Vampires & Vinca (Hawthorn Witches Book 4), page 1
Vampires & Vinca
Hawthorn Witches Novella #4
By A.L. Tyler
More Books by A.L. Tyler
The Waldgrave Series
Arrival of the Traveler
Deception of the Magician
Secrets of the Guardian
The Spider Catcher
Demons & Dracaena
Sorcerers & Sumac
Werewolves & Wisteria
Vampires & Vinca
Vampires & Vinca
Hawthorn Witches Novella #4
Copyright 2016 A.L. Tyler
Text © A.L. Tyler 2016. All rights reserved. http://addisynltyler.blogspot.com/
Copyright: mulikov / 123RF Stock Photo
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer's imagination and used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Table of Contents
About the Author
- Kendra -
I lay awake in bed for a long time, just feeling Charlie beside me. He didn’t sleep—and he never slept—but he knew me. He knew that I spent a lot of sleepless hours thinking, and he was kind enough not to interrupt when he didn’t need to.
Stark was finally gone. He was still out there, but he was gone.
This was the moment we had dreamed of for more than a year after Stark had finally pushed us over the edge. There had been many moments that had brought us together, actually, but none as fulfilling as this one.
It was snowing the day that I met Stark. He wandered into my greenhouse like a customer, even though I knew I had locked the doors. He brought the cold with him when the bell chimed his entrance, but as he stood across the aisle from me, staring with frigid, mischievous green eyes, I thought he looked like a Norse god.
He didn’t say anything before he dug the knife into my chest, looking for my heart. I had taken it out days before when Adeline called me; someone had been skinned. There was a warlock lurking.
He never found my heart, though he kept me captive in the greenhouse for days.
Charlie found it. Stark was out looking for another witch, in case his plans for me failed. I tasted pure terror when Charlie lifted the veil I had laid over a hole in the ground beneath the juniper bushes.
I tried to face him with dignity when he came to me with my heart in his hands. It was my death knell.
“Is there somewhere safer?” he asked me. “Do you have any friends that can be trusted this much?”
Yes. I had many, but the years had left some dead and some unreachable. None of them would trust a demon bearing a heart.
He took it somewhere. I didn’t know where, and that was probably for the best.
I think my confidence in the following days was what inspired Stark’s affection. He let me out of the bonds, and told me to fix dinner. I did it. For three nights in a row. And just when he had started to make casual conversation with me, I poisoned him with my own special blend of nightshade and other toxins.
Sitting across the table from him, I continued to calmly eat my soup as he drank more and more water to ease his dry mouth. Then he started to sweat and cough, and when he fell from the table to vomit, his demon appeared to save him.
I thought Stark would kill me for sure after that, but once his health was restored, he laughed. He said I was the most clever witch he had ever met. Really, I was only the luckiest.
He laid protections against me after that. I did the same against him.
And then, out of mutual respect, we parted ways.
I didn’t see him again for weeks. The snow thawed on the grounds, and new life had just started to fringe green on the earth. Charlie burst through my door at two in the morning, his master slung over one shoulder, frantic and more frightened than I had ever thought a demon could be.
Stark had been mauled by a werewolf, and while he had taken great care to ward himself from infection, the fur and saliva and blood was in the wounds. Charlie couldn’t remove it, and he couldn’t heal it as a result. He was going to die.
I was going to let him.
That night began my true education in demons. Charlie begged me to save the life of his friend. He told me that Stark had saved his life years before and brought him back to health, and even though it ripped at me to watch someone, even a demon, lose a loved one, I refused to intervene.
Then, he had appealed to our one commonality.
“If he dies, I may very well go with him,” he said. “I saved your life. You owe me this.”
I had my arms crossed over my chest when he said it, and I felt the steady rhythm of my beating heart. I got the things I needed, and I saved his life—not for Stark, but for Charlie. And we never spoke of why I had decided to help him again.
Nursing Stark back to health was a trick, because he refused to eat anything I brought him the first week. He was quick to learn.
I ate from the same cups and bowls that he did to finally convince him. There were still things that I might have poisoned him with—things that I had a built-up a tolerance for, but I neglected to mention them. Stark didn’t seem to have much knowledge of witches as living entities.
Two weeks passed before he was well enough to leave bed. He only said two words to me the entire time we were together, and he looked me in the eye when he said them.
And then he walked out the door.
Charlie had thanked me every single night, waiting until Stark had passed out or gone to sleep, but those two words spoke volumes more.
Stark came back the next month, asking my assistance in harvesting living orchids direct from the Himalayan mountains. He offered to let me keep some as payment for my time. But the Himalayas were too far, and even wild orchids hardly covered the time, expense, and frustration of getting there.
