Castle Coven Book 1
Even an outcast can reach for love.
Though novice witch Hailey Devereaux seems to have settled into her latest coven, she knows that it can’t last. Tucked against the remote Alps of northern Italy, the Angioli coven is ill at ease with their newest member. Whispers and fearful glances follow her everywhere.
But the arrival of a Magus Corps major ends all that. Kieran McCallen isn’t afraid of her singular ability. Instead he’s been sent to nurture and test it. Though Hailey’s waif-like and delicate beauty are charming, her power is the stuff of legend.
Each loners in their own way, Kieran glimpses Hailey’s fiercely protective spirit when it comes to friends. For her part, Hailey dares to hope that she’s found the person and place meant for her. But their bond is put to the test by danger and by duty, forcing each of them to impossible choices.
What Readers Are Saying
Danger, drama, action, romance, amazing characters, wonderful storyline and a whole lot more.
I was recently introduced to this author and this series. I love it. Hailey has lead such a lonely life.
…this book is solid and I really do feel that the author understands (and loves) her world – which is always great.
I enjoyed this one. I have read a few other books by this author and just as with the others, I was enthralled. I was so involved with the story, the characters, the Abbey, and trying to both figure out what was happening and what was going to happen that I was at the end before I realized it.
He could find me any day. I couldn't put this book down. Its the first in a series and I can't wait to read book two.
Though the common halls of the Angioli coven’s holding were tall and vaulted, as befit the medieval monastery it had once been, most of the private rooms were dark and small. Even the abbot’s quarters were dim in the midday light. Though the monastery had been wired for electricity a generation ago, Donato Angioli kept the light low.
Today, though, the coven master could wish that he had chosen differently.
In the shadows of his personal chambers, the man who stood in front of him looked primitive, almost savage. He was tall, and there was a powerful bulk to him that made the coven master think of bears and wolves, the powerful beasts that ruled the Alps and paid no attention to the dominion of this lord or that country.
Donato was seated behind his desk, and the man stood in front of it. By any measure, the man was a supplicant. He had come to ask for a favor. Donato himself held the rank of coven master. He was a powerful warlock who had survived for almost three hundred years. He had many allies and contacts from all over the world. But he knew with painstaking clarity that mattered little in this situation. The man’s deferential posture was a courtesy. It rankled, and Donato frowned.
“You are being deliberately vague in your request,” Donato said at last.
The shadowed man shrugged.
“I have been perfectly clear. The Magus Corps is interested in Hailey Devereaux’s skills, and I am here to evaluate them.”
“The Magus Corps plays the long game, and that tells me nothing,” snapped Donato.
His nerves were fraying, and he knew it. The Magus Corps had a long reach and longer claws. Having a Magus Corps major in his coven made him nervous.
“It may be as you say, but my orders are clear. I am here to evaluate her. What comes next is not something I am prepared to discuss with you.”
The dismissal was implied but pointed. Donato’s lips sheered back from his teeth. A shower of sparks sputtered and danced around his fingertips. Though he knew what a very bad idea it was to do battle with a major of the Magus Corps, he was tempted to it anyway. He had ruled the Angioli coven for generations, and he had not done it by allowing insolence.
The man in front of him did nothing. He did not acknowledge the coven master’s threat with word or motion, but suddenly, the window at Donato’s elbow blew in, carrying with it a breath of alpine air that was colder than it should have been. Donato hissed at the chill and then watched as a thin blade of ice formed in front of his eyes.
It was as narrow as a pencil, but wickedly sharp at the tip. It danced through the air, weaving patterns just inches away from Donato’s face. The threat was clear, and the coven master dropped his hand.
“What, pray tell, does evaluating her involve?” Donato asked stiffly. “She is under my care.”
The man inclined his head, the ice blade melting to nothing.
“Nothing that will harm her. Nothing that will harm any members of your coven. I swear it on the iron pentacle that I wear. But my orders are precise and, coven master, I am the will of the Magus Corps. We will not be denied.”
The words were uttered softly but with an edge of menace like distant thunder. Donato swallowed twice and nodded.
“You will have my full cooperation, of course,” he said stiffly. “Shall I summon Miss Devereaux to us for this test?”
For the first time, the man hesitated. Then he shook his head.
“No. I will go find her myself.”
Donato allowed himself a small smile.
“Then the best of luck to you, Major. I wish you joy of her.”
