Her passion is her greatest weakness.
His legacy is his prison.
To reunite, both must fight the demons within.
A world of deception and danger separates Annie Fremont from her mother-and from Chase, the enigmatic half ifrit with whom Annie's fallen in love. But she vows to find her way back to them, before Chase succumbs to the madness that threatens his freedom. The only person who can help is the magical seductress, Lotli, a beautiful, manipulative woman . . . a woman who has disappeared.
Annie must stay strong, even as the future she imagined is slipping away. With the help of family and friends, she discovers that Lotli is being held against her will, by those who want to exploit her powers. But though weakened, Lotli remains a powerful ally and adversary. A bargain is struck. And now Annie's only chance to rescue Chase could also tear them apart . . .
Loyalties will be tested, walls will be breached, and enemies will be fought, yet Annie's greatest battle lies within her own heart-to trust her love for Chase to overcome its greatest enemy, and to save those she holds most dear from the terrifying realm of the djinn. For all of their lives depend on it.
Praise for Pat Esden and her Dark Heart Novels
"What a fantastic ride! Full of mystery, action, and romance." -Kim Karr, New York Times bestselling author
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About the Author
PAT ESDEN would love to say she spent her childhood in intellectual pursuits. The truth is she was fonder of exploring abandoned houses and old cemeteries. When not out on her own adventures, she can be found in her northern Vermont home writing stories about brave, smart women and the men who capture their hearts. An antique-dealing florist by trade, she’s also a member of Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and the League of Vermont Writers. Her short stories have appeared in a number of publications, including Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, the Mythopoeic Society’s Mythic Circle literary magazine, and George H. Scithers’s anthology Cat Tales. You can find Pat online at PatEsden.com, Facebook.com/PatEsdenAuthor, Twitter @PatEsden, and PatEsden.blogspot.com.
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Reach For You
A Dark Heart Novel
By Pat Esden
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Patricia AR Esden
All rights reserved.
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]
We journey. Ceaseless and hungry.
— Carved into stone tablet. Tenerife, Spain
The campsite was ominously silent. Then a breeze lifted and my ear caught the faint clank and rattle of the bones and knives hanging in the pine trees behind us.
"You don't think they're both dead, do you?" Selena whispered.
I scanned the dilapidated camper ahead of us, a do-it-yourself RV created out of an old bread truck. Despite the midafternoon warmth, the doors were shut tight. The tent behind it, barely visible from our angle, bowed under the weight of rain that had pooled in its canopy. There was no campfire smoke. No trampled grass. In comparison to when we'd come here last week, the place looked deserted.
Goose bumps pebbled my skin. I gave the camper another once-over. "Zea was really old and sickly. He could have died — or if the kidnappers came here first looking for Lotli, they could have found him. They might have —"
Selena cut me off with a glower. "You mean, supposed kidnappers."
My jaw clenched. Yeah, that is exactly what I meant. I understood why my cousin didn't like that everything we'd discovered pointed to her boyfriend, Newt, being involved in Lotli's disappearance, and perhaps Zea's as well. But I thought we'd gotten past that, like a bunch of times already.
I swiveled toward where we'd parked our Land Rover. The Professor stood rooted next to it, a mixture of disgust and apprehension crinkling his face. From his scholarly glasses and sandy brown hair all the way down to his polished loafers, he looked anything but ready for our reconnaissance trip out here on the back roads of Down East Maine. An afternoon of research at Oxford University would have been more appropriate. "You want to check inside the tent while we look in the camper?"
His gaze flicked to the soggy tarps. He cleared his throat, then — as posh as ever — said, "Don't get me wrong, I'm not totally against the idea. But the thought of discovering a rotting corpse is a teensy bit abhorrent."
"Would you rather discover one in a closed-up camper?" I snapped. It was lucky we'd driven into the campsite from the main road instead of walking like we'd done the last time. I'd assumed the Professor had an adventuresome spirit to go with his young Indiana Jones good looks. Especially since he was an archaeologist, though this summer he was tutoring Selena's eleven-year-old brother as a favor. Still, and despite how eager he'd seemed to come with us, the Professor had freaked the second we started past the creepy stuff Zea and Lotli hung in the trees to scare people off: the knives and bones, pieces of copper pipe, broken mirrors, and doll parts. Frankly, I was surprised he'd even gotten out of the Land Rover at all.
