Castle Coven Book 3
Trapped insider her own mind, a young witch draws strength from an ancient one.
As coven master Piers Dayton sits vigil, novice witch Hailey Deveraux lies still as death. Lost to him after being tainted with demon’s blood, her spirit wanders in a nether world she can’t escape. To Hailey her existence has become a solitary wander through an empty Castle coven. Memories tease her but never return. Doors open but lead nowhere.
Though Piers refuses to give up hope and tries in vain to bring Major Kieran McCallen to Hailey’s side, a different aid arrives. Stepping out of legend and time, Liona di Orsini appears at the Castle. With an elegant beauty and distant gaze that Piers has only seen in the oldest of Wiccans, Liona has come to witness the turning of history. Her prophetic visions have led her to the Castle, and now to Hailey’s bed.
As Liona weaves the telling of her tale with Hailey’s own, she finds that she and the guileless, young beauty may share more than just great power. Brought together at a nexus beyond which Liona can’t see, the pair forge a bond drawn from love, passion, and pleasure.
What Readers Are Saying
I have read a few other books by this author and just as with the others, I was enthralled.
Sweet and engaging, I never grew tired of her style. This series kept me looking forward to each new twist. I will definitely be spending more time with her stories. Xoxo
This is also the story of unlocking potential, family, love, respect and acceptance in spite of adversity or maybe because of it. Well done, thank you.
Set the way back machine for coven history 101. What a great insight into where the coven/magnus corps system came from. And it's no wonder the Templars are so fanatical
Completely enthralling from cover to cover! A real page turner. I could not put it down. Usually a severe critic, I am loving this series.
In a small white room at the heart of the Wiccan fortress called the Castle, a young woman lay as quiet as death in her bed. She was nearly as pale as the walls around her. The only color in the room was her vivid red hair, lying over her shoulder. Sometimes, her bluish lips moved as if she was whispering, but no matter how hard the man sitting by her side listened, he could never understand what she was saying.
“Hailey, please wake up,” Piers murmured. “Please. I promise I’ll give you anything, anything at all.”
Sometimes Castle business called him away, but it could not keep him away for long. Sometimes Mathias, the infirmary master, would send him to bed, but he found he could not sleep. Sometimes he had to check Hailey’s hands again to ensure that the blackness staining them had been washed away. The image of her standing up after their battle, her hands dark with the thing’s blood and dirt, was something that would be seared forever into his mind. For one brief shining moment, he had thought that they had won. Then she fell, and coven master Piers Dayton was reminded that there was no victory in the world that came without a cost.
The smartphone by his side chirped, and without taking his hand from hers, he turned it on.
“Stephan, give me some good news.”
“Sorry, can’t do that, Dayton. I just promised you a check-in today. I wanted to get it to you before it got too late out there. Major Kieran McCallen is still on assignment, and is not available.”
Piers ground his teeth.
“That is unacceptable.”
“That’s the truth,” Stephan replied, unperturbed. “Magus Corps business. And you know what that means. Like it or not, Dayton, we don’t answer to you, or to any coven.”
“I know that, and right now, I don’t care. If he’s who I think he is, if he finds that you’ve kept this information from him, you and your Commandant are going to be in a world of pain.”
“That’s something we’ll deal with when it happens,” Stephan said coolly. “But I take it from your tone there’s no change in Hailey?”
“No, not yet. She’s been like this for two weeks now. Mathias says she’s stable, but there’s…there’s just nothing going on.”
“Frankly, Dayton, McCallen’s not going to be able to help her. I hope you know that. The man’s a master of snow and ice. He’s not a healer or a dream-walker. You know that.”
Piers didn’t care. “Find him. Get him here.”
Stephan sounded like he wanted to say something else, but Piers ended the call, turning his gaze back to Hailey’s painfully young face.
Stephan was wrong. It didn’t matter that Kieran McCallen wasn’t a healer. He was the man that Hailey loved. If he was a man worthy of her love, he would be here.
