An Ante-Fae Adventure

Witching Time: An Ante-Fae Adventure
Book 14 in the Wild Hunt Series
Release date: October 2020

It’s Mabon, and Llewellyn’s friends—Marigold and Rain—are running a harvest festival on their farm. Llewellyn and Raven open a vendor’s booth to join in the fun. But Raven soon discovers the farm has a deadly past. When she encounters the spirit of a teenaged girl who was thought to have been a runaway, she quickly discovers the girl was killed.

As she attempts to prove the girl was the victim of a deadly ritual gone awry, a series of terrifying paranormal events begins to occur. Raven soon realizes that the spirit of the killer is still lurking on the land, and the race is on. Raven must prove that the girl was murdered before the killer’s ghost strikes again, because he’s willing to sacrifice anyone and anything who threatens to reveal the secrets of his past.

Series Reading Order:
1. The Silver Stag
2. Oak & Thorns
3. Iron Bones
4. A Shadow of Crows
5. The Hallowed Hunt
6. The Silver Mist
7. Witching Hour
8. Witching Bones
9. A Sacred Magic
10. The Eternal Return
11. Sun Broken
12. Witching Moon
13. Autumn's Bane
14. Witching Time
15. Hunter's Moon (forthcoming)

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

I stared at Kipa. “Why do you have a box of cigars? You don’t smoke.”

He was holding a box of cigars in one hand and a box of chocolates in the other, looking all too wide-eyed. The past couple of days he had been too bristly for comfort, and I wondered what was going on. Right now, he just looked uncomfortable.

“I thought your father might like them. If he doesn’t, I can always give him the chocolates.” If he had been wearing a dress shirt, I swear, he would have been tugging on the collar by now. As it was, he was wearing a dark green V-neck sweater, a pair of tan cargo pants with a leather belt, and a pair of Fluevog ankle boots with a harness strap on them. They were very rock ‘n roll, and fit his style perfectly. His hair, a deep brown, was brushed, but hanging loose to mid-back, and he had trimmed his beard and mustache. He was gorgeous no matter what he wore, but today he had really spiffed himself up.

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His eyes were shining, as brown as my own, and it dawned on me that he was trying to present a good appearance for when my father arrived. I let out a soft sigh. “Dude, thank you. I know what you’re doing and I wish you’d stop worrying. Curikan’s going to love you.”

“In my experience, very few fathers want to meet the man who’s fucking their daughter.” Kipa laughed nervously and set the cigars and the chocolates on the table. “Seriously, I know I shouldn’t be nervous, but I am. What if he doesn’t like me? What if he wants you to stop seeing me?”

I tried not to roll my eyes. We had played out this scene every single day the past week. It had never occurred to me that Kipa might actually have insecurities, but they had been presenting themselves loud and clear ever since my father called to say he would arrive shortly after the equinox.

“Kipa, I’m young for my people, but I’m still an adult. I see who I want to see. And trust me, if either one of my parents was going to hate you, it would have been Phasmoria. My mother’s far harder to win over than my father, and she thinks the world of you.” I leaned up on my toes to give him a kiss. The metal hoops of his dolphin-bite piercing were cool against my lower lip, but his embrace was warm and I wanted to scramble into his arms and rub myself against him. Kipa had that effect on me.

My recent time spent in therapy had helped immensely and I almost felt back to my old self, and that included my libido. “You want to do me before he gets here?” Even though we’d had sex the night before, I was more than ready to go again.

Kipa pressed closer to me, kissing me on the nose. “I want to do you all the time. If we could be in bed twenty-four/seven, I’d be happy about it. But I’m afraid that’s not going to happen because I promised Herne I’d show up at the Wild Hunt this morning. He’s got news from the Spiral Web about Gyell and the white-dragon twins.”

The Spiral Web was a secret organization of dragon shifters who were on our side, intent on helping us take down Typhon, the Father of Dragons, and the Luminous Warriors—the dragons who followed him.

That took the oomph out of my sails. Reluctantly, I gave him another kiss.

“Well, that puts a crimp in things, but I understand. Go and be careful.” That phrase—Go and be careful—had become a running refrain between us. We were facing a deadly enemy and everyone at the Wild Hunt Agency had a target on their back. As did I.