I pasted on a smile. "Sorry. I don't much care for the idea myself. Let's just hope he's napping or something."
The Professor wiped his hands down the sides of his chinos. "I truly hope you're right."
As he headed for the tent, I tramped toward the camper with Selena close behind. If only Chase were here now. The creepy stuff hadn't bothered him at all, and the fear of Zea being dead would have only driven him forward faster.
My chest tightened, my longing for Chase aching inside me, raw and unrelenting. If it weren't for me, he would be here now. Instead, both he and my mother were trapped in the djinn realm, prisoners of his father, Malphic. If it weren't for me, Lotli wouldn't be missing either.
"Well?" Selena jerked her head at the camper door. "Are you going to just stand there?"
I raised my hand and knocked. One second passed. Two seconds. I rapped harder. Nothing. I tried the doorknob. It turned beneath my grip. I opened the door a crack, hesitated, and took a deep breath before pushing it open all the way.
A wave of hot, musty air rushed past me as if the camper had been closed up for days.
"Hello?" I said, sticking my head inside. I gave the air a cautious sniff. No dangerous odors, like a leaky gas stove, permeated the air. No rotting-trash smell — or decomp.
Selena nudged my shoulder. "What are you waiting for?"
I swallowed hard and stepped forward.
The place was cramped, a gypsy wagon on steroids. Tassels and prisms curtained the windows, letting only faint streaks of light inside. Miles of fuchsia and turquoise fabric draped the ceiling and walls. Animal skulls, feathers, and nubby candles clustered inside miniature altars. The fridge, table, and chairs, every surface that wasn't fabric covered, was painted purple or black. Stars decorated the ceiling. An antique bed piled with crimson quilts and an avalanche of pillows took up the camper's entire backend. It was cozy enough, I supposed. But I couldn't begin to imagine what life had been like for Lotli, apprenticed to Zea as a child because of her magic abilities, essentially indentured. Not that I thought a devout shaman like Zea would have been cruel to her. It was just so different from anything I'd experienced.
"Zea, are you here?" I called out. "We need to talk to you about Lotli."
I minced my way deeper into the cramped space, working my way toward the back of the camper. Cold sweat carved a trail down my spine. I crept past a tiny kitchen and dining nook, then the bathroom — one toothbrush in the holder, a washcloth draped over the edge of a yellowed sink.
I returned to the front of the camper and pulled aside the curtain that divided the living area from the bread truck's cab. Seats for the driver and a passenger, seashells glued to the dash, insulated coffee cups in the holders —
Something brushed the back of my neck.
I yelped and jumped sideways, whipping around to see what it was and smacking my elbow against the wall. Pain zinged up my arm. I glared at Selena, standing barely an inch behind me.
"Shit," I said, rubbing the sting from my arm. "You scared the hell out of me."
She gave me a sheepish pout. "Sorry. I thought you knew I was there."
"I didn't think you were that close." It wouldn't have hurt half as bad, except I was already sore and bruised from being thrown out of the djinn realm earlier in the day.
Her pout transformed into a smug smile and she flipped her blond hair over one shoulder. "Looks to me like Zea and Lotli might have pulled a vanishing act after all. Huh?"
I stopped rubbing. "Or the Professor's about to find something disgusting in the tent."
"Want to bet?"
I closed my eyes, struggling to regain my composure. We couldn't afford to waste time discussing the same thing over and over again, any more than I could have afforded the luxury of staying home to nurse my aches and pains. Chase and Mother were in danger. And I couldn't go back to the realm and rescue them until we found Lotli. Without her and her flute-magic, it would be too risky, perhaps even impossible to enter or escape from the realm.
I shoved past Selena and strode to the tiny bathroom. "While we're here, we should find something personal of Lotli's that you can use to scry and see where they're holding her."
Glancing around, I spotted a scruffy hairbrush. You couldn't get much more personal than that. I grabbed it and brandished it toward Selena.
She stood just inside the bathroom doorway, hands on her hips, eyes narrowed. "Cut it out, Annie, I've had enough of you talking like Newt kidnapped Lotli, the innuendos and little jabs. Maybe his family's hiding something, but Newt doesn't have anything to do with it. So quit acting like he's evil, okay?"