The thought of her with another man tore at his heart with an eagle’s talons. If he allowed himself to think about it for too long, it could take the soul out of him. There would be time later to think about what she would look like in another man’s arms, to think about the idea that even if McCallen went and Hailey stayed, there would always be a part of her that went with him.
Piers couldn’t think about that now. Instead, he held Hailey’s pale and unmoving hand, and asked her to wake up.
He must have fallen asleep for a while. He sat up with a crick in his back, stretching and unsure what had woken him up. There was a chill to the room that told him that night had fallen. He was reaching for a second blanket for Hailey when there was a knock at the door. When he opened it, Julie walked in, followed by a woman Piers had never seen before. She was slender and had the ageless quality that he associated with the very oldest of Wiccans. Someone might have guessed that she was perhaps in her early twenties. But after a moment, they would start to wonder. There was a distant gaze in her dark eyes, as though she were only here for the time being. But perhaps most extraordinary was the fall of shimmering silver hair that drifted down her back. It was thick and heavy, moving as she did. It made Piers think of moonlight on water. She was beautiful, but there was a terrible sternness to her as well.
“Piers,” Julie said, “this woman just appeared at the gate. She asked for you by name.”
“That would be difficult for most people,” Piers said, arching an eyebrow. “The peaks are treacherous unless you come by plane.”
“Some of us have no use for planes,” the woman said.
She offered him her hand. When he shook it, he could feel how cool her skin was.
“I’ve come here because this place is a nexus, something quite out of the ordinary.”
She glanced behind him at Hailey.
Piers consciously tamped down the urge to step between them. Instead, he only nodded.
“Out of the ordinary is a mild way to put it,” he said. “Perhaps if you told me your business, I could help you.”
She turned her bright gaze to him. “Of course, coven master. I am Liona di Orsini, of the Lepus coven in Rome.” Behind the silver-haired woman, Julie’s eyes widened.
Piers blinked. “The Lepus coven disappeared more than two hundred years ago,” he said carefully.
She shrugged as if it were no matter. “We have never stood close to our sister covens, and of late, we have found it safer by far to keep our distance. Still, as I said, events are turning in the world, and it is upon us once again to see and to explore. This woman, she lies at the heart of it.”
She cocked her head a bit. “Is that her name?” But she didn’t wait for an answer. “She has been demon-touched, and now she wanders. Unless she can find her way back, she will wither away and perish.”
Piers clenched his teeth so hard they hurt. He already knew that. “I asked you if you could help her.”
“I can,” Liona di Orsini responded calmly. “If you allow me to stay at your coven and observe the turning of events, I will bring her back.”
Piers wavered, but there was a ring of truth to the woman’s words. Though Hailey still breathed, she did not live. The mindreaders and healers of the Castle could do nothing to help her.
“You may stay at the Castle as long as you wish and all doors shall be open to you, if you can help her,” Piers said finally.
She nodded, circling around Piers to take his seat by Hailey’s side. For a moment, her dark eyes grew unfocused, and then she shook herself, turning her attention back to the two behind her.
“I will need privacy for this. Do not enter until I call for you.”
Julie looked like she was going to protest, but Piers cut her off.
“As you say.”
Piers ushered Julie through the door. When it closed behind them, Julie turned to him.
“Do you really think that’s Liona di Orsini?” she asked, awe in her voice.
Piers thought of the cool-water feel of the woman’s hand and the shining fall of silver hair. He thought of the weight of centuries in the woman’s eyes.
“I know it is,” he replied.
• • • • •
Hailey had been walking around the Castle for what felt like years. It was a place that felt as familiar to her as the spread of freckles over her nose, but every now and then, when she turned a corner, there would be a dead end or a room she didn’t expect.
Once or twice, she had opened a door only to be blinded by sunlight. Only when her eyes adjusted did she see that she’d just barely escaped a straight drop down the mountainside. She closed those doors and marked them by tearing a scrap of fabric from her green dress and tying it around the handle. She never saw the doors she marked again.
The Castle felt like it went on forever. Sometimes, she wondered if she had died. This wasn’t her idea of an afterlife, but did she really know what to expect?