“I promise. Remember to lock the door, set the wards, and wand your car if you go out,” Kipa said, stretching and yawning.

“I’ll be going out. I’m reading cards down at the Sun and Moon Apothecary this morning, then I need to shop for groceries, so yeah, I’ll remember.”

Because of the dangers we were facing, Yutani—a coyote shifter from the Wild Hunt—had created wands for everybody at the agency that could detect bugs, bombs, and other such devices. He had made one for me, too, since I worked with them on occasion. When we ran them up one side of the car and down the other, they would emit a high-pitched beep if there was something amiss. The wands weren’t a guarantee of safety, but they could still catch a wide variety of monitoring and explosive devices.

Kipa shrugged into his leather jacket as I walked over to the sliding glass doors leading out into the side yard, off the kitchen. It was raining out, the clouds crowding thickly over the Puget Sound area. The leaves were still covering the boughs but they were in mid-change, turning brilliant shades of copper and rust and yellow as the autumn days began to deepen. While they weren’t ready to go spiraling off the trees, summer was definitely long gone.

As I opened the sliding door, letting fresh air filter in, I noticed a tang to the morning—that chill that foretold nights filled with woodsmoke and the heady scent of petrichor. This was the first hard rain of the season, and from now on, sunny days would be few and far between.

“I think the season’s going to be rainier than usual,” I said, staring at the downpour.

“I think you’re right,” Kipa said, coming up behind me to wrap his arm around my shoulders. “How are you doing, love?”

“I’m better,” I said, leaning back against his chest. “Sejun has managed to remove most of the triggering emotions. The memories I can deal with, as long as the emotional triggers aren’t there. But I tell you this. If I ever see Pandora again, I will do as much damage to that bitch as I can. I may not be able to kill her, but she’ll never put her hands on me again.”

Pandora, the daughter of Zeus, had kidnapped and tortured me. With the help of an Elven counselor—Sejun—I had come to terms with the memories and I actually felt stronger than before. He had helped me turn the panic into determination. Add to that, I wasn’t nearly as naïve as I had been a few months back, and I felt more capable of facing the world. But I was holding a long, dark grudge against Pandora. One day I wanted to meet her on the battlefield and best her. I wanted her to think twice before ever again trying her tricks on another person.

“I know, love. That’s why the extra wards—she’s still out there. I know. And so are Gyell, Aso, and Variance.”

The latter three were dragons determined to bring down the Wild Hunt agency. But all four of them, including Pandora, weren’t as frightening as the force behind them.

Typhon, the Father of Dragons, had set his sights on enslaving the world, on turning it into a dragon free-for-all buffet. Which was why Kipa and I were helping at the Wild Hunt—they were on the frontlines of this battle. The gods were tackling Typhon, who was a Titan, and Herne’s agency was out to stop his emissaries.

I glanced up at Kipa. “I think it’s going to be a cold and dangerous winter.”

“I agree,” he murmured softly. “But we’re together, and that’s what matters.” And once again, the Lord of the Wolves turned me to face him and pressed his lips against mine.

***

After Kipa left, I wandered into the kitchen to rinse our breakfast dishes and put them in the dishwasher. Raj joined me. A gargoyle, he was my best friend, and I took care of his every need. He was about the size of a large rottweiler, with leathery gray skin and puppy-dog eyes. His wings had been cut off by a demon when he was a baby, and I had managed to rescue him via a winning hand in a poker game. I’d paid a powerful witch to wipe Raj’s memory so he wouldn’t remember the pain the demon had inflicted on him. He had lived with me ever since.

“Raven seems quiet today. Is Raven okay?” Raj asked. He walked on his back feet and his front knuckles, a lot like an orangutan. Now, he sat down on his haunches, leaning forward with his hands against the floor.

“Raven’s fine, Raj. Raven is good. She’s just thinking about the autumn.” I tried not to worry Raj. I wanted him to have as carefree a life as he could.

Gargoyles were intelligent, but their intelligence came through in a different way than human or Fae, or—like me—Ante-Fae. They seemed childlike because they perceived the world in a vastly different way.

“Autumn’s fun. Raj likes to go chasing leaves.” He looked glum. “It’s raining. Will Raven still take Raj for a walk later?”

