Weird visions of transforming into an otherworldly falcon are just the beginning. Soon she learns she’s part of the Benandanti, an ancient cult of warriors with the unique power to separate their souls from their bodies and take on the forms of magnificent animals.
Alessia never would’ve suspected it, but her boring town is the site of an epic struggle between the Benandanti and the Malandanti to control powerful magic in the surrounding forest.
As Alessia is drawn into the Benandanti’s mission, her relationship with Jonah intensifies. Suddenly forced to weigh choices a sixteen-year-old should never have to make, Alessia witnesses two worlds colliding with devastating consequences.
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By Nicole Maggi
Medallion Press, Inc.Copyright © 2014 Nicole Maggi
All rights reserved.
The town of Twin Willows was a tiny dot on a large map, a speck of nothing in the middle of nowhere. I paused on the steps of the town hall and surveyed the short strip of Main Street, the blood in my veins sizzling with frustration like hot oil. A discarded newspaper blew down the potholed street, carried off by the autumn wind to some distant place that someday—someday—I promised myself I would get to.
I sighed and pushed open the door. "I hate Mondays."
Inside the overheated hall, the radiators banged in rhythm with the voices of the people gathered there. I spotted my best friend, Jenny, in the back row, her thumbs working furiously over the keypad of her cell phone. I plunked into the chair next to her.
She clicked her phone off. "I hate Mondays. Why does Clemens insist on torturing us?"
"Because he has no life and wants to ruin ours." I unwrapped my scarf and flung it over the chair next to me.
As an ongoing homework assignment for our government class, we were required to attend weekly town hall meetings. As if anything ever happened in Twin Willows. Every week these meetings were the same. Someone was mad at someone else for an out-of-control tree limb that dangled over their property line, and what was Mayor Lawson going to do about it? Well, I could tell them exactly what Mayor Lawson would do about it because she did the same thing every week. She made some wishy-washy decision that would satisfy everyone so that everything could reset to Boring. One of these days, the monotony of it was going to make me scream right in the middle of the meeting.
"What's cooking in Lidia's kitchen tonight?" Jenny asked. Lidia was my mother. Although I called her Mom to her face, in my head and with my friends she was always Lidia.
"Baked ziti." I looked at the clock. It was five past six. Great. The meeting was running late. As if it wasn't bad enough that I had to be here at all. My stomach growled.
Jenny rolled her eyes back and made a drooling sound. "My mom is making vegan, gluten-free meat loaf. When I left the house she was crushing cashews to use in place of breadcrumbs."
"I think I just felt Lidia shudder," I said with a laugh. My mother was an incredible purist when it came to food. I'd heard her mutter many times about burning the "weirdo" cookbooks in Jenny's house.
The door behind us opened, and a harsh wind gusted in, blowing my scarf off the chair. I bent down to pick it up, and as I straightened Jenny grabbed my arm. "Who are they?" she hissed.
I turned in the direction of her gaze.
Standing in the doorway was a couple I had never seen before. The man looked like he had walked right off the cover of Fortune, with his overstyled black hair and cashmere coat. His wife stood next to him, her deep red locks glinting under the yellow lights. As they moved down the aisle, they revealed two kids standing behind them. The girl was willowy with raven-colored hair like her father's. But when I saw the boy beside her, my breath left me in one whoosh.
He turned his head and met my stare, long enough for me to notice that his eyes were the color of the forest in springtime. I swallowed hard, my mouth dry as paper. His sister nudged him. He looked away and ran his hand through his dark hair, messing it so the ends stuck out in all directions.
"Where did they come from?" Jenny asked as though she had just seen a unicorn.
"I-I don't know." My voice was shaky, like I hadn't used it in a while. I cleared my throat and straightened my shoulders. I wasn't the kind of girl who got weak-kneed at the sight of a cute boy, and there was no way I was ruining my reputation now.