She remembered that there must have been people in the Castle with her, but their faces and names escaped her. Sometimes, she thought of a strong man, but surely he was a phantasm as well. She couldn’t remember if he had short black hair or honey-blond. She couldn’t remember if he was broad or lean, if he laughed or was stern.
If she thought about it too long, her head started to ache. She couldn’t hold the man’s face or his touch in her mind. When she tried, her head ached as if it was being split apart. She would crouch by the side of the stone halls, covering her face and sobbing until the feeling passed. She could have gone to rest or hide in one of the many bedrooms, but there was something terrifying about lying down in those cold, unspoiled sheets, something that made her skin crawl.
She never got hungry; she never got sleepy; and so she walked. She was aware of time passing. Sometimes she had to chant her own name over and over again, just to reassure herself that she still knew it. She wandered, murmuring it like a talisman. But at the back of her mind, nipping at her heels like a terrier, was the thought that it would not be enough. One day she would lose it all. She would be a ghost, nothing more than a memory of a woman trapped in endless gray halls.
“My name is Hailey,” she said for what felt like the millionth time, but this time, she got a response.
“My name is Liona. What a very fine pleasure it is to meet you.”
She spun around to find a woman dressed all in red, framed by the archway behind her. If someone had asked Hailey if there had been an arch behind her, she would have said no, but the geography of this terrible place was no more stable or predictable than the sea.
The newcomer had long silver hair and dark eyes. At first Hailey thought she was old, but when she took a few steps closer, she could see the woman in red was only a few years older than herself. Still there was something about her that made Hailey feel safe––for the first time since awaking in this lost place.
“How long have you been here? Are you trapped here too?”
Liona’s smile was sad.
“I have only been here for a short time, but I may leave when I like. I am not trapped as you are.”
“Can you show me the way out?” Hailey’s voice was hoarse and ragged from disuse.
Liona thought for a moment before shaking her head regretfully.
“Only you can do that.”
Hailey felt a surge of anger rise up, but in a moment the rage subsided. This place had its own twisted logic, and she knew what Liona said was right. She had been searching for a way out for what felt like years, but the way out didn’t feel like an impossibility. It felt like something she had simply not found yet. Sometimes that thought was the only thing that kept her going.
“I’m so tired,” Hailey said, voice trembling, trying to keep the tears back.
To her shock, Liona wrapped her arms around her, holding her close.
“My poor, brave girl. I know you are. I cannot show you the way out, but perhaps I can make this a little less difficult on you, yes?”
Before Hailey could ask how she meant to do that, Liona turned around and surveyed the hallway. She found a door apparently to her liking, and walked up to it briskly, pulling Hailey with her.
Hailey was braced for a steep fall or another room shrouded with sheets and dust. Instead, they stepped into a bright chamber, round like a tower, and lined with books on all sides. High above, the ceiling was leaded with glass. There were two wing chairs pushed close to a table laden with food. When Hailey took the seat that Liona indicated, she could smell the savory scents. For the first time in what felt like an age, she was hungry.
“That’s good,” Liona said encouragingly, piling slivers of ham and salami on her plate. “You remember how to be hungry.”
She handed it to Hailey, who didn’t hesitate to dig in.
“You’re not part of this, are you?” Hailey asked between bites.
“I’m not, no. This chamber is mine. It truly exists in Rome. Perhaps some day you will see it.”
They ate in silence for a while, and as they did, Hailey started to feel more than just the numbness that had seemed to fill her for so long. Eventually she stopped eating and set the plate down. Soon, there were tears flowing down her face. Not even her hands over her mouth could stop the sob that escaped her.
In a flash, Liona was at her side, holding her, rubbing her back, and crooning comforting things in her ear.
“There, there, dear one. It’ll be fine. It will. All you need to do is to remember.”
“I can’t,” Hailey cried. “I can’t. I don’t even know what I am trying to remember. Everything shifts. Everything moves. I can’t remember…I can’t remember him. I can’t.”
“What do you see when you reach for him?”
“So much. Sometimes he’s laughing, and sometimes he’s grieving. Sometimes he’s fair, and sometimes he’s dark. I don’t understand.”
Liona nodded slowly, still embracing her.
