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In the second Witches of Echo Park novel, one coven must keep the world in balance and stand against a rising darkness.
Lyse MacAllister did not step into an easy role when she took over as master of the Echo Park coven of witches after her great-aunt Eleanora’s death. As she begins to forge the bonds that will help her lead her sisters, she struggles to come to terms with her growing powers. And she soon faces a deadly new threat. A group of fanatics intent on bringing about the end of times has invaded the witches Council—but the Council is turning a blind eye to the danger growing in its midst.
Only one witch is prophesied to be able to stop the encroaching darkness. And if Lyse and her blood sisters are to have any chance at protecting all we know from being lost forever, they must keep her safe—no matter what the cost…
About the Author
AMBER BENSON cocreated, cowrote, and directed the animated supernatural Web series Ghosts of Albion with Christopher Golden, which they followed with a series of novels, including Witchery and Accursed, and the novella Astray. Benson and Golden also coauthored the novella The Seven Whistlers. As an actress, she has appeared in dozens of roles in feature films, TV movies, and television series, including the fan-favorite role of Tara Maclay on three seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Benson wrote, produced, and directed the feature films Chance and Lovers, Liars and Lunatics.
Read an Excerpt
I dreamed that I murdered someone last night.
But was it a dream?
Lyse woke up on the floor in her underwear, blood from the reopened wound on her calf smeared across the rag rug she’d used as a bed. There were bruises all over her body (dreams did not leave bruises) and she was bone tired. The kind of tired that made your whole body ache.
She lay there on the floor, staring at the ceiling, too worn out to get up. The jangle of the landline screamed through Eleanora’s bungalow like a war cry. It was the impetus Lyse needed. With a sigh, she climbed to her feet and threw on a pair of flannel pajama pants, padding out of the bedroom.
She didn’t bother to clean the blood off the rag rug.
She took the call in the kitchen. It was a wrong number. Some kid from the L.A. Times wanting to renew Eleanora’s subscription. Lyse hung up on him. After that she was wide awake, her body thrumming like she’d swallowed a carafe of coffee. More than anything, she decided, she needed to clear her head. There were just too many questions she didn’t know the answers to, and she wanted them all to go away. Wanted the silence of sleep to fill her head again.
I want to disappear, Lyse thought, the weight of her guilt making her heart hurt. But I think I might’ve killed someone last night, and, if I have, I need to do the right thing and turn myself in. And if I’m wrong? If I’ve imagined it all? Then I need to confirm my insanity with my own eyes.
This was not something she relished doing, but it was necessary. She would go down to Echo Park Lake and look at the scene of her “dream” crime. Then, if fantasy proved to be reality, she would call the police.
She slapped a couple of Band-Aids on her calf and got dressed. Wearing sweats and her red hoodie, she stuffed the house keys in her pocket and closed the front door softly behind her. She crossed the deck and took the footbridge that led over the koi pond—which had always been the focal point of Eleanora’s front yard—taking the steps two at a time. She made her way onto Curran Street, her Converse sneakers squeaking against the cool asphalt.
She loved the way Echo Park smelled: a clean scent without any trace of the pollution you got when you ventured into other neighborhoods in the city. There were strains of eucalyptus, flowering jasmine, freshly mown grass, and sizzling meat from the neighborhood taco trucks all woven together—but there was another smell there, too. Just out of reach. A strange, indefinable note she could never place. It sat apart from the other scents, almost as if it weren’t really a smell, but the musk of magical energy transfusing the air.
Eleanora had once told her that Echo Park sat on a flow line, a place where there was a confluence of supernatural energy, making it the perfect setting for a coven of blood sisters to do their work. If that was true, then why couldn’t there be a taste of magic in the air?
It only took Lyse fifteen minutes to reach the lake, her nervousness making her move quickly. As she walked, she let her brain default to autopilot, hoping this would keep her from turning back for home. Fear held on tight to her gut, squeezing her insides until she thought she might throw up. The abject horror at what she’d done the night before—you murdered someone, her brain screamed—lingered like a virus, feeding on her unconscious worry even as she tried to push it away.