Still, I couldn't help staring at the family. New people were rare in Twin Willows, and they garnered a lot of looks and murmurs. The father nodded to everyone as he walked to the front of the hall, but there was nothing friendly about his manner. The wife stared straight ahead as she followed, ignoring everything. The two kids slid into seats in the front row next to their parents without ever speaking to them.
A skinny young man in a pin-striped suit way too expensive for the Twin Willows flannel-and-baseball-cap crowd greeted the father and handed him a stack of note cards.
Mayor Lawson stepped up to the podium, and the room quieted. "We have an exciting agenda tonight," she announced.
"Maybe she's right for once," Jenny said under her breath.
Mayor Lawson gestured to the father of the new family. "I'd like to introduce Travis Wolfe, who comes to us from the Guild Incorporated."
"Whoa." I leaned forward, gripping the edge of the empty seat in front of me. I wasn't a CNN junkie or anything, but I didn't live under a rock. The Guild was one of those companies always in the news, with arms reaching all over the world. I'd just read a story on the Internet about some controversial security contract they had won in the Middle East.
Mayor Lawson held a hand up to quiet down the hum that had started in the hall. "Mr. Wolfe has an exciting venture for Twin Willows. Let's all give him our attention." She nodded to Mr. Wolfe.
He stood and removed his luxurious coat, revealing a sharply angled dark suit. A gold watch flashed on his wrist as he straightened his bright silk tie. He climbed the steps to the podium, and the man in the pinstripes positioned himself in the shadows behind Mr. Wolfe, his fingers poised over the keyboard of a BlackBerry.
"Thank you, Mayor Lawson," Mr. Wolfe said, his voice rolling over us like an oil slick. "I'm thrilled to be here, representing the Guild."
"Oh, my God, just guild me now," moaned Jenny.
"Shut up," I whispered. "What on earth is a huge company like them doing in Twin Willows?"
"Maybe they've located the world's richest oil pipeline right down Main Street, and they're going to blow up the town," Jenny said with a yawn.
I rolled my eyes. "Be serious."
"Serious? Moi?" She grinned. "The only thing I'm serious about is how cute Monsieur Wolfe's son is."
I glanced at the black-haired boy sitting in the front row and felt another punch to the gut. The thought of sitting next to that beautiful boy in class made my insides fall to pieces. "I wonder if he—they—are in our grade. They look our age."
"The Guild is involved in many industries across the globe," Mr. Wolfe said, his voice breaking my attention away from his son.
I wrestled my focus back to the podium.
"We create jobs and empower communities. From the Congo to Venezuela, men, women, and children have benefited from our presence." Mr. Wolfe lowered his notes and swept his gaze over the hall. His cheeks shone with a translucent rosiness, like a light switch had gone on inside him. "We touch lives. And we are here in Twin Willows to touch you."
"Ew." Jenny stuck her tongue out. "That sounds slightly pornographic."
I stifled a giggle.
"Our team of engineers at the Guild has located a unique confluence of water sources that we think would provide the perfect location for a hydroelectric power plant."
Low muttering broke out across the room.
Mr. Wolfe tapped the cards on the edge of the podium. "Before anyone jumps to any conclusions, let me clarify a few things. This isn't the kind of hydroelectric power plant that you've seen before. This is a brand-new technology that the Guild has been developing for years. We are on the cutting edge of the future. We're going to build something the world has never seen!"
I stared at Mr. Wolfe. Damn, but he had drunk a lot of Kool-Aid.
The assistant behind him coughed quietly.
Mr. Wolfe half turned and gave a little nod. He took a deep breath. When he spoke again, his voice was even, automated. "The Guild's plant will not involve building a dam or the displacement of the population. We simply want to harness the power of the water to bring affordable and sustainable energy to the area."