• • • • •
When Hailey had first learned that she was being sent to Italy to hone her powers, her head had been full of visions of Rome, of sun-kissed vineyards and of a beautiful Mediterranean country lush with beauty. She had not pictured the snowy reaches of the Amato Valley, one of the northernmost and remote of Italy’s provinces. She had not pictured seeing her breath more than twenty days out of thirty, and she had not imagined the only village being a good two hours’ hike down the hill. The plains of Italy rolled straight into the foothills of the Alps, and even in the summer, there was a bite of cold to the air.
Despite the persistent chill that left her feeling eternally a little tired, there was a certain beauty to the Angioli coven’s stronghold. It had been a monastery once upon a time, but the Italian coven had taken it over centuries ago.
As she walked the long road down to the village, in her hoodie, jeans and boots, Hailey looked even younger than she was. She knew that technically she should have been at her books, but that morning she had pulled down the ancient treatise she had been translating and made an important realization.
If I have to sit here and translate with the twittering of the other coven members in my ears, I do believe that I shall scream.
The thought appeared bright and fully formed in her mind. Just then, she heard a twitter of hushed giggles behind her. Turning around, she could see Letizia and Francesca watching her over their books. In that moment she had realized that she’d been completely and utterly right.
She had sighed, stretched, and leaving her books where they lay, she’d made as if she was going to go to the bathroom. Instead she’d taken a quick detour that was now turning into a hike down the mountain. She smiled to leave her coven mates behind.
The day was crisp and cool. Though the temperatures would drop like a rock when night fell, right now there was sun on her face, and she walked with a bounce in her step. With her red hair, short stature and slender build, she looked like she should have been in the Scottish highlands rather than the Italian mountains. She smiled up at the clear blue sky, and her smile got even wider when she heard her name whispered close by.
She paused, looking around, but she was unsurprised that she couldn’t see anyone.
“Beatrice, come out,” she said, trying and failing to hide a smile. “You know you’re not supposed to leave the coven grounds without permission.”
One moment, it looked like she was alone on the narrow track, and the next, there was a grinning teen with long, curling black hair hanging down her back. Even at the age of sixteen, Beatrice was taller than Hailey and curvier besides, something the teen loved to point out when they bickered.
“Who’s to say that I didn’t get permission? Perhaps I am out running an errand for Donato.”
Hailey crossed her arms over her chest and raised an eyebrow.
“I find that fairly unlikely. Donato takes your education seriously. I doubt he would let you out of your tutoring today simply to go down to the village. What did you do to your tutor?”
Beatrice waved her hand airily.
“Nothing, nothing,” she said, and when Hailey continued to look unimpressed, she rolled her eyes.
“Fine, he believes that I am studiously working on my mathematics. I asked Luca to project an image of me in the study.”
“Beatrice, he’s only ten!” Hailey cried, slightly scandalized.
“So it only cost me a handful of candy and my old comics to do the deed, yes? Besides, I know all of that already. He will find no fault in me when the time comes to test my knowledge.”
Beatrice tossed her hair and walked down the path ahead of Hailey, all leggy grace and adolescent pride.
Hailey wondered what it would have been like to be born into the Wiccan world rather than being born a magic worker to non-magical parents. Beatrice and Luca were among the handful of children and teens studying at Angioli who had been born to witches and warlocks. They had known their entire lives that they had special powers. Unlike Hailey’s, which had awakened when she lost her virginity, the powers of Wiccan-born witches and warlocks appeared when they were still children.
Still, no one could say that Wiccan children had it easy. Beatrice’s parents had been killed years ago in a Templar raid. The girl sometimes still woke up screaming from the memories of that night. When she remembered that, Hailey’s heart softened, and she would let Beatrice get away with far more than she should have.
Still, it was a beautiful day, and if she had been tempted to sneak out and avoid her own work, she could hardly be self-righteous about Beatrice wanting to do the same. She hurried to catch up with her friend, threading her arm through Beatrice’s and walking with her.
“All right, but we’re going to make this quick, okay? It’s probably not good for Luca to keep up a spell like that too long. No matter how good you are at mathematics, you still need to put in the work.”
“Just like you need to study the works of the ancients, yes?” asked Beatrice slyly.
Hailey shook her head.
“Latin makes my head spin, and frankly, I wasn’t feeling all that welcome in the library today.”
Beatrice’s cheerful grin turned into a storm cloud in an instant, and she took Hailey’s hand, holding it tightly.
“Who was it this time? What did they say?”
Hailey shook her head, feeling tired of the whole mess.
“They didn’t say anything, Bea, they never do. They’re probably too smart for that. It’s loads better than when I first came here though.”
Beatrice relaxed, but her look was still stormy.