That was where Charlie came in. He snapped his fingers, and we were there. Across the world to the most exotic place I had ever been, and back home in the same afternoon.
He came back again for bromeliads and sage, and then for peonies, and then for common marigolds. I knew he didn’t need them. He could have gotten them anywhere, but he came to me.
Like all of my most fantastic mistakes, alcohol was involved when we became more than just acquaintances. I can’t say in total honesty that the alcohol was to blame.
The world looked upon Stark as a monster, but the life of a witch is that of a solo practitioner. We don’t have a common religion, and we don’t congregate with others outside of our own families. Even then, we tend to secrecy and seclusion. It gave me an objective view to those things that the world described as good or evil, and Stark was one of those things.
I make no excuses that being with him was
I learned things from him, and he learned things from me. I came to enjoy his presence, and Charlie’s, when they were around. Then, I came to prefer it.
On the night that he hit me hard across the face, though, I knew I had to get rid of him.
Charlie was the one who came to me that night as I stood by the workbench holding ice to my cheek and trying to find a spell to kill him. I didn’t have one, and I knew it—the magic of my ancestors wasn’t about hatred, revenge, or death. There were a few curses that I had learned from Stark, but none of them were bad enough, and I hadn’t managed to work any of them on my own. But, oh, how I wanted a spell to kill him that night.
Charlie took the ice from my hand and touched my face. I expected it to hurt, but the pain went away. I touched my cheek and the swelling was gone. He had healed me.
He already seemed to know, but he asked anyways. “Tell me what happened.”
I didn’t know. His rage seemed to come out of nowhere, and Charlie told me that was how the end usually came about with Stark’s relationships. He tired of his games after so long, and then things got ugly. Impatience and boredom had always been weak spots for the warlock.
He said that he would help me any way that he could, and told me that even as close as they were, he had tired of Stark’s tirades long ago. I had seen Charlie do terrible things at Stark’s request, but I knew the two were different because of how they treated me when we were alone.
I eventually asked Charlie why he had hidden my heart when we first met. It was one of those late nights when I was sitting by the workbench, nursing my wounds and wishing I came from more vindictive stock. He hesitated before telling me that I reminded him of a friend he’d had a long time ago. She was a kind witch who had been his first bridge into this world. He had watched her die, ripped apart by werewolves, and he couldn’t take seeing it again if it could be avoided.
Charlie soothed my nervous anger and healed my wounds. We had talked during the year I was with Stark, but never like we did that night. Our friendship didn’t last long after that, because Stark had heard a rumor that there were leprechauns hiding in a small town down south. He left to investigate, and he left Charlie behind, fearful I might be harvested if the rumor had attracted others of his kind.
Our late nights got later. Our talks became more personal. Our dislike of Stark and his crude methods became more mutual. Once again, it became more than I should have allowed.
I had met at least a dozen warlocks in my life, and none of them had the bond that Stark had with Charlie. Charlie wasn’t his slave. Charlie came and went as he pleased. He insulted Stark, and Stark returned the slights in kind. They disagreed, and fought, and apologized, and gave each other gifts and trophies of their conquests. They were friends that only centuries together could forge.
I intended it as revenge when I took Charlie to my bed, and compared to our early attempts on each others’ lives, it seemed innocent enough. I think there was a taste of that motive for Charlie, too. It was revenge, but to us, it became so much more. I never told Stark that it happened, and neither did Charlie, and Stark was too prideful to even consider the possibility that someone could betray him without his knowledge. He never saw it.
I probably should have felt guilty for what I was doing, but like I said, seclusion and an objective absence of judgment breed a dangerous indifference.
Sometime later, Stark needed werewolf claws for one of his spells. Charlie often liked to tell me certain anecdotes while we lay in bed together, but this time was different.
“We tracked it to a house,” he said. “But the werewolf wasn’t home. His child answered the door instead.”
Charlie swallowed. He didn’t look at me.
“He killed him, after meeting his kid?” I pressed, frowning.
Charlie closed his eyes, shaking his head. “He killed the kid. He didn’t want to have to wait.”
He sat up in bed, rubbing his hands over his face. I was horrified, but I didn’t know why Charlie was. In the hundreds of years they had been together, he had surely seen or done worse.
“Charlie?” I sat up behind him to put my hands on his shoulders.
“They won’t work for the spell,” he said. “Children usually don’t work for this purpose, and he knows that. We’re going to have to find the guy and kill him anyway. And Stark knows who you are.”