I mirrored her stance. "He told you his dad was a stockbroker, that they owned their summer home. Those were lies. His brother is a registered creep. No matter what you want to think: Newt's not innocent."
She turned her back on me, her voice bordering on hysteria. "I don't know why I bothered coming. You're so, so ... You always have to be right —" Her voice died and she slowly faced me. Angry red blotches mottled her face. But tears rimmed her eyes.
My anger drained. She didn't look pissed. She was trembling like she was about to fall apart. Earlier today, when we'd first heard about the lies Newt and his family had been telling, I'd seen something in Selena's eyes, something beneath her disbelief.
"What is it? Tell me," I asked gently.
She raked her hands over her face. "Nothing. You just need to trust me. I know Newt couldn't be involved. And he wouldn't have let his brother do it either."
I leveled my gaze with hers and toughened my voice. "What makes you so certain? Tell me the truth, Selena."
Her chin quivered. "I just know."
Tucking the hairbrush handle first into my hip pocket, I stepped closer. I pushed her hair back from her face. "You're my cousin. Please. Tell me."
"Nothing. He just wouldn't do it. He loves me."
"I get that. But —"
She shoved my hand away. "No, you don't get it. I know he loves me. Like forever." Her eyes pleaded for me to understand what she couldn't bring herself to say.
A possibility seeped into my head. My hands went to my mouth, covering a horrified gasp. She couldn't mean. She couldn't have. "What did you do?"
"I kind of — I put a ..." Her voice faded and she looked down at the floor.
"A spell?" A month ago, the idea of witchcraft being involved would never have occurred to me. Now it seemed more than likely.
"You can't tell anyone. Mom, Dad, Grandfather — they'd kill me." She curled her arms over her head, her shoulders shaking as she crumpled down against the wall.
I crouched and put my arms around her. "Whatever it is, it'll be fine. It can't be that bad."
"It is," she sobbed.CHAPTER 2
Spiderweb surrounds candles white. Blood stainspetals red. Chamomile. Caraway. I bind thee withwillow. Love me now. Love me forever after.
— Persistence Freemont (1989) The Compendium of Witchcraft (Vol. 2)
"I cursed him to love me forever," Selena said, tears streaming down her cheeks.
Stunned, I released her and sat back. "Cursed? Aren't curses evil?"
"I was going to use a love spell to attract him to me," she sobbed. "But that might have attracted other guys. He was the only one I wanted."
"You can remove it, right?" I bobbed my head, as if by doing so her head would nod yes as well.
She cringed. "Maybe."
"You need to try, right away. It's not fair to him."
"I know." Her tear-damp eyes met mine. "You remember that night when you were worried about Lotli coming on to Chase and I told you if you kept him satisfied he wouldn't look at other girls?"
As I recalled she actually suggested I do kinky stuff to keep Chase happy. "What does that have to do with this?"
"I almost told you about the curse then. But, I don't know, maybe I was jealous of what you and Chase have. You didn't have to do anything to make him like you." Sniffing back tears, she hung her head. "I wish I'd said something."
My chest squeezed. Chase —
I clenched my teeth, cutting short the surge of sadness and worry that threatened to overwhelm me, and steered the conversation in a more rational direction. "The thing is, Selena — whether Newt loves you or not doesn't matter. Loving you wouldn't keep him from doing something to Lotli, especially if he thought she was a danger to you."
She blinked. "I never thought of that."
I got to my feet and pulled her up with me. "There's only one way to know for sure if Newt is innocent. We have to find Lotli."
Footfalls sounded from the other end of the camper, followed by the Professor's voice. "Absolutely no sign of anyone in the tent, alive or otherwise."
"No one here either," I called to him. I wiped a few stray tears off Selena's face and gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze.
"My goodness, this place is quite fascinating," the Professor continued. "My heavens, I believe this Maya bowl has some serious age."
"Really?" I slipped past Selena, emerging from the bathroom and giving her time to regroup before the Professor saw her.
He held out the bowl. It was red and orange with glyphs around the rim and filled with — "Are those bird skulls?"
"I believe so, along with those of a few unlucky mammals." Grimacing, the Professor set the bowl back into its altar. "However, I also believe my first evaluation was wrong. More likely it's a quality reproduction, judging by its weight."
"It's still nice," I said.
