Chapter One Part II June 1816, Callington, Cornwall
“Grace Elizabeth Adair, you are completely mad!” Merryn Saint-Clair shouted into the fifteen-foot deep wishing well. “Come out of there, at once.”
Standing waist-high in cold water, embracing a squirming lamb, Grace was in no position to argue that point. She lifted the bleating animal higher. “Can you reach him?”
The animal kicked out, no doubt startled at being suddenly elevated by unseen forces, and smacked Grace’s forehead before he sailed toward a cloudy sky. As the lamb’s flailing limbs crossed over the well’s rim, Grace tenderly checked her bruised forehead.
With a final wave, Merryn released control of the animal. “Silly thing.”
Once it touched the ground, hooves struck gravel and stones scattered as the lamb made a hasty race to freedom.
Grace’s hellhounds growled, a sign that a chase would be on. Her heart skipped in fear. If they attacked the lamb, Merryn might hurt the hounds. Besides which, she had not saved that baby sheep to feed it to her hounds.
“Leave it!” Grace commanded. Her words echoed out of the well.
With protesting whines and heavy sighs, the two hellhounds slumped, their coarse fur rubbing against the well’s side.
Despite her throbbing temple, Grace breathed in relief.
“Amazing,” Merryn said. “They actually listened. Still, I am shocked your neighbors have not shot them.”
Not for want of trying. Grace kept that illicit thought silent. Merryn was not only Grace’s cousin but also the Coven Protectress of Britain. As such, one of her responsibilities was to keep the presence of witches among humans a secret.
A recent crisis had revealed that many in Cornwall already knew her people’s stealthy existence and their new Lore Keeper, a human, seemed intent on spreading the word about the existence to her people. Still, the topic of Wyhcans was rarely broached in public, only whispered among trusted friends. Humans were still unsure whom to trust and fear continued to lurk just beneath the surface. Especially once the Lore Keeper spread the news that Wyhcans were similar in appearance to humans.
The Warlock Council had already rescinded their permission to the Regent to showcase his mural of Wyhcans’ arrival on earth at his Brighton palace to the public. Then the witch’s High Sage advised him it was best if talk of their existence remained unspoken…for now.
The last thing Grace needed was for Merryn to discover that she had used deflection spells to protect the two hellhounds from some of her more superstitious neighbors. She had never cast a mind spell on a human, of course – that was strictly forbidden to witches – but on certain occasions, she had changed her hounds into bulls or horses. Especially if a loaded blunderbuss was pointed at one.
She smiled with warmth for having gained their companionship. Bartos and Farfur were good hounds. They heeded Grace’s orders, seemed fond of each other, and in general did not cause an uncalled-for fracas. This was why she deemed it safe to keep them and expended just a little magical effort to protect them. Also, she secretly hoped that one of these days, their brooding owner would return to claim them.
“Are you coming up?” Merryn asked.
“No.” Her response sounded hollow from within her safe haven and within her heart.
Yet, climbing up would be tantamount to relinquishing her hounds to the Coven Protectress. As well as agreeing to give up waiting for their master. Then she’d have to return to London with her mother where Grace would be expected to say yes to marriage, to having a family and living a full, if dull, life. Things she had wanted, nay, been thrilled to accede to, until she came face-to-face with the hounds’ previous owner.
“Why not?” Merryn asked in an exasperated tone. “Is there another lamb in danger?”
Grace shrugged off her cousin’s sarcasm. She did not care if she was being unreasonable.
How could she hope to explain what was inexplicable even to Grace? She especially cringed from broaching this touchy subject with Merryn, because her cousin was the witch whom the hounds’ owner once loved, and lost. For Bartos and Farfur’s master was none other than Devlin Chase Dewer.
Half fae, half warlock, Dewer was now the sworn enemy of all Callington witches. The day Grace insisted the hounds stay with her, he had howled with rage. Grace, then a young witch coming into the height of her healing powers, had empathically reverberated at his anguished cry.
She sensed his fury was not at her petty thievery, but the result of a shattered heart. For all the poetic words of love her many suitors had crooned in Grace’s ears, none had evoked her to such awe as the passion in Dewer’s soul to love a woman so fiercely, it hurt so deeply.
That same woman was currently above ground, urging Grace to climb out of this well.
“You cannot stay there all day.” Elbows resting on the well’s rim, Merryn observed Grace with a contemplative gaze. “Your mother was right to call this situation to my attention. Hellhounds are not pets, Grace. These two must either be killed or returned to the underworld. I will give you the choice.”
In no rush to concede to a decision she had avoided for most of the year, Grace traced a line of bricks that made up the well wall. In any case, she liked this well, felt safe inside it, as if she were being cradled in her mother’s arms.
Besides, how could she admit to Merryn that she was consumed with envy that Dewer had loved her? Or that Grace had decided the day she encountered Dewer to only marry a man if he held such breathtaking passion for her, and she for him. She wanted a man who would move heaven, and yes, even hell, to have her.
Even more disturbing was her continued fascination with Dewer himself. Grace could not shake her hope that perhaps one day he might evince such a love for her. That’s why she clung to Bartos. Intending to heal him, yes, but also because the hellhound bound Dewer to her. Having Farfur, too, was a bonus. He was a sweet boy. Her lips curved up with a fond smile.
Before Grace accepted any man as her husband, she wanted the answers to two intriguing questions.
Could Dewer ever feel such passion for me?
And could I feel such love for him?
If she failed to nail down those answers, this puzzle would plague her, souring whatever relationship she fostered with another man.
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