I laid my cheek against his shoulder, confused. “What?”
“He knows who you are,” Charlie repeated. “He knows about the book. He’s been waiting you out, trying to find it. The time here is a drop in the bucket compared to all the years he’s lived, though this is the most patient I’ve ever seen him. I think he was hoping to win your affections. He’s starting to doubt that plan. He’s done. He’s going to kill you for the book, Kendra.”
I felt dread rise in my chest. I didn’t understand how it was possible for Stark to know about the book, but he had surprised me before. Charlie grabbed me by the shoulders to put some distance between us.
The look in his eyes as he analyzed me was so emotionless that it scared me. “I’m going to sever the bond. I won’t let him do it.”
It was like he had kicked me in the gut. “Charlie, no, if you do that—”
He would likely die. He knew. But so would Stark, and that was his plan. He wanted to weaken his master enough that I could kill him. And if Charlie survived the ordeal, we would be reunited when I summoned him.
I told him I wouldn’t allow it. He said he was ready to die. He fell into a depression over it that we both had to hide from Stark. Friend or not, Charlie was afraid of being cast aside or burned up in a spell if Stark felt his usefulness had run its course. Meanwhile, I flirted like my life depended on it. It did.
I found a way, an old spell from an even older book, that would allow a demon to secretly take a second bridge, but the items that the spell called for weren’t easy to come by. I told Charlie I would become his bridge, and then we would get around Stark’s protection spells by leaving him in the Other Side instead of trying to kill him. We made plans for him to become a human, like me, but building a soul for him was going to be much harder. It would be worse, even, than the ingredients to make me his bridge.
I made a deal with him. I gave him my hair and made him promise that he wouldn’t sever the link with Stark unless all of our plans had already failed. And if I died before he did, I promised him my soul so that he could be human.
It was all downhill from there.
Charlie nearly gave us up several times as the weeks passed. I could see him fighting himself not to say or do anything every time I became the object of Stark’s affections. It was worse when I was the object of his frustrations and anger.
But I told him we would make it out alive, and that was what mattered. He held to our deal.
A decade and a broken curse later, and with the help of my nieces, it was finally done.
I turned over, resting my chin on Charlie’s chest and smiling at him, and he closed his eyes and smiled back. We were back in the greenhouse, just like old times, and he had reopened the hidden doors to the apartment I kept for myself down the hall from the office.
The employees had been dismissed that day, well-compensated for their time and with a bonus for the lack of notice on their layoff. I didn’t need them. Plants liked me, and they had a way of taking care of themselves in my presence. Charlie took care of everything else.
He wrapped his arms around me, sighing as I laid my head on his shoulder.
“I’m not a babysitter,” he said.
“I’m sorry.” I would be saying it for a long time. I was okay with that. “What is she like now? Anise?”
“She prefers Annie,” he said. “Or Thorn. That’s what I’ve been calling her.”
I exhaled a subtle, surprised laugh. “Like Stark used to call me? That’s dark.”
“It seemed fitting at t
“I can’t abandon her,” I said, looking out the window at the tiny crescent moon. Charlie had taken a liking to her, more so than he had ever expressed for Lyssa, and it took a special disposition to work with demons. He had used the collected resources for his mortality spell to spare her the servitude of demonhood. He hadn’t used all of everything because she started out human, and a reversal is easier than a full conversion, but I knew the true measure of what he had sacrificed for her. It would take us a decade, at least, to gather those things again. “She’ll be a pariah if people ever find out.”
“You think Lyssa is going to tell?”
“These things have a way of getting out,” I said. “Did she retain anything?”
He paused a little too long.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “She isn’t especially talented, that’s all. I suppose we could have made her try harder, but she really just wants her life to go back to normal. Poor girl.”
“Hmm. She’ll never get that now that she’s been seen in public with you,” I joked.
Charlie smiled, but then he looked at me very seriously. “She’s a good girl. She has a good heart, and she doesn’t like keeping secrets that could hurt people. There’s something I have to tell you. It’s about the book.”
I sat up, frowning as I looked down at him. I leaned over to grab my robe off the floor and slipped it around my shoulders. “It’s safe, isn’t it?”
“It’s safe,” he said. “Annie’s friend, Gates, she read it. But she didn’t know what to do with it.”
I closed my eyes, shaking my head. “No, she couldn’t have. I hid that book under Althaea’s skull. Only a Hawthorn could have taken it from under there.”
“A Hawthorn did, as I understand it,” Charlie said carefully. “And Annie then handed it to her friend, who became the first person who was not a Hawthorn to read it since it was written.”