Selena came out of the bathroom, her face wiped clean of tears and her complexion back to normal. She scanned the camper as if looking for something. "I could scry for Zea. This place is full of his stuff."
"I was about to suggest the same thing." I pulled the grungy hairbrush from my pocket and held it out to her. "I'm guessing this is Zea's, since Lotli didn't take it with her to Moonhill."
She snatched the brush. "Perfect. If they both used it, then I should be able to pick up on Lotli, too. It won't be as exact as using a dark mirror to locate them, but it'll be quicker." She pressed the hairbrush between her palms and closed her eyes. Her eyes flashed open. "Just so you know — if he or both of them are ... If they aren't alive, then scrying like this might attract their spirits."
Fear weakened my legs and I sunk down on a dining nook bench. The idea of attracting ghosts or spirits didn't bother me. If Zea were dead, it wouldn't be a shock, considering he wasn't that healthy to start with. Not that it would be a good thing either. But Lotli — we needed her and her flute-magic.
I took a deep breath, calming myself, as the Professor settled onto the bench across the table from me. Selena sat down on the floor cross-legged, clutching the brush between her hands. She closed her eyes and began to slowly sway.
For a long moment, silence weighed heavy in the camper. I became keenly aware of the lumpy cushion beneath my legs and of a faint aroma of curry and fennel, spices Lotli and Zea must have used a lot. And a hint of mildew as well. Selena's head bobbed forward. Abruptly, it snapped back up. Her eyes flickered open, showing nothing but the whites.
The Professor flinched and jerked back. I bit my tongue to keep from gasping. I'd seen her do this once before, but that didn't make it any less frightening.
The nerves in her face spasmed, then stilled. "Not dead," she mumbled. "He's nearby, but not that close. Drifting, sleeping, meditating, maybe."
"And Lotli?" I asked, barely daring to speak.
Selena's head rolled on her shoulders. She shuddered, her breathing becoming loud and labored. "Not with him. She's — I sense rope, wooden beams ..."
I leaned forward, ears pricked so I wouldn't miss a word.
"Ouch!" Selena yelped as if burned. She leapt to her feet and slammed the hairbrush to the floor. "Son of a bitch that hurt."
The Professor and I both scrambled out from the nook.
"What happened? Are you all right?" I took her by the shoulders, peering into her eyes to make sure they were back to normal. They were, though her pupils were dilated like she was terrified.
The Professor patted her arm. "You're fine. There's absolutely nothing to worry about."
"No, I'm not," Selena said, her breath still ragged. "The hairbrush — it bit me. I was almost to her. Then I felt this presence."
My gaze darted to the hairbrush. "Bit you? What are you talking about?"
"I thought I was approaching a riding stable. There was this electric fence around it. Only it wasn't that kind of fence. It was the presence of a fence. A magic fence. Powerful, enclosing Lotli. I touched it — and zap." She eyed the hairbrush. "I'm not going near that thing again. But we should take it with us, so we can see what Mom and Kate sense."
I nudged the brush with my shoe to make sure it wasn't going to do anything to me. I had no ability to scry or sense things, and it hadn't done anything before, but there was no reason to take a chance. Certain I wouldn't get zapped, I scooped the brush up and shoved it handle-first back into my pocket. "We should probably take a few other things, too, don't you think? So your mom and Kate have a variety of stuff to scry with."
Selena nodded, then glanced at the Professor. "Would you mind getting my water bottle from the car? I'm so dry, I can barely swallow."
"Oh, yes. Absolutely." He flew out the door and Selena and I started opening drawers, looking for things to take with us — Lotli's bras, panties, socks, scarves, a large box devoted to jewelry. I stopped. "Selena, are you finding anything that looks like it might belong to Zea, like pants?"
"He's probably sworn to a life of poverty. Shamans do things like that."
I surveyed the chock-full trailer. "You really think so? I mean, all this and not even one pair of pants for him, really? Why would he allow Lotli to have tons of stuff?"
She shrugged. "It doesn't really matter anyway. We know he's alive and we've got the hairbrush. It doesn't sound nice, but, honestly, it's Lotli, not him, we need to find."
"You're sure he's all right, though?"
"Definitely. He probably got lonely with Lotli gone and went to stay with some local friend."
Excerpted from Reach For You by Pat Esden. Copyright © 2017 Patricia AR Esden. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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