Witch of Wild Things

Witch of Wild Things

by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Witch of Wild Things

Witch of Wild Things

by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland


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One of Amazon's Best Romances of September!
A People Magazine Romantasy Pick!

Legend goes that long ago a Flores woman offended the old gods, and their family was cursed as a result. Now, every woman born to the family has a touch of magic.

Sage Flores has been running from her family—and their “gifts”—ever since her younger sister Sky died. Eight years later, Sage reluctantly returns to her hometown. Like slipping into an old, comforting sweater, Sage takes back her job at Cranberry Rose Company and uses her ability to communicate with plants to discover unusual heritage specimens in the surrounding lands.

What should be a simple task is complicated by her partner in botany sleuthing: Tennessee Reyes. He broke her heart in high school, and she never fully recovered. Working together is reminding her of all their past tender, genuine moments—and new feelings for this mature sexy man are starting to take root in her heart.

With rare plants to find, a dead sister who keeps bringing her coffee, and another sister whose anger fills the sky with lightning, Sage doesn’t have time for romance. But being with Tenn is like standing in the middle of a field on the cusp of a summer thunderstorm—supercharged and inevitable.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593548578
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/12/2023
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 44,487
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland is a Pura Belpré Award-winning Mexican American poet, novelist, and painter. She received her BA in cultural anthropology from the University of West Florida and her MFA in poetry from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Raquel is most inspired by folklore and seeds and the lineages of all things. When not writing, Raquel tells stories to her plants, and they tell her stories back. Witch of Wild Things is her third novel.

Read an Excerpt


My great-aunt Nadia says it's a bad idea to reject a gift from a ghost.

It's 'cause ghosts like to slide inside all kinds of worlds. They don't just roam the land of the living or the dead. They can show up in our dream worlds to meddle. They can touch the world of shadows and eat the light from your own home, just sucking up the long, thick gold of nightlights and fixtures like dead black holes. "Just ask your prima Cleotilde," Nadia always says, her wine-red acrylic nail in my face as she points. "She once offended the ghost of her abuelo, and boom. Lamps didn't work around her for years."

The scariest world that ghosts can touch is the world of gods. The old gods. The ancient gods. The gods we've heard of and the even more numerous gods we haven't. Nadia pours one cup of espresso to these gods every single morning. This woman would rather light St. Theresa's on fire than skip this daily offering.

And if you've got a ghost haunting you, there's no way to tell if one of these gods favors that ghost. So you offend a ghost? You reject her gift?

You might be offending a god.

Apparently, it's a really bad idea to offend gods. That's how you end up with the women in our family and our gifts.

This means that when I climb in my janky-ass minivan and see the cup of coffee in the console? Yes, that cup of coffee-the mug, a gift from one of my former students, hand thrown and glazed the color of lilacs against a lightning storm. The one steaming with notes of raspberry and a hint of chocolate. The one that I most certainly did not place there. The second I smell it-because yeah, I smell it first-I throw myself into my seat and press my face into the steering wheel. "Shit," I say in a long exhale.

I hate gifts from ghosts.

In order to distract myself from the sweet steam swirling around me, I grab my phone, hitting buttons as fast as my fingers can go.

Laurel picks up even before the first ring ends. "Hey! You on your way yet?"

I glance at the back of my van. Every seat is pushed down to make way for half a dozen boxes, triple that in plants, and an antique reading chair. Most of the boxes contain books-I can see a sliver of Joy Harjo's She Had Some Horses peeking through cardboard I hadn't bothered to tape shut. It's my favorite of her collections, because it reminds me of the stories Nadia used to tell us when Teal, Sky, and I were tiny enough to squeeze onto one twin bed. I can still hear Nadia's smoky voice filling our room. "In the beginning, there were only gods. Gods and this earth . . ."

Now Teal, Sky, and I will never be all together again. I take a shuddering breath as this reality sweeps over me for the millionth time in eight years, like the garnet-sharp winds of a tornado. There and gone in a moment, but leaving behind painful, devastating destruction. That's how grief works.

"Sage Flores, are you ignoring me?"

I blink and jerk my face toward the console. The coffee is still there. Jerk. "No, of course not. I'm just about on my way. I'm in the van and everything."

"Okay, well, that's a good start. Next step, take your key, you know, the shiny silver thing in your hand right now, and push it through that teeny hole on the side of-"

"Literally giving you my middle finger right now," I say, but I'm laughing.

"Seriously, Sage. You've got this."

