to see him. The journey hasn't made me too weary. I can assess the situation right away." Tessa rose before she received a reply and walked toward the only closed-off room in the house.
Betha followed. "That's the bedroom. Since he fell ill, I've been sleeping in the sitting room."
Tessa placed her index finger to her lips. "Quiet, please. I need to concentrate." She opened the bedroom door and the smell of illness slammed into her, an underlying stench of urine and sweat. Betha couldn't cover it up entirely, no matter how often she changed the sheets or bathed Jeremiah. The intermingling smells assailed Tessa, the blackness of this sickness washing over her, a sea of putrid rot attempting to drown her in its horror.
Tessa opened her mind again – this time to Jeremiah. Kneeling at the side of the bed, she placed her right hand, her dominant hand, on his forehead. His skin was hot and slick from fever. The only sound in the room was the soft breathing of sleep.
His pain laced through her body, seeking hidden corners. Tessa held it at bay while she sought for Betha's hope – the one thing within Jeremiah necessary for her healing efforts to succeed. Buried deep, but attainable, shone the spark of life, the light that kept Jeremiah in this world, and it was brilliant. All the answer she needed for now.
"I can save him. It'll take time, and I'll need to go over everything about his illness leading up to my arrival, but he hasn't faded completely. I need time for preparation before I can do anything else."
Betha attempted a smile, but her sad eyes revealed her uncertainty. "I can show you to the inn."
She shooed Betha out of the room. "I can find the inn myself. Stay with Jeremiah. The presence of a loved one continues to keep his light brighter, longer." She picked up the smallest of the three bags. "The items I need are in here. I'd like to leave it with you, so please find a hiding place for it." She handed the bag to Betha, forcing herself to release her grip. Safer here, lest someone at the inn find it.
"His light." Betha mumbled. "Is there anything else?"
"Continue what you've been doing – it's working wonderfully. All it takes is a lot of love." Tessa grabbed her remaining bags. "See you on the morrow."
On her way to the inn, Tessa eyed the orchard for the enigmatic shadow, but found nothing.CHAPTER 2
Bastian reined in his horse, gazing at the outline of the town ahead. Sierka looked close, but everything did in this damned desert. Dust covered his clothes, even his hands and face, sand scratching at his throat – he ran out of water about an hour back and couldn't find the wayoasis marked on the map.
The Enforcers had beckoned, so he came. It wouldn't be right for the chosen of He Who Saves to stain their hands with blood. No, that was a witch hunter's job. Bastian growled, and a coughing fit followed. Cursed to cross this Ravager's torture pit, all to please the Enforcers and the Council of Leera.
Small chance a witch was here anyway. A nowhere town like Sierka, even if it did produce a lot of the fruit for Shandipur Province, didn't hold much to draw anyone, let alone a witch. Paranoia. Bastian was sure that was all that drove the Enforcers to call him.
Bastian's horse snorted, likely as parched as he was. A breeze stirred the sand around him, throwing it in his eyes. The horse shook its head. Yes, no one would want to trudge through this pit. He wiped the sand from his eyes, the particles stinging.
To corner a witch, though – how glorious. Bastian touched the curved sword at his side. And take another head. Body soaked in sweat, he still felt his temperature rise at the desire. That would quench my thirst.
He nudged the horse into a trot.
Finally he neared the Sierka depot. Not soon enough. A coach pulled away from the platform. Bastian squinted at the interior as the horses passed. No one inside – someone coming and not going, then. Good to file away; any details for his investigation.
He knew he should visit the Enforcers first, check in, find out what all the worry was about, but after the long trip, he needed a cold drink on his tongue and a night of rest. The summons wasn't marked urgent, so Head Enforcer Simon could cool his heels until tomorrow.
Bastian turned his horse down the main thoroughfare leading to town. A creaking sign swung above the door of the first building on the left – a worn picture of a bed and mug marked it as an inn, with the name Simple Rest just as faded. It would do. He dismounted, allowed his horse a long drink at a nearby trough, then tied the weary beast to a post.
Four pairs of eyes shifted to Bastian when he entered. The first two sat at a table, quickly glanced at his sword, then returned their attention to their ale. The fools still tried to watch him peripherally. It wasn't every day a witch hunter strode into town – the only ones aside from Enforcers allowed to carry a sword. The woman scrubbing tables gaped openly, forgetting the sponge in her hand, water running down her arm. Then there was the innkeeper behind the bar, a stupid grin on his face.
No chance for a little peace. All of them weren't worth his time, at least not until he had to question them about this supposed witch. Later.