I hugged one leg up to my chest. There was a place in the woods near my house—a special place—but they couldn't possibly mean there. As far as I knew, I was the only person alive who knew about it. I rested my chin on my knee, focusing on the Wolfe family. As though he sensed me, the boy turned around. My brain told me to look away, but my body wouldn't cooperate. His eyes found mine. Something broke inside me, but I quickly set it right again and forced myself to look away. After a few minutes, when I dared to glance back, the Wolfe boy had faced front.
Mr. Wolfe finished his pitch. "I know you all have a lot of questions, which I will be happy to answer in the public forums I will be scheduling in the near future. The Guild has a policy of being open and honest with the communities it serves." He smiled for the first time that night, and it gave me a headache, like I had eaten a Popsicle too fast.
"Yeah, right," Jenny muttered.
"My mother has been signing petitions against the Guild for years. She's going to have a conniption fit when she finds out they're invading our town. It's gonna be like Berkeley 1969 revisited."
I watched Mr. Wolfe step down from the podium and sit next to his wife. She didn't even acknowledge him. In fact, the whole family seemed to shift away from him. "I do kinda get a weird feeling from him."
"Yeah. It's too bad the son is so hot." Jenny gave a big dramatic sigh. "I'm gonna let you have him. It looks like there's baggage there, and you know I don't do heavy lifting."
I swatted at her, but she ducked away, laughing.
At the end of the meeting, Jenny and I dawdled, letting the hall empty out until the Wolfe family was halfway up the aisle with Mayor Lawson. When she spotted us, she waved us down. "These are students from the local high school."
"It's wonderful to see young people take an interest in their town," Mr. Wolfe said. He threw us a thousand-watt smile. Now that I saw him up close, I noticed his smile didn't reach any other part of his face.
Jenny pushed me into the aisle. "Our government teacher makes us come," she said. Mayor Lawson shot her a stony look.
Mr. Wolfe buttoned his suit jacket and smoothed the lapels. "Ah, well. Still."
"What year did you say your children are in school?" Mayor Lawson asked Mrs. Wolfe.
Mr. Wolfe answered before his wife could speak. "Bree and Jonah are juniors. They're twins."
His assistant stepped in, knocking Mayor Lawson off-balance. By the time she righted herself, the two men had stepped off to the side, their heads bent over the assistant's BlackBerry. The mayor sidled over to them, obviously eager to be part of their club.
"We're juniors too," Jenny said to the remaining Wolfes. "Jenny Sands. And this is Alessia Jacobs."
Bree crossed her arms over her chest and looked away.
"We're going to Joe's, the coffee shop across the street," Jenny continued.
I looked at her; we had no such plans.
"There's probably other kids from school over there if you guys want to come."
"We still have unpacking to do." Mrs. Wolfe spoke for the first time all night. Her voice was brittle, like a piece of splintered wood.
"Go ahead, kids," Mr. Wolfe said, not looking up from the BlackBerry.
The twins looked from one parent to the other and seemed to decide collectively to follow their father's instruction. I fell in step with the Wolfe twins as we followed Jenny outside. I couldn't help sneaking looks at Jonah, and when he caught me looking, my skin turned hot.
Jenny stopped on the sidewalk in front of the town hall. "Is that your car?" she asked, pointing to a sleek silver sedan parked at the curb. It looked like something out of a James Bond movie.
"Yeah, so?" Bree said.
"It's in a no-parking zone," Jenny said and marched across the street to Joe's Coffee Shop.
I followed her. Bond or no Bond, that car wouldn't help them once the snows came. There was a reason that most people in Twin Willows drove trucks.
The bell over the door to Joe's jangled when we entered. One of the large corner booths was crammed with a bunch of our friends from school, and we wound through the packed tables.
"Where were you tonight?" Jenny asked our friend Carly, who was squeezed in between two sophomore boys trying to have simultaneous conversations with her.
"I had my piano lesson, and my mother wouldn't let me out of it." Carly's parents were determined to make her a concert pianist, even though Carly was the first to admit her musical talent was mediocre at best. "Can you fill me in?"
