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Illusions: Paranormal Shapeshifter Romance (The Seekers Book 1), page 1

 

Illusions: Paranormal Shapeshifter Romance (The Seekers Book 1)
 


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Illusions: Paranormal Shapeshifter Romance (The Seekers Book 1)


  Illusions

  The Seekers, Volume One

  Carina Wilder

  Contents

  Copyright

  For My Readers

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Also by Carina Wilder

  Excerpt from Alpha’s Hunt

  About the Author

  Copyright © 2015 by Carina Wilder

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

  Created with Vellum

  For My Readers

  To my lovely readers:

  Illusions is a stand-alone novel, the first in the Seekers series. Unlike the books that came before (Sought by the Alphas and Seeking Her Mates), this tale comes to you in one novel, rather than five separate instalments. Each book in the series will be its own story.

  For those of you who haven’t read the previous two serials, The Seekers is the follow-up to those two storylines. But you don’t need to have read the previous books to follow this story.

  I hope you enjoy, and stay tuned for Book Two, coming to you very soon!

  If you’d like to be informed of future releases, exclusive deals, reader contests and special offers, please sign up:

  Carina Wilder's Mailing List

  ~Carina

  Chapter 1

  Serafina

  Near Salem Massachusetts, 1692

  The broth bubbled in the cast iron pot over a dancing flame, its scent filling the small wooden house with the comforting atmosphere of a home.

  When her nose instructed her to do so, Serafina dropped in pinches of spice to add an extra hint of flavour to the dull familiarity of boiled-down chicken and chopped onion. After all, even temporary invalids such as her ailing sister needed a little excitement in their food, and now the brew was beginning to smell almost as good as a spit-roasted boar—albeit somewhat less filling.

  Onyx looked on, his bright eyes fixed on the enticing spoon that moved in slow, wide circles, stirring the apparent source of this delectable smell. Ever the optimist, the sleek black ferret licked his chops in anticipation of a meal that wouldn’t be coming to him.

  “This isn’t for you, Nyx,” said his Magistress. “And you know it, so get the thought out of your adorable little skull right now.”

  The Familiar made a high-pitched grunt of protest and climbed onto Serafina’s shoulder, wrapping himself around her neck in reluctant submission. He knew that she would give in and feed him at some point; if not broth, then some other life-sustaining morsel. For that matter she should feed herself; it had been hours since he’d seen her eat anything.

  He supposed that the savoury-smelling soup was intended for his Magistress’s younger sister Circe, who lay silent in the next room, bedridden for some days with a mysterious and lingering illness. She’d been getting more grub than anyone lately, despite the fact that much of it had gone uneaten, remaining a tantalizing lure in bowls on her nightstand. That is, until the ferret had found the odd chance to sneak in and fill himself up on the leftovers.

  Sera, as those close to her called her, ladled a bowlful and transported it with care into her sister’s bedroom. In the hearth a small fire raged like an undersized guard dog, attempting to warm the space sufficiently, protectively, to compete with the searing heat of its inhabitant’s fever. Sera laid the bowl on the simple wooden table next to the bed and reached for Circe’s forehead, an act that had become a habit over the last several days.

  “How are you feeling?” she asked, attempting to conceal the concern in her voice.

  Circe’s raven Familiar, Obsidian, was perched on the headboard, as always watching over his own Magistress. If a raven could look concerned, he was managing it now. The link between a Familiar and its human was strong, and the creatures felt the pain of their companions acutely. All her life, Circe would be attended loyally by him, his eyes ever protective, always on the lookout for danger.

  Unfortunately he remained defenceless against a fever.

  “A little better,” said Circe, though her voice was weaker than she wanted it to sound, her face still pale. Leaning forward, Serafina helped her to move to an upright position and fed her a little of the soup, which Circe accepted gratefully before speaking again. “I’m tired of being cooped up indoors, though. And no doubt Sidian is as well.” The crow let out a cry of agreement.

  “Well, you seem to have a bit of an appetite, at least,” said Sera. “But I’m sorry that you’re imprisoned in this way; I know you hate it.”

  “I do. I take after my sister in that regard.” Circe winked. Since their youth, each of the siblings had lamented the fact that they had to live in a house at all, and couldn’t in fact live deep within the forest, sleeping on soft pine beds and waking to the scent of fresh air and moss on the dewy morning air.

  But, much as they both defied social convention in almost every way, they remained constrained by the rules of humanity; forced to live with a roof over their heads, confined by walls of wood and plaster like the rest of society.

  “Well, I’m also sorry that it’s to be another liquid meal, but see if you can drink the entire bowl,” added Sera. “It’ll help to strengthen you.”

  “Thanks,” said Circe, taking the spoon in her own hand. “Really, I can eat it on my own.” Dipping into the bowl once again, she attempted to prove her might by devouring the spoon’s hot contents.