The only thing you can do now (if you didn’t dream the whole thing) is to take responsibility for your actions. It was an act of self-defense. He would’ve killed you if he could have—
Stop it, she shouted at her brain, you don’t dream things like this!
She cleared her thoughts, focusing instead on the staccato hum of traffic and the chatter of other pedestrians as she took the crosswalk at a jog. It got quieter as Sunset Boulevard disappeared behind her, and soon she found herself accompanied only by the sound of her own footsteps . . . the silence serving to highlight the fear buzzing inside her head.
Just keep moving. Don’t think. Don’t second-guess—
Her heart skipped a beat as she stepped off the sidewalk and saw that there were no policemen or women anywhere on the grounds of Echo Park Lake, no cordon blocking the jogging path, no ambulances encircling the park.
“What the hell,” she said out loud, the sound of her own voice startling her.
She scanned the horizon, eyes squinting against the sun’s reflection as it skipped off the surface of the lake and blinded her. She jogged over to the newly constructed playground, but its swings and bright-colored plastic slides were empty. She could see swirling mandalas in the sand made in kid-sized footprints, but the squealing laughter of giddy children was missing in the crisp morning air.
It was early enough that there were only a few plodding joggers and a flock of spandex-clad mothers pushing expensive baby carriages around the circumference of the lake. The little café was open and a burly man in a green army jacket stood outside, holding a cup of steaming coffee in his hands sans lid.
She wished she could swap lives with him, wished she were the one standing there holding a cup of coffee while he had carnivorous butterflies in his belly, eating him from the inside out.
Sadly, there would be no life-swapping today.
She relinquished her wish for what could’ve been and returned to what was. Thus began the slow trudge around the lake that would lead her to the (imagined?) horrors of the previous night and to the destruction she’d rained down (or had she?) on the Lady of the Lake, the art deco stone statue that had stood sentry over the park for decades.
Last night (in her dream?) the statue had been struck down by a ghostly flash of lightning, crushing Lyse’s homicidal uncle into a pulpy mass of exposed human entrails underneath its massive weight. Now as she rounded the corner and the far end of the lake came into view, Lyse was prepared to see the statue’s shattered remains. To her shock, she found the Lady of the Lake wholly intact. There was no sign the statue had saved her life the night before.
Even though she’d guessed this would be the case when she hadn’t seen any signs of police activity at the lake, it was still a bit of a shocker. The night before had felt so real. She couldn’t believe it was a figment of her imagination. That she’d dreamed it.
Part of her brain—the part that held on to things that were considered “rational”—insisted someone must’ve come along and cleaned the whole mess up, fixed the statue, paid off the police, and uncrushed her uncle’s body.
But that’s impossible, she thought. No one could or would do any of that . . . unless they were using magic.
This was the only way for someone to fix a statue and dispose of a corpse with no one ever the wiser.
Until a few weeks ago, Lyse would’ve laughed at the idea, found it repugnant even. The people who believed in magic were right up there with the idiots who swore the Loch Ness monster existed and that Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landing. But since then her world had been upended and everything had changed.
Life turned on a dime and either you could roll with it, or it would roll over you. It was your choice.
She’d arrived on the West Coast expecting to be there for a brief visit. Just enough time to take Eleanora to another doctor, get a miraculous second opinion that said the cancer was surmountable and Eleanora would make a full recovery. Then Lyse would’ve hopped back on a plane to Athens, returning to the simple life she’d built for herself in Georgia.
Nothing had gone as she’d planned.
Instead, Eleanora had sprung a trap. She’d pinned Lyse to Echo Park with a deathbed promise: Stay in Los Angeles and take Eleanora’s place as the master of the Echo Park coven of witches.
Lyse was shocked to learn that the woman who’d taken her in and raised her as her own after she’d been orphaned, was, in fact, a witch—or blood sister, the name they preferred because of the connotations associated with witchcraft. Lyse hadn’t known such things existed in the world—and now because of the promise she’d made, she found herself in the thick of powerful magic she didn’t understand.
Circling the statue, she looked for telltale signs of cracking and repair—but there was nothing. The Lady of the Lake was as pristine as the day she was created. As was every inch of ground around the statue’s square perch.
She stared at the statue.
If only you could talk, Lyse thought.