I glance up at my apartment-well, I guess it's not mine anymore. It's the third floor up, and the balcony still has dirt on the rails from when I watered my basil plants a little too violently. I take a deep breath, hoping the scent of that basil can calm me.

All I smell is ghost coffee.

"Want me to distract you?"

I put the phone on speaker and place it in the cup holder next to the mug. "Go for it."

"You'll never guess who I saw last night. At Piggly Wiggly of all places."

I sit back in my seat. I get the key in the ignition as I say, "Piggly Wiggly?" I think of who wouldn't be caught dead there. "Amá Sonya?"

Laurel draws out the response long and slow. "Tennessee. Reyes."

It may well be the absolute last name I'd expected her to utter. I think I would've been less shocked if she'd announced it were Amá Sonya at Piggly Wiggly, naked as birth, juggling plums in the middle of produce.

My breath's gone way too shallow, my hand gripping the key so tight it's cutting into my fingers. I turn the ignition, hard, but stay in park while clearing my throat. "Tennessee Reyes?" As though there were any other on the planet. "You're certain?"

"It was him, Sage. Trust me."

I close my eyes. "But . . . he moved to Denver and then got off social media and, like-"

"Disappeared off the face of the earth? Yeah. But I guess he's deigned to walk the earth's face once more, because he is in Piggly Wiggly, in Cranberry, Virginia. Or was, as of yesterday."

My heart's finally gone back to a normal rhythm and so I slowly begin reversing the van, angling my head back. "How does he look?" The question's out before I can stop it.

"Oh, gosh. Somehow better."

"Better?" It comes out like a squeak. Better doesn't seem possible.

"He's . . . I dunno. He's grown into those legs. And he's got this yummy almost-beard thing happening . . . hold on." Her voice gets distant. "No, hon, of course I'm talking about you! Well, I mean if you grew a beard thing!" Laurel sighs. "I think my husband just heard me verbally ogling another man."

Normally I'd laugh and keep up with their teasing each other, but my stomach keeps making stupid, roller-coaster-y loops somehow in my rib cage. Because Tennessee Reyes is back in Cranberry.

Tenn is back in Cranberry.

"Well, that's something." I've made it to the edge of the lot now without hitting any parked vehicles in my emotional state. That's also something.

"Guess that distracted you good, huh? You sound like you've morphed into some kind of zombie." When I give a flat chuckle in response, Laurel adds, "You okay, Sage?" in a soft voice. I hate that voice. It only comes out when I'm near tears. And to me? The consequences of crying are worse than those of offending gods.

I blink and blink and then respond. "Oh, yeah." I try to make my voice smooth, but it's as useless as ironing linen. "I'm just not looking forward to-you know. Moving back with Nadia." With Teal.

Laurel hears what I don't say. "Maybe she won't be as bad as you remember."

The last time I saw my sister, she cracked my lip open so wide, I needed four stitches. Later she said she didn't mean it-that she'd forgotten she'd worn such a sharp ring that day-but that just tells me that she did mean everything else. As in, the whole situation of her fist in my face.

"Oh, yeah." I finally make a right onto the main road as someone starts honking behind me. "It won't be that bad."

"I'll make you pollo a la plancha the second you get here."

I manage a smile. "Now you're talking."

"Nothing like Cuban comfort food to get settled in." There's a muffled noise in the background. "Ah, I gotta go."

"Tell Jorge I said hi."

"Drive safe and text me the second you get to Nadia's, yeah?"

"Of course. Love you."

"Love you more."

When I merge onto the highway, I do a double take at my reflection in the rearview mirror. My eyes are wide, the brown almost citrine in the sunlight, and my mascara is already smudged even though I applied it less than an hour ago. My hair-a mass of curls I'd braided and pinned up-looks like it's trying to break the hair tie keeping it from reaching down and steering this car without any of my help. I look like a twenty-nine-year-old who is freaking the fuck out.

I am a twenty-nine-year-old who is freaking the fuck out.

Why on earth is Tenn back in Cranberry?

I take a deep breath as I veer toward my first exit. It doesn't matter. What happened between us, it was over a decade ago, which feels like a dozen lifetimes by now. And that's exactly where anything between Tenn and me will stay-buried in the memories of seventeen-year-old me, back when I thought heartbreak was the worst thing that could happen to a person.

I have better things to worry about now. I take a long sip of my now lukewarm coffee.

Like ghosts.


March 2, 2001
14 years ago

silvergurl0917: what haven't you noticed today?