Bastian slipped onto a stool at the bar, attempting to ignore the eyes that he knew rested on his back. "Ale, please."
"Sure thing." The innkeeper's Lankurian accent hung in the air, his vowels stretched out as if they were separate words. He polished a mug and filled it up. "On the house."
The ale gave new life to Bastian's throat, a healing balm on his lips. Unfortunately the innkeeper hovered, twisting his rag, opening his mouth, then shutting it again. He looked like a fish, begging for scraps. Bastian didn't throw him one, hoping that would be enough to stave off a conversation.
Only halfway done with his ale, and the innkeeper's rag was nothing but a scrunched ball. The man coughed.
Bastian was about to leave the rest of his drink, go stable his horse, and get some sleep away from all the eyes and the imploring innkeeper. The entrance of a young woman, two bags in hand, squashed his annoyance.
She wore a simple cotton dress, a deep green, which hugged her curves enough to hint at what lay beneath. And her hair, unbound, was a wave of brown cascading to her waist. She turned to him and offered a smile before catching the innkeeper's attention.
He took a sip of his ale and some of it dribbled on his shirt. A warmth surged through his body – his heart leapt to his brain, the pounding fierce.
Bastian tore his eyes from the woman and focused on his ale. He usually never felt this type of response with women. The job came first, and any activities he engaged in were merely to relieve tension.
He couldn't stop from turning his head, watching her tuck a loose hair behind her ear and smooth her dress, her bags now at her feet. If Simon's worries ended up as nothing more than paranoia, perhaps this wouldn't be a wasted trip. A hum sounded in his mind, reaching its vibration through his entire body. A little fun never hurt.CHAPTER 3
The inn was quiet this early in the day, except for a couple of men at a table and one at the bar. Tessa enjoyed their appraisal, and even offered a smile to the lone wolf. She had let down her hair on her way here; it had been up for the journey. Ah, the freedom.
The innkeeper stood behind the bar, attempting to polish a glass. That proved difficult – the mug was already as shiny as his balding head and the rag a scrunched-up mess.
"Pardon me," Tessa said. He was the only one who hadn't noticed her entrance. Distracted.
The innkeeper jolted, almost dropping the glass. "Yes, Miss. Sorry. Didn't see you there. How can I help you?" His thick accent startled Tessa – she didn't expect anyone from the northern province to be living this far south.
"I'm Tessa Rae Malone. My cousin, Betha Shane, reserved a room for me."
He set down the glass and rag. "So, you're Betha's cousin? Awfully young, ain't you?"
"Well, I'm her father's sister's husband's niece's daughter. We say cousin to keep it simple." Confuse them, and they'll stop their questioning.
"Um. Always good to have family, and she needs it more than ever lately. Let me get your key. Be right back." He disappeared through a door behind the bar.
Judging from the common room, the inn was a fairly clean establishment, aside from the occasional cobweb in hard-to-reach corners. Strings of luminorbs hung on the walls, most of them burnt out. Some flickered, struggling to retain their light. A single luminorb over the bar shone with its original brilliance. Tessa could fix the ones threatening to burn out with a few adjustments. But that would label her a witch, since no one else knew how to fix them. Most people didn't even know where the luminorbs came from. Where there was one thing witch-made, there were bound to be others. If only she could snoop in the kitchen. Her curiosity would get her killed, though.
The two men at the table had returned to their conversation, but the man at the bar hadn't pried his eyes off her. He looked a few years older than Tessa. His dark brown hair brushed his eyelashes and insisted on a haircut. Handsome, and the sword at his side added to his allure. Perhaps he was an Enforcer – it would be wise to get on his good side.
"Do you find me more interesting than your ale?" She flashed a seductive smile, hoping it would hold his attention longer.
He stood, steady enough to convince Tessa that he wasn't drunk, so he hadn't been at the bar long. He had a travel-worn look, as if he'd just arrived in town, his pants and boots covered in desert dirt.
"A beautiful woman walks in, and she asks me if she's more interesting than the ale? I think you know the answer." He leaned forward, hand on the hilt of his sword. "Your hair caught my eye. Not many women are bold enough to let it hang loose."
Excerpted from Mind Behind the Mind by Alexa Grave, J. Gunnar Grey. Copyright © 2016 Alexa Grave. Excerpted by permission of Haunted Unicorn Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A witch, where witches are banned and hunted to death. A witch hunter, with an interesting history. A rollicking good story, expertly told by Alexa Grave. I can't wait for book two.