But the Lady remained stubbornly silent.
Lyse fished her cell phone and headset from the pocket of her red hoodie and jammed in the earbuds. She didn’t care what she listened to, just fired up the music and let shuffle choose the song.
Flustered, she turned away from the shining water. She spent the long walk back across Sunset and up into the hills questioning her sanity.
Lyse stayed to the left side of the road. This way she could keep an eye on the oncoming traffic and get out of the way quickly if need be. Shafts of sunlight shot through the tree line, bathing the sidewalk in an undulating kaleidoscope of shadows. She’d made the executive decision that it was okay to enjoy her late-morning constitutional now that she didn’t feel like a fugitive.
Though she hadn’t been prepared to permanently stay in Los Angeles, after Eleanora died Lyse was forced to accept the changes her death had wrought. The night before—dream or no dream—she’d finally understood this. As Eleanora had foreseen, her life no longer belonged to her.
It had been appropriated by the coven.
At first Lyse had been angry with Eleanora. For shielding her from the truth. For lying to her. But her anger had quickly evaporated. How could she blame Eleanora for wanting her to have a normal life before being dragged—kicking and screaming—into a world she had no control over?
Yes, she probably should have told me a bit sooner, Lyse thought, as she hit the top of Echo Park Avenue and started down the backside of the hill. But so be it. What’s done is done.
She passed through a tree-lined bohemia, tiny wood-slatted bungalows and Spanish-style stucco houses dotting the side of the hill like wildflowers. Her eyes followed the sloping curve of the stairways that were built into the hills, the concrete steps spiraling off through the trees before disappearing into the woodland. A few cars passed Lyse as she walked, but none going so fast they couldn’t see her coming and make allowances—and she did the same, stepping off into the grass, or hopping onto a curb to give the vehicles more room.
An old Jeff Buckley tune came on—“Last Goodbye,” a song she loved—and she pressed the repeat button.
Yes, she was that girl. When she was obsessed with a particular tune, she’d listen to it over and over and over until she’d worn out her love for it. Then she’d move on to her next musical obsession. This quality drove her best friend and business partner, Carole, insane. Lyse would be working in The Center of the Whorl, the nursery they co-owned back in Georgia, blasting a ridiculous rock song on repeat because she’d broken up with some jerk, and it would send Carole on the warpath.
I told you not to date that asshole, her friend would say—and Lyse, who hated anyone saying I told you so, would just turn the stereo up louder.
She’d spoken to Carole twice since Eleanora’s funeral. Once to tell her Eleanora had died and she needed to stay longer to sort out the estate. The last time they’d talked, she’d told Carole most of the truth: Lyse wasn’t coming back to Georgia anytime in the near future.
Carole had taken the first call like a champ, worry for her friend apparent in her voice—the second call, well, she’d yelled at Lyse and then immediately apologized. Needless to say, she was not pleased with Lyse’s news.
Carole had a little boy, and Bemo occupied all the time her friend didn’t spend at the nursery. Lyse understood that Carole wasn’t really mad at her, that she was just worried about losing her livelihood. What she didn’t know was that the coven had recently placed a large sum of money in Lyse’s account, and that a cashier’s check for her half of the business was already on its way to Carole’s bank in Athens—and it was double what Lyse’s share was actually worth.
She hated that the Athens part of her life was over. It left a hole in her gut, an empty place that would never be filled, no matter how long she lived. With her normal existence gone, and Eleanora dead and buried, Lyse felt rootless. Add to this the fact that she’d ruined the only possible love connection she’d had in ages, and she felt more than lost. She felt alone.
Weir, her friend Lizbeth’s ridiculously hot older brother, had been smitten with her until she’d behaved like a terrified child and demanded he give her “space.” She’d acted like an emotionally unavailable asshole who wasn’t ready to get involved in anything serious—which wasn’t really true. It was just with so many changes in her life, she felt overwhelmed. And as much as she wanted a relationship with him, she was just too scared of getting hurt, especially when she was already feeling emotionally bruised.