  “I can see that you’re right—your strength is a little greater than it was yesterday. But you’re nowhere near a hundred percent, so don’t get up and wander, even through this tiny excuse for a house. All right? I don’t want to find you passed out on the floor, Sidian pecking at your hair to build himself a nest. You know how I hate nests in the kitchen; it’s so unsanitary.”

  “All right,” laughed Circe.

  The reassuring smile on Sera’s face as she rose from the bed was a partial act. Of her multitude of developing powers, an ability to foresee the future was not one of them, and she was genuinely worried about the days to come. If her sister couldn’t fight off these recurring fevers, things would not end well.

  “Right. I’ve washed the laundry and looked after my patient. Now on to save the world.”

  “Do you think it needs saving?” asked Circe, her voice earnest. “Is there any news from Salem? Before I became bedridden, I heard talk of something called the Guild—some group of hostile men. It sounded serious, like a threat of some sort had been issued against the community.”

  “I don’t know much about them,” said Serafina. “I’ll ask Hedy when I see her. Meanwhile, you don’t need to concern yourself with such things. You have the Sisterhood
protecting you. What could possibly happen with so many women looking after you?”

  “Whenever anyone asks such questions, something dreadful inevitably happens,” said Circe, Obsidian offering another caw of agreement. “In all seriousness, I have a bad feeling, Sera.”

  “Well, don’t, then. Bad feelings won’t help anything. Listen, I’m going to find Hedy and have a little chat with her, to hear the latest news from town. But I’ll be back before you know it. Ring the bell if you should need me or anyone else.”

  The “bell” was more than a simple handheld ringer by Circe’s bedside. In each of the small house’s rooms was a handle which manoeuvred a long, braided rope leading through small holes in the wall, their length snaking upwards, extending from the house’s roof. There they were twined together, meandering up towards a clock tower at the centre of their small, circular village. There, a large bronze bell hung suspended from heavy wooden beams, awaiting any prompt to ring.

  Around the tower itself was a large circle of wooden houses, each one a different colour. And from each house came a similar rope, forming a series of drooping spokes leading to one common hub at the tower’s top. The ropes themselves passed through a series of pulleys and gears which made it easy for even an ailing, bedridden young woman to pull a handle. One ring meant a call for help from a Sisterhood member, usually for simple tasks requiring more than one set of hands. Two meant a call to meeting.

  And three rings had another meaning entirely. It had been many years since the bell had tolled three times, and in Sera’s and Circe’s lifetimes, no such event had occurred.

  The village itself, known as Ealdor, after the old English word for “Elder,” was populated only by women. Its principal houses were those that circled the tower, and Sera and Circe lived in one of these. Though they were not among the most senior members of the Sisterhood, they were considered important and regarded with respect by the others, including those their own age.

  The Sisterhood was made up of self-sufficient women who nevertheless relied upon one another to keep a watchful eye out for threats such as wolves, bears and, on occasion, men, though the latter were rarely seen.

  That is until recently, when the neighbouring town of Salem had found itself at the center of a literal witch hunt. A sort of hysteria among female inhabitants was being blamed for it, brought on, no doubt, by a simple illness like Circe’s, which caused fever and the occasional moan to emerge from its victims. Accusations flew almost daily, stating that any woman who succumbed to the affliction must in fact be guilty of engaging in black magic. As a result, men had been removing women from their homes, imprisoning them for trial.

  The penalty for those found guilty of engaging in witchcraft was death by hanging.

  But just outside of Salem, a few miles from Ealdor, was an even greater threat. It was the one that Circe had mentioned, and that Serafina didn’t want to think about: the group known as The Guild. A community of large, powerful men who, like the Salem residents, were snatching women up. But their motives remained a mystery to Serafina and Circe; these men didn’t throw out accusations, but rather seemed to remove the women silently, in secret. This made them more threatening still than the misguided Salem residents.

  The Guild’s members were impressive physical specimens, and rumoured to work a magic of their own. The women whom they captured were never freed, regardless of guilt or innocence. Occasionally, after several days, the captives were turned over to the lawmakers of Salem to deal with as they wished, which normally meant imprisoning them for an indefinite period as they awaited trial.

  But before that moment, it seemed that the women went through a rather gruelling process at the hands of the hostile men of the Guild. No one ever talked about the details; not even the Crones. All Serafina knew was that the men were to be avoided at all costs, shunned.

  For that reason alone the small village remained generally in a state of high alert, considering any and all intruders possible threats against their community’s well-being. Men had always been forbidden in the area, and the odious members of the Guild were to be driven out as soon as they were seen. Males seldom showed up in Ealdor with good intentions.

  And Sera was determined to keep them far away from Circe, whose illness went through brief periods of respite, though her fever lingered. Each day she grew a little weaker so that a full recuperation seemed less and less likely. Most likely she would remain frail for the rest of her life. That was, unless she came into her powers.