RainOnATennRoof: Wow

RainOnATennRoof: What didn't you say?

silvergurl0917: what didn't you laugh at

RainOnATennRoof: What didn't you do?

silvergurl0917: what didn't you think about

silvergurl0917: . . . you there?

RainOnATennRoof: You

RainOnATennRoof: I didn't think about you. Until now. :)

RainOnATennRoof: Who is this?

silvergurl0917 has logged off Messenger.


It takes exactly four hours and seventeen minutes to reach Catalina Street in Cranberry. Without even thinking about it, I slow the car down well before Nadia's house, eventually pulling over in front of Old Man Noemi's in-street parking. From here I can see enough. There's the emerald ivy curling over Nadia's place like a clawed, leafy hand. When I crane my neck a little, I make out the glow from her kitchen, through the daisy-patterned curtains she sewed herself when we were little kids.

From here I can look at my new life and think about all the senseless mistakes that led me to this moment.

Sleeping with the department head.

Deciding to never again sleep with the department head.

All that stupidity leading to a very convenient firing under the evergreen excuse of budget cuts.

In my mind's eye, I'm back in Gregory's office, tucked in the basement of the art department at Temple University. It is one big square with no windows, and there are piles of random objects everywhere. I had found the mess charming once, but this day, all I see is trash. A constellation of Skittles peeks out from under his desk. At the very bottom of a pile of abstract expressionists' biographies is a first edition of For Whom the Bell Tolls, covered in a thin layer of mold after a coffee spill.

My classroom is right above us-the jewelry studio. It's my favorite place on campus, maybe even in the whole city. It's got a dozen jewelry benches, each one made of rustic, knobbed wood. A wall of windows faces northwest, which means my classes get the most luscious gold afternoon light-the perfect setting for photographing finished pieces. A raw turquoise, blue as photos of the deep sea, bezel set in brass. A silver locket that opens to a faceted Montana sapphire that glows like a lantern made of cornflowers.

Every day, my students amaze me, but my favorite part of teaching is witnessing the ways they amaze themselves. How they go from I can't do this to Holy shit, I did that.

And now Greg is taking it all away.

Greg's arms are crossed as he gives me a big, fake sigh. "I tried everything, Sage. It's just . . ." He waves his hands. "You know how it is."

And that's how he dismissed me from the life I'd pulled together from nothing. The one I'd slept in my van for. The one I'd sold basil starts at farmer's markets for. The one I'd stitched and scraped and carved up from the thinnest air, all to get away from the one place I never, ever wanted to live in again.

And now I'm looking right at it.


My eyes well with tears before I can stop them. "No," I whisper. "No, no, stop-"

A single tear makes it to an eyelash, and I violently swipe it away.

But it's too late.

Next to me, in the passenger seat, a figure materializes like the pale curls of coffee steam. It's only one tear, so her edges stay as blurry as a dream. It's only one tear, so the ghost is gone before either of us can say a damn thing.

And what would I say, anyway? Sorry for killing you? Thanks for the coffee? Leave me alone now, please?

I take a breath, as deep and long as I can make it, and turn the car back on.


Shit." I breathe into my steering wheel for the second time today because, fuck me, my sister's boyfriend is over. His truck is wedged between the driveway and Nadia's creeping thyme, large and matte black and with a bed so small it's useless.

I back up onto the street and grab my purse. When I step out, I'm overtaken not for the first time in my life by how epic Nadia's house is. It's two stories with a giant attic, covered in pale indigo siding, illustrations of stained glass etched around the windows, mostly of bugs and flowers. When we were little, we'd track the progress of the roses and butterflies across the hardwood floors, pretending they were real. We'd leave them snacks of popcorn that Vieja, Nadia's calico cat, would gobble up.

There's a huge front yard for the garden-because there's nothing behind the house. It backs into a cliff, and when you're on the attic balcony, you can look way down and see the endless emerald of trees, and look way out and see the endless lapis of sea, and look up and see the endless sapphire of sky.

"It's us," I once told my sisters. We, put together, were the landscape. Teal and Sky and Sage.

Not anymore, though.

I trudge toward the door, open it, and am assaulted by the sunflower yellow of Nadia's kitchen. Has she repainted it recently? Or have I just forgotten how bright it is?

"¡ Mija!" Nadia appears out of nowhere, throwing me into her arms. She covers my face in kisses, and just like that, I'm ten years old again, unable to keep my smile in. She smells like she always does, like old books and cinnamon, espresso and the garden all put together. I wish I could put it in a candle to light when I'm feeling all kinds of lonely, which is just about all the time these days.

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