“Ah, because it is so much better to be mocked and reviled than it is to be feared. I see.”
“You’re overstating. No one was mocking or reviling me.”
Not that it hadn’t almost come to that on occasion, Hailey thought. But that wasn’t something Beatrice needed to know.
“It’s terrible. We heard of you coming here, and right away there were people who protested. In the old days, some said, you would never have a coven to call your own. Covens would refuse to take people like you. Francesca was so frightened she told everyone she would never even let you cross her path.”
The pang was an old one, but it was still there, and Hailey shrugged.
“That’s not new. They said the same thing when I went to the coven in Canada, and to the one in Buenos Aires before that.”
“Oh yes, they are so wise,” Beatrice scoffed. “And then you came, and look, all you wanted to do was study our books and peer at our old scrolls. What a monster!”
Hailey had to laugh at her friend’s offense. Beatrice’s skill was to make herself unseen. It always struck Hailey as a strange gift for a young woman who thrived on making her opinions, wishes and thoughts known in the most obvious way.
“Yes, I am a monster,” Hailey agreed. “Roar, I’m coming to eat your babies and to throw your maidens off the high cliffs!”
Beatrice frowned and started to say something, but she yelped instead when Hailey lunged for her, pushing her into the soft grass at the side of the road. With an offended yowl, the teenager fought her friend off, and stood a few steps away, smoothing down her long dark skirt with a fussy catlike expression.
“You are no monster,” she said sternly. “The people who laugh at you now are the same ones who were wetting themselves with terror just a few months ago. They simply do not like being reminded that they were afraid for so little reason.”
Hailey laughed ruefully.
“I wish everyone saw what you did. Come on, I’m sorry I ruffled your clothing. Let’s walk a little faster. It’s going to get colder the longer we dawdle.”
For a little while, they walked in silence, but then Beatrice glanced at her friend again.
“There is something going on, though,” she said thoughtfully, and Hailey regarded her warily.
“What doors have you been listening at?” she asked. “You’re lucky they haven’t caught you yet.”
“They will never catch me,” said Beatrice with a smile. “I am far too clever. And I’ve not been listening at doors. I’ve been watching. Have you noticed how angry Donato looks? Have you noticed how the elders of the coven are rustling like old books?”
Hailey paused, biting her lip. Despite Beatrice’s flair for the dramatic, the younger witch wasn’t wrong. There was something going on in the Angioli coven, and though she knew that she hadn’t been doing anything wrong, that had never stopped bad things from happening before.
She wondered if the coven had simply become tired or too stressed from her presence. This had happened before, and then it was only a matter of time before she was told that she had to be taken to a new place. There were excuses for it, and plenty of explanations. It was often explained as the best option for everyone concerned.
Hailey had grown up in the United States foster care system, however, and she was familiar enough with that speech that it stopped stinging. Mostly.
“No one’s told me anything about it,” she said firmly. “Until someone makes it my business, I don’t have to worry.”
Beatrice looked monumentally unsatisfied with this, but she shrugged, linking arms with Hailey again. Below them, the red roofs of the village could be seen. It was nearly as ancient as the monastery above, but Hailey knew that the village had modernized in many ways. It was a lovely place, and in the warmer months, it always hosted at least a few tourists who were charmed by its beauty. Most of the villagers simply assumed that the people who lived at the old monastery were members of a communal farm. The coven members were considered perhaps a little radical, but pleasant overall. The village had several stores, ranging from the bakery to the butcher’s, but what drew Hailey was the bookshop.
It was an ancient place, and she could imagine that it had looked exactly the same as it had for the last few centuries. It was a beautiful store, dark and dry, and the leaded windows let in gorgeous pinpoints of brightness. When the bell above the door rang, a large marmalade tom trotted out to meet them, winding first around Hailey’s ankles and then Beatrice’s.
The proprietor, a wizened man with only a few tufts of frail hair left on his bald head, smiled to see them. His English was quite good, which made their exchange much easier.
“Ah, signorina, what a pleasure it is to see you. I take it you are looking for the Liona di Orsini work that I promised you?”
Hailey grinned. If she could never get along with her own coven members, she could get along with ancient bookstore owners. No matter where she went or who she was with, she had always had more books than friends, and some things simply did not change.
“Yes, Mr. Vestri,” she said. “I’ve been looking forward to it, and the day was so beautiful that I simply could not stay away.”
“Ah, you are in luck then,” said the older man. “Let me go and get it for you.”
He hustled to the back room, and given how messy she knew it was, Hailey was prepared for him to take some time. She glanced over to see that Beatrice was already perusing the books on ancient astronomy and leaned down to pet the cat. The bell of the door tinkled, followed by a chill like an omen.