"Well—" I glanced at Bree who stood beside me, her lip curled as she surveyed the other kids in the booth. "Um, this is Bree Wolfe. Her family just moved to town." I looked past her, scanning the restaurant. "Where'd your brother go?"
"Why?" Bree slid her gaze up and down the full length of my body, making me flush. "Got a crush?"
My jaw dropped.
Before I could answer, Jenny stepped in front of me. "Look, Wolfe," she said, bringing her face almost nose to nose with Bree, "we're just trying to be nice. But if you want to make enemies with the entire school before your first day, be my guest." She spun around, whipping Bree in the face with her long blonde hair, and climbed over one of the sophomores to squish in next to Carly.
Bree seemed about to claw Jenny's eyes out, thought the better of it, and stalked out of the coffee shop.
Jenny snorted and bent her head toward Carly, the two of them whispering.
I pressed my lips together. Jenny was the best friend a girl could have, but sometimes she had problems with compassion. It had to be hard coming to a new school; I didn't want Bree to think she wasn't welcome. I slipped away from the table and headed to the door.
Darkness had swept over Main Street, and the dim streetlamps lit the pavement with pools of yellow light. I spotted Bree half a block down from Joe's and hurried to catch up, my shoulders hunched against the evening chill. "Hey!"
She tossed her hands in the air and gave an exaggerated sigh. "What's your problem?"
"I don't have one," I said. "I just came out here to make sure you were okay. Sensitivity isn't always Jenny's strong suit."
"I'm fine. Like you care." Bree shook her head slightly and smirked. "You small-town girls are all the same. The minute the new-kid novelty wears off, I'll be invisible."
"Maybe we're different. You'll never know until you give us a chance."
She dug inside her coat and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.
I made a face; I hated smokers.
Bree lit her cigarette, her gaze still on me. "I don't need to give you a chance. We'll be gone soon enough." She took a pull on her cigarette and blew a cloud of smoke right in my face.
I coughed and stumbled back a step. Standing against the door of the closed hardware store, hidden by the shadows, was Jonah. "Oh!" I pressed a hand to my chest. "I didn't see—have you been there this whole time?"
He pushed away from the wall. A slant of lamplight fell across his face. "Yeah. Sorry. I didn't mean to scare you." His voice was soft as just-fallen snow. He was close enough now that I could see flecks of gold in his deep green eyes. He stared at me for a moment before he turned to Bree. "I think we should go home."
"Yeah, we're done here," she said, flicking her half-finished cigarette on the ground. She stepped off the curb and walked down the middle of the street without looking back.
"Listen, I know how Bree comes off," Jonah said. "But she's not really like that. She's pissed because this is the fourth time we've moved this year."
"Wow." I shifted a little closer to him. "Doesn't that piss you off too?"
He shrugged one shoulder and tucked his hands in his pockets. "Yeah, but I just show it in a different way." His smile, unlike his father's, reached into every part of his face, lighting up his eyes and cheeks from within.
Without meaning to, I felt myself smiling back. "Like how?"
He leaned in close to me. "Oh, you know. The usual. Sneaking out in the middle of the night to break into the library, borrowing the car without asking to go to the museum."
I laughed. "Stealing money out of your mom's purse to give to the local orphanage ..."
Excerpted from Winter Falls by Nicole Maggi. Copyright © 2014 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
What an incredibly boring book. I do not recommend it.
Fascinating premise based on 14th century Inquisition research about the Italian Benandanti, people who separated their bodies from their souls, which transformed into animals and birds. Author Nicole Maggi has set her story WINTER FALLS in a Maine setting and contemporary time period. The writing is smooth, the nature scenes the best, the human-creature transformations believable, and the relationships realistic and endearing. There is mystery, intrigue, suspense, and a Romance to rival Romeo and Juliet. I read this novel on an ARC tour in exchange for an honest review.