I winced. “Raven’s sorry, Raj. She needs to stop at Llew’s shop and then go grocery shopping. But when she gets home, she’ll bake chocolate chip bars! How about tomorrow?”

Raj thought for a moment, then nodded. “Raj can wait. Raj will watch Acrobert and the Alphas.” He paused. “Raven’s father comes tonight, right?”

“That’s right,” I said.

Sometimes it was hard to describe family relationships to gargoyles. In the wild, they lived in extended family units and sometimes they never knew who their birth parents were. Everyone within each generation was considered a mother, father, sister, or brother. I wasn’t sure how the dynamics worked, but I had been doing some research on the subject and it seemed to be the norm among the various gargoyle clans.

I paused, turning to kneel by him. “Would Raj like some potato chips while he watches his show?”

Raj nodded, his eyes practically glowing. “Raven usually won’t let Raj eat potato chips this early!”

“It’s a special day,” I said, pulling a bag of chips out of the cupboard and shaking out a small bowl of them. “Just wipe the crumbs off if you spill any.” I carried the bowl to the sofa, waiting till Raj got himself situated with the remote. Handing him the bowl, I returned to the kitchen, relieved to hear the television blaring. I had a lot on my mind and really didn’t feel like trying to talk to Raj while I worked.

I took a last look through the fridge and cupboards, jotting down what we were low on, then set the dishwasher to run while I was out. Heading to my bedroom, I stopped to peek in on the ferrets. I had already fed them and changed their bedding, and now they were tuckered out, asleep in their cages. They had several active play sessions a day between which they were out like a light. Finally, I slipped out of my robe and shimmied into black transparent tights. I dressed in a black full skirt, a black mesh turtleneck, and a purple underbust corset. Sitting on the bed, I pulled on a pair of ankle boots covered with buckles and hardware. It wasn’t terribly chilly, but I added a black and plum bolero jacket. I brushed my hair again—I already had my makeup on—and grabbed my purse.

Raj was fully engrossed in his show, so I kissed him on the forehead, made certain all the wards and the alarm system were set, grabbed the wand that Yutani had given me, and took off for my car.

***

The Sun & Moon Apothecary was owned by my friend Llewellyn Roberts, one of the magic-born. He was a fairly powerful witch, married to Jordan Roberts, a tiger shifter who owned the coffee shop right next door—A Taste of Latte. I stopped there first, and ordered a triple-shot caramel mocha with extra whipped cream, then made my way through the bustling streets over to the magic shop.

Herne had helped the United Coalition—the government council—to hold a press conference, warning the nation about the dragons. It had been a move nobody wanted to take, given the possible panic that might ensue. But when the shadow dragons preceding their father’s return had spread out, bringing the dead back to life to attack the living, warning the public had become a necessity. Typhon’s father was Tartarus—the Titan who ruled in the Underworld—and so Typhon and the shadow dragons were keenly in tune with the world of the dead.

I didn’t think any of the other dragons could bring the dead back. Some were in league with Typhon, while others were on our side. When push finally came to shove, nobody on this planet would be able to ignore the fireworks. Dragons weren’t subtle.

I darted into Llew’s shop just as a deluge of rain drenched everyone who was caught outside. The raindrops pounded down, beating a rhythm on the sidewalk. I paused in the door as the wind picked up, driving the rain sideways.

“Boy, if this is the first rain of the season, I dread thinking what it will be like when we’re into the thick of autumn,” I said, hustling over to my table by the window. I set down my cup and then shrugged out of the jacket. Shivering, I scooted over to one of the heating vents on the floor and stood directly over the heat that radiated up.

“Hey, Raven,” Llew said from behind the counter. He had a perplexed look on his face. “What should I take to the farm this weekend? What do you think would sell best at the fair?”

Llewellyn had booked a booth at his friends’ harvest fair that weekend, and I was going along to read the cards. Llew and I had agreed to a twenty-eighty split on my readings, and that was fine with me.

Rain and Marigold Childs, who owned Dream Circle Farms, were a human pagan couple who lived on the outskirts of Woodinville. Rain had taken Marigold’s last name when they married, even though people kept making jokes about how she was a “rain child.”