Hailey looked up and found herself staring at the man in the doorway.
He was dressed all in black, and though Hailey was a little cold in her hoodie, he looked comfortable in his button-down shirt, the sleeves folded up to reveal forearms that were corded with muscle. He was tall––tall enough to tower over her. In that moment, with the afternoon sun behind him, he looked like a god of the mysteries, something mysterious and foreign come to earth.
Then he stepped forward, and she breathed a silent sigh of relief. He was only a man, though one that was strikingly handsome. With sleek black hair and the high cheekbones that signified Slavic blood, there was not a hint of softness to him. At least, that was what she thought until he set eyes on her. His lips curled into a small smile, and startled, she smiled back.
“Are you American?” he asked, and she was startled to find out that his English was perfect, though slightly accented.
“I am,” she said hesitantly. “Is it so very obvious?”
Hailey was aware that Beatrice was watching everything avidly from the cover of the shelves.
“A little. I’ve only been in Italy for a few days, but I already miss understanding what’s going on around me.”
“It’s not so bad,” Hailey said with a slight smile. “I find that I can get around well enough.”
He started to answer, but then the shop owner came back, a green leather-bound book in his hands. The spine was quite gone, and the stitching was all that was holding the pages together, but Hailey still smiled to see it.
“Is this really it?” she asked, and Mr. Vestri smiled, passing it to her reverent hands.
“It is, and it was not so easy to get.”
Liona di Orsini was a woman written about in history books. Though many historians wrote about her, very few of them knew that she was a witch of some renown. Her own work, an untitled volume distinguished only by the illustration of a stained glass rose window on the first plate, was considered a minor work of mysticism, but when it was a witch or warlock reading it, it revealed much more.
Hailey opened the book to see the signature rose window, and she knew that she was smiling broadly. She was not expecting to have the book plucked out of her hands. With a startled yelp, she looked around, only to see her precious book in the hands of the man who had come into the store. He was looking at it curiously, turning it over and over, and she stifled the urge to snatch it back from him.
“That’s not yours,” she said, her voice just short of a snarl.
“It’s not yours either, is it?” he asked casually.
He opened the book, looking at the same page that she had been examining, and one dark eyebrow lifted.
“Liona di Orsini? What kind of work are you doing?”
“What does it matter? That’s my book that you’re holding, and I will thank you to give it back.”
He ignored her, flipping through the pages with a carelessness that made her grit her teeth. There were very few reproductions of this volume. It was not precisely valuable, because the interest in it was so low, but it was difficult to find. She couldn’t imagine what this tourist could want with it.
“It’s not in amazing condition, but it’s not bad,” he allowed.
To the proprietor, he turned and pulled out a wad of euros. Both Hailey and the bookseller gasped to see how much it was. The tourist smiled slightly.
“I’d like to take this book off your hands,” he said.
Hailey could have stomped her foot with rage.
“That’s…” she started, and then she stopped.
The amount of money in his hand was far more than the book was worth, and he seemed willing to pay simply to make her angry. She bit her lip, and made her decision. If he wanted it, he would have to pay.
“Signore,” she said. “I insist that you sell that book to me. I am willing to offer you four hundred euros.”
“And I’ll give you five,” the man said.
The old man glanced between them, clearly distressed.
“Six,” she offered, but the man raised her another hundred without pause.
She chewed her lip as if debating, and when she said eight hundred euros, the tourist offered a round nine hundred without hesitating. Hailey wondered if she could have pushed it further, but her nerve broke, and she only scowled.
“I don’t have any more,” she muttered, doing her best to look downcast and beaten. She would miss the Liona di Orsini, but there were other books anyway.
The tourist smiled at her, and she lifted her chin angrily.
There was a strange tug to his smile, something that pulled at her in a strange and yearning way. Then she remembered the book and pushed the feeling aside.
He laid down the euros on the table, making the proprietor’s eyes bug out. With book in hand, he turned to Hailey.
“Thank you for an interesting afternoon,” he said.
Hailey would have made a bitter retort, but then he was gone.
“Oh signorina, you waited so long for that book,” the bookseller said sorrowfully. “If you had but allowed me to speak, I would have given it to you.”
Hailey smiled a little. Beatrice came out from behind her shelf then, her arms full of books.
“Well, now that awful man has his book, Mr. Vestri here has nine hundred euros, and everyone’s happy.”
“Not you,” Beatrice pointed out.
Hailey could only shrug and sigh.