“I think I might. You need an anchor, dear one, and that is what is going to help you escape. Look, will you let me help you? I promise, there is a way out of this for you.”
Hailey nodded. Relieved, she leaned into the woman’s shoulder, taking in the faint honey scent of her. She felt exhausted and excited. She wanted to rest. She wanted to leave.
“Don’t concentrate on the men,” Liona said, separating from her. “Don’t look for faces, or bodies or hands. What I want you to concentrate on is the feelings that they give you.”
Hailey wiped her eyes with the palms of her hands, nodding.
She tried not to think of the confusing images that fluttered around her. She concentrated instead on the feelings that those images brought up. Instantly, she felt as if she was on firmer ground. She could feel her heart––which had felt as closed as a locked fortress––open up. What she found inside was love and safety. When she thought of those two men, and now she realized there were two, she felt treasured. There was nothing that could harm her as long as they were by her side. Warmth spread from the center of her. Something liquid and gold filled her, lighting her. When she opened her eyes, everything looked faded and far away. She could still feel Liona’s hands on her shoulders, but her voice came from a great distance.
“Do you feel it now?” Liona asked. “Do you understand how it will lead you out?”
“I do,” Hailey murmured, and she stood up.
She left the room behind, entering the dark Castle again. It was dim, but now she could see that it was just a fake. It was no more like the Castle than a painted backdrop. It looked shoddy. Above all, it looked weak. She glanced at the doors that she passed, but none of them were quite right.
She was remembering more now, and with the warmth inside to guide her, she understood what she was feeling: not one man, but two. She had been blessed to have the love of two powerful men who had saved her life, who would stand beside her to the end of the world. She was nothing more than herself, and yet that was all they wanted from her. It was something amazing and humbling. It made her move forward.
Finally, she came to one of the doors that she had marked previously with a scrap of green fabric. With a sense of finality, she opened the door and looked out over the steep drop. There was nothing below, nothing to catch her, but she realized that was wrong. This place was nothing but a trap, crafted of her own fears, but now she was too much for it. She thought of Kieran. She thought of Piers.
She stepped out over the darkness.
• • • • •
Hailey woke covered in sweat and flailing. The room echoed with her cry, and she twisted around, trying to figure out where she was. She was in a white room that she had never seen before. The silver-haired woman from her dream was sitting in the chair by her bed. She looked tired, and she was wearing sturdy traveling clothes rather than the splendid red dress, but Hailey still recognized her.
The woman smiled at her.
“Welcome back to the land of the living,” she said warmly. “Someone’s been waiting to speak to you.”
Before Hailey could ask who, Liona went to open the door. Instantly, Piers was through it. He gathered Hailey up in his arms, and held her tight.
“Hailey,” he breathed into her hair. “I’d almost given up. But you’re back. By the gods, you’ve come back to me.”
Hailey let herself be swallowed up in his embrace. Yes, this was the safety she had thrown herself into the void to find. She could smell him, she could touch him again, and that was all that mattered. For this, she would throw herself into the darkness a million times. She felt his cheek pressed against the top of her head. There was a dampness there that told her he was crying.
She hugged him with a ferocity that bordered on mania. She didn’t want to lose him for even an instant, but then he pulled back.
“Darling, I need to get Mathias up here to look you over, all right? After that, we can look into getting you fed.”
“I don’t want to see Mathias and I don’t want food,” she growled. “I want you. I want you and–”
The name was on her tongue. She bit down on it in surprise, but Piers had already pulled back. His face was still joyful, but perhaps there was a sadness there, something lonely and lost.
“First Mathias, then food if he’ll allow it.”
He walked to the door, but before he left, he turned back to her.
“When you fell into your sleep, I did everything I could to bring Major McCallen here. I swear that to you. I am still trying.”
Before she could even think to answer that, he was gone, closing the door behind him. She was left staring.
Liona, who had sat forgotten by her side, shook her head.
“Now there’s one who will never hear a thing until it strikes him upside the head, make no mistake about it.”
Hailey started to ask Liona what she meant, but the graceful woman rose and left before Hailey could speak.