  But until they were able to develop, there was no way to know how strong she might become.

  Sera cursed her own less than stellar gifts each day, wishing that she could advance in her craft and help her sister. The Crones had said from the beginning that she might one day become the most powerful among them; a Healer unlike any that they’d seen. Not to mention the destructive havoc she could wreak, if she so chose. Power was a double-edged sword to be used for good or ill.

  But there was only one way to gain the sort of power that she wished for. And it came at a high price.

  * * *

  Hedy’s small, cozy house lay thirty or so feet away on the neighbouring plot of land, the next house over in the giant circle of wooden abodes. As Sera followed the well-beaten dirt path among tall grasses, she fed Nyx bits of dried meat, occasionally taking a small bite for herself. The snack came from a deer that she’d hunted some weeks earlier, when she’d taken the animal down with the bow and arrows that she’d carved and fletched the previous autumn.

  The deer’s meat had lasted in its various incarnations ever since, but it was almost time for a new hunt, which was never a bad thing. Sera’s treks through the woods were among her happiest times. She adored the feeling of freedom as Nyx romped around her feet, the pair of them remaining out of the view of the judgmental eyes of Salem’s inhabitants. A young woman, out hunting like that! Preposterous. It was unseemly in a man’s world. Women were tasked with the ever-so appealing job of dealing with the creature’s lifeless carcass, but it was meant to come to them only via the strong arms of a male; the provider, the one upon whom the woman relied in order to eat.

  But as with other stereotypes, Sera challenged that one constantly. The woods were her domain, and always had been. Her uncanny ability to wander for miles and never get lost was one of her early gifts, one of the signs of things to come which the Crones had taken as evidence of her bond with nature’s elements. Of course, her greatest gift was her affinity for rune crafting, and there she showed unwavering skill. It was an ancient art that few could master, yet Sera had taken to it from her earliest days with the Sisterhood.

  Circe, too, possessed gifts, and the Sisterhood had snatched the two sisters up as young girls, taken them under their nurturing wing when the girls’ parents had died.

  Even on days when Sera failed to recognize her own talents, those around her in the small village remained deeply aware of them. They knew what she was, and one day she would, too. Their faith trumped hers and planted in her an ongoing frustration: if she was meant to be so fantastic, why must she jump through hoops to come into her full potential?

  Why did the Crones insist that she would have to undertake the Bonding? If she could just find a way to develop without the ceremony, without giving up a part of herself…

  She could remain free.

  Chapter 2

  Rohan

  Dundurn Castle, Cornwall, early 15th Century

  Rohan had known for some months that the change was coming. For a man of his ancestry, it was an inevitability. And the thought filled him simultaneously with dread and excitement.

  The time had come for the young man to seek out his mate. To submit to the command that his body issued daily; hourly, even. For a shifter of his vitality and bloodline, success in this hunt was as crucial as finding food and water to sustain himself. Without it he would starve, wither to a shell of his former self, given enough time and deprivation.

  “So why exactly are you leaving us so
soon? It seems like you only came home a little while ago and now we’re losing you all over again.” His twin sister Lily uttered the words plaintively as the two sat together on a long stone bench in Dundurn Castle’s courtyard. She could have delved into his mind, pried at his thoughts and emotions in order to understand his motivation. But as a matter of respect she preferred to ask questions and to forego her impressive skill for mind-reading. Rohan would reveal what he wanted to; no more, no less. And that was his right.

  “As if you don’t already know what’s going on,” he laughed, acknowledging her recently acquired psychic gift. “It, Lily. The dreaded It is happening; my male instincts are kicking in.”

  “Ah, the birds and the bees,” she laughed. “Except of course, with shifters, it’s literally about birds and bees.”

  “Yes. You know how it is with our kind—the males, anyhow. You’ve been through it already. Conor sought you out, after all, and in his own way, so did Graeme. They needed you, just as I need whatever woman I’m destined to be with. And she’s out there, somewhere far off. I feel it now. I feel her.”

  Unfortunately, finding the woman who was meant to be his wasn’t as simple as opening a refrigerator in search of leftovers (leaving aside the fact that he lived in a world without the comforts of such modern technology). His search was to take him to another century, away from his family and friends, and away from the comforts that he’d come to know.

  Like an explorer looking for new lands, so he must venture out into a world made all the more vast by his ability to time travel.

  “I am sorry to be leaving you three—four, I mean,” Rohan said, stroking his nephew Kiron’s soft hair as the young boy sat attentively on Lily’s lap, seeming to take in the entire conversation. Her son was only a few months old, but already had the appearance of a small boy; bright-eyed, tall, inquisitive. Like her, Kiron had developed quickly and showed all the signs of becoming a powerful shifter when he came of age.

 
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