It was ridiculous how intense their connection was. They hadn’t even had sex yet and she was kind of in love with the guy. There was just something special about Weir. Something that made him unlike any other man she’d ever dated. She desperately wanted to be with him: He was sexy and sweet and compassionate and smart . . . and it was only her fear of being hurt that had pushed him away. Like an idiot, she’d run her mouth off and screwed the whole thing up.
She realized she’d been walking without paying attention to where she was going and was now almost to her favorite spot in all of Echo Park. It was the place she used to run away to when she was a teenager living with her great-aunt Eleanora and they’d have a fight. (It was only recently she’d learned the truth. That, in actuality, Eleanora was her grandmother, not her great-aunt.)
She didn’t know why she found the hidden glen so glorious. Maybe it was because of the light, or maybe it was just the giant weeping willow tree that grew there. The one with the thick trunk and heavy boughs peppered with soft green leaves. Or possibly it was the rope swing lovingly looped around one of its branches, on the seat of which someone had written the loveliest of quotes: This Is Where Memories Are Made.
Lyse had chosen to come to this particular spot because it was a happy place from her childhood and she wanted to sit on the swing, listen to music, and think about Eleanora.
She wanted to remember her life before.
Before. Whatever, exactly, that meant.
She just wanted to get lost in the memories she’d created when Eleanora was alive . . . because maybe then she could forget that the woman she loved so dearly was dead.
But dead doesn’t mean what it used to, Lyse thought as “Last Goodbye” cycled through her earbuds for the umpteenth time. Eleanora is here. Just not physically here.
She reached the edge of the Elysian Park expansion and hopped over the metal guardrail separating the road from her hidden glen. Her mood was improving. She was looking forward to staring out at the city as she pumped her legs and made the swing go higher and higher.
The view from up there was amazing, the little valley packed full of crumbling houses and twisting stairways and overgrown greenery. These were the hills Lyse liked to trek through best, the ones upon which Eleanora’s bungalow still stood. Though yuppies and aging hipsters peopled the area now, once upon a time Echo Park had belonged to the new bohemians. Sadly, what was once a home for all the liberal-thinking, left-wing-leaning communists, artists, and politicos of Los Angeles had changed its makeup completely. A restaurant at the bottom of Echo Park Avenue called Red Hill was the only reminder of what Echo Park had once been.
Time marched forever onward—and it waited for no one. It hadn’t taken her long to realize the old neighborhood was changing again. Slowly but surely it was being absorbed by the rest of Los Angeles, and soon it would lose the last remnants of its bohemian charm.
Oh, well, it was inevitable, Lyse thought as she made her way past the dirt and scrub grass that made up the floor of the glen, her eyes on the willow tree. Her heart lifted even though she couldn’t see the swing, which was obscured by low overhanging branches.
Take us humans. We live and die and live and die on an endless loop. Nothing, not even love, lasts forever.
As she reached the tree, Lyse stopped in her tracks. Someone had viciously cut one length of the thick rope anchoring the swing to its branch, so it half hung in the dirt. The same someone had taken a can of spray paint and covered the wooden plank in a dripping layer of black, obscuring the words that had made Lyse smile as a teenager—no matter how miserable she’d been on the inside.
Lyse felt eyes scuttling along her back. She looked up and saw a lone house on the far side of the field. Lyse could just make out the shadow of a person standing on the porch. They seemed to be watching her. She wondered if they even knew the swing existed, or that some jerk had destroyed one of the most magical places in all of Echo Park.
Lyse was heartsick. Seeing that kind of destruction in a place she loved so well made her livid with anger. She whipped around, hair flying, and began to walk away from the tree, Jeff Buckley wailing in her ears. Her anger drove her to walk faster and soon she was running, feet pounding the dirt as she tried to escape the rage rippling through her. She hit the edge of the field at top speed and, in her blind fury, almost slammed into the guardrail. But some sixth sense kicked in and she was able to stop herself before she cracked her shins on the metal.
Breathing hard, she sat down on the guardrail’s precarious edge, her back to the road. Somewhere along the way, one of her earbuds had popped out and was hanging at her side, only a few inches from the dirt. She made a grab for it, but, like a pendulum, it swung away from her grasp.
“Stop it!” she snapped at the earbud, feeling an irrational spike of rage toward the inanimate object.
It swung back in her direction and this time she was able to scoop it up, jamming it back into her ear. Distracted, she was unaware of the figure standing behind her. It wasn’t until the person dropped a tentative hand on her shoulder that Lyse realized she was not alone. This, coupled with a well-developed fight-or-flight instinct, made her jump up off the guardrail, a scream lodged in her throat.
“Who the what—” she cried, the words all jumbled in her mouth as she backed away, almost tripping over her own feet. The earbuds flew out of her ears in the confusion of the moment.
It only took her a few seconds to realize this was a friend, not a foe.
Her coven mate, Lizbeth, stood on the street side of the guardrail, staring back at her. She obviously hadn’t expected this kind of reaction from Lyse because she looked terrified.
“You scared me,” Lyse said, feeling guilty for scaring the girl.
“What’re you doing here?” Lyse continued, not expecting a verbal answer because Lizbeth was mute and could not reply in words.
Lizbeth shrugged, pulling a small moleskin notepad from the bib pocket of her faded cream overalls. With her scarf, purple thermal shirt, and a grungy orange-checked flannel looped around her waist, she looked like an escapee from a Pearl Jam music video. Lyse watched as the girl produced a violet-colored pen from another pocket and began to write.
She ripped the page out of the notepad and handed it to Lyse:
FOLLOWING A DREAM. ARE YOU OKAY?
“I couldn’t stay in the bungalow. Alone . . .” Lyse said, trailing off as she folded the piece of paper and put it into her pants pocket. “I needed to escape.”
Lizbeth nodded her understanding, and Lyse wondered if the girl had ever felt a similar urge to run away from her life and disappear into the shadows.
“But then I came up here and someone had vandalized my fucking swing—”
Lyse’s throat tightened. She gritted her teeth until her jaw ached and the urge to sob disappeared. Lizbeth, in her infinite patience, waited for Lyse to continue.
“Sorry about that,” Lyse went on, stuffing her hands into the pockets of her hoodie. “You know the swing, right?”
Lizbeth nodded, her long braid slapping against her back. Something about the girl’s eyes, the way they shone in the sunlight, pierced Lyse’s cracked heart and all her hard fought composure melted away. First the swing and now the innocent look of pity on Lizbeth’s face . . . it broke Lyse open. She felt hot tears burning the corners of her eyes, but she refused to wipe them away.
“I killed someone last night,” she whispered, the need to confide her sin greater than she’d realized. “I mean, at least, I think I did . . . and now I’m not so sure.”
She found no recrimination in Lizbeth’s eyes. Instead, the teenager reached out and wrapped her arms around Lyse’s shoulders, hugging her tight. They stood like that for a long time, the sun cresting over their heads as it lit up the whole of the L.A. River basin. From their vantage point high in the Echo Park hills, they did not see the water meander slowly down its manmade channel, or the 5 freeway come to life with the flow of morning rush-hour traffic.
Lyse was on edge as she made coffee in the stovetop espresso maker. She sat down at the round oak kitchen table to drink it and felt like thousands of pairs of eyes were watching her, spying on her comings and goings, so they could file away information about her every move. Maybe some giant computer somewhere was collecting all the info for further tabulation, turning her life into a series of ones and zeroes—which sounded rather comforting if it got rid of all those pesky emotions like guilt.
Guilt. She was tortured by it. The image of her uncle David crushed and bleeding underneath the Lady of the Lake statue filled her mind. The way his fingers twitched, bloody and pale white in the moonlight; the sound of stone driving flesh and bone into asphalt, compressing a living being into mush. His scream had been the worst. Like an earwig tickling her eardrum, it wiggled around inside the labyrinth of her ear canal, repeating itself over and over again.
She fought to push the image out of her brain, to banish it to some nether region of her cerebral cortex where she could pretend it didn’t exist—even though the whole strange night was, of course, burned into her gray matter for eternity. She had hoped that telling Lizbeth would make her feel better, but it had only done the opposite: She felt crushed underneath the weight of her own anxiety.
Because even though there wasn’t a body and the statue was still intact, Lyse knew she didn’t dream her uncle’s death.
The ringing phone cut into these morbid thoughts, throwing her a lifeline. Someone out in the real world was thinking of her—or, at the very least, was thinking of Eleanora—and wanted to connect.
Lyse got up from the table, the scrape of her chair competing with the jangle of the telephone. She grasped the receiver of the avocado-green corded telephone that hung on the wall by the refrigerator and slid it from its hanging cradle.
The jarring noise stopped midring.
It was strange to stand there, an adult in the house where she’d spent her formative years. The last time she’d really used this phone, she’d hidden in the cupboard with the door closed, the cord wrapped around her finger as she’d tried to get some privacy. That was what it was like being a teenager: You felt constantly harassed, were always looking for an escape (especially from your own head), and you didn’t want anyone knowing your business. The adult version of Lyse was an entirely different person from the angsty teenager, and she found it hard to reconcile the two aspects of herself.
“I just wanted to check in on you, make sure you were holding up okay?”
Dev’s voice was warm and reassuring, and she could imagine her friend in the kitchen of the cozy Victorian she shared with her partner, Freddy, and their two daughters, holding a mug of something hot and autumn-spicy in her hand.
“You must be psychic,” Lyse said, then realized the old adage actually kind of applied in this situation. Dev was a diviner, the tarot her divination tool of choice. Though Lyse hadn’t seen Dev at work, from what Eleanora and the other blood sisters said, she was very talented at her craft.
“What’s wrong?” Dev asked, instantly picking up on the fact that something was wrong.
Lyse twisted the rubbery telephone cord around her finger. She was desperate to pour out the horror of the previous night’s encounter with the man who claimed to be her long-lost uncle David. She’d tell her story—the kidnapping, the attack, the ghost causing the Lady of the Lake statue to topple and crush her uncle to death—and Dev’s maternal instincts would kick in and she’d tell Lyse it wasn’t her fault, that her uncle’s death was his own doing. And this would happen before she’d even told Dev the worst of it: that this horrible human being, this uncle she’d never known, was the murderer responsible for Eleanora’s death.
Something he’d told her, wearing a look of glee on his hateful face, before he’d tried to murder her, too.
“It’s not something . . .” She paused, unsure of how to put it. “I mean, uh, maybe I can come to you. We can talk? I don’t want to do it over the phone.”
“Of course, come now,” Dev said. “Come whenever . . . I just want you to know you can tell me anything and I won’t judge. It’s always a safe space at the Montrose house.”
Lyse wasn’t worried about being judged. She was worried about going to jail if a body ever turned up.
“Give me an hour—I wanna shower and get dressed.”
“Of course,” Dev replied, a breathless quality to her voice.
“And get hold of the others,” Lyse added. “I’m really sorry, but I think we’re in way over our heads.”
Even then she knew the sentence was an understatement.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Really enjoyed this book, so much that I am late getting to work. Hope you enjoy it as well!
It is amazing to see how much Amber Benson’s writing has grown between the first book in the series (see my review of The Witches of Echo Park), and the second. The Last Dream Keeper was much more intense, and Benson spent more time with character development, instead of describing the scenery. Also, in my review of the first book, I had a huge problem with how the book ended. This one picks up immediately where the last book left off, so that is a very good thing. I really can’t say much about the storyline, since it would be full of spoilers. I will say if you had any hesitation with reading the first one, it’s worth it to be able to get to book two. This book is much darker, with more horror in it. And while Benson does get descriptive with the scenery again, this time it just seems to work better with the story. The way Benson ended the book makes me very excited for book three.
The sequel to The Witches of Echo Park begins with Eleanora telling the reader that she has chosen not to go to the other side of the Veil, but remain as a Dream Walker. That she and Hessika (head of the Echo Park coven before she was) will assist her granddaughter Lyse and her coven mates to launch a defense against The Flood, as it wants to wash away the human world and instate a new regime. And that can only happen with the arrival of a bloodred moon. If the first book was dark, this one is darker. The ties of the blood sisters will be torn. Hearts will be broken. New characters are introduced. Some will prove trustworthy, others won’t, and others I wonder if their agenda may not be black or white, but murky. The story is full of tension that spirals higher and higher and never gives you a break. Amber Benson hooks the reader with words that magically compels you to read to the last paragraph. I cannot wait for the next installment in this series.