They sold eggs, flowers, jams, jellies, and honey that they harvested off their farm, and in the autumn, they sold pumpkins and corn during their harvest fair. Come November, they shifted focus and sold vendor spots to local artisans for the winter holidays.

“Potpourri for the autumn, cinnamon sticks, pumpkin pie spice, garlic braids for magical protection. Actually, any protection oils and charms you take will probably fly off the table given everybody knows about the dragons. I’m surprised there hasn’t been more panic.”

Shortly after the announcement there had been an initial surge in hoarding, but people seemed to have gotten comfortable again, and while visits to graveyards were limited to certain hours during which the cemeteries had protection, the majority of people didn’t seem to have made any adjustments to their lives.

“Good idea. I’ll pack up everything for protection and cleansing that I have.”

Llew was a handsome man, lean and lanky with a perpetual smile. His hair was silken smooth, braided back to keep it out of his way. He had grown out his goatee into a neatly trimmed beard and mustache and was wearing a pair of purple jeans, an autumn-leaf print shirt, and a pair of sneakers. He was eclectic, for sure. He was also one of the best friends I had.

“You might want to take some autumn-themed candles,” I added. “You know, spiritual visitation, venerating the ancestors, house cleansing, that sort of thing.”

“I’ll add those into the mix, along with some orange, yellow, and green tapers.” He glanced over at me. “You have two clients this morning, but I kept this afternoon free as you asked.”

I read the cards at Llew’s shop a couple days a week and I had a steady clientele. I was accurate and to the point, and I took the time to help my clients decipher how the readings fit into their lives. It led to repeat customers, which was always a bonus.

My first client was a young woman who wanted to know how her freshman year in college was going to go. The cards predicted she would be a big hit with the geek crowd and ace her studies, and she seemed satisfied by the time we finished.

The second client was a regular, and he asked the same question he always asked. I was running out of advice to give him. I was also running out of patience.

Gary was a nervous man who lived alone. In his mid-thirties, he was a homebody and afraid to put himself out there. His idea of a wild time was to have a beer with his pizza. He also worked the night shift as a security guard in a big office building. In other words, the dude barely knew anybody, worked a cockeyed schedule, and desperately wanted to meet a nice woman with whom he could settle down.

The cards told me pretty much what I could have surmised on my own: If he didn’t get his ass out in public, he wasn’t going to meet anybody. But the thought of going to a bar made him cringe, and when I suggested he join a group that pertained to his side interests, which were birdwatching, reading, and toy poodles, he kept making excuse after excuse as to why it wouldn’t work.

“Gary, you’re never going to meet anyone if you lock yourself in your house all day. The universe doesn’t just toss women like Mardi Gras beads.” I shuffled the cards and put them aside. The reading had said the same thing the last three readings did.

“But why won’t the cards tell me what to do?”

“They have. Three times in a row. They’re telling you the same thing each time because you haven’t got the message through your head yet. I don’t have a different answer for you because there isn’t one.”

He stared at the table, a glum expression on his face. “But I don’t like going out.”

“Do you want to find a date?” I leaned back and folded my arms across my chest. “Either you get your ass out of your house or you sign up for an online dating service and go out with someone the computer matches you with. Hey, that might be the ticket. Why not give it a try?”

He frowned. “What if we don’t get along? What if we have nothing in common? What if I just don’t like her—or she doesn’t like me?”

He was starting to spiral. “Gary, listen to me. Focus.” I held his gaze. “If you don’t like her, you don’t have to go out with her again. If she doesn’t like you, she’ll just refuse a second date. What can you lose, except one evening?” I stared at him, waiting.

Fidgeting, he finally looked me in the eye. “All right. But I’m afraid.”

“Of what?” I was getting irritated. I had cut off clients before when they kept coming back, wanting a different answer without doing the actual work.

He shifted in his seat and finally leaned across the table and whispered, “I’ve only gone out with three women in my life. I’m just…” He blushed and stared at the table.

I reached across the table and patted his hand. “You’re shy. There’s no crime in that. A lot of people are. But you have a lot of wonderful qualities, Gary. You’re smart, you have a good job, you actually want a relationship instead of just somebody to fu—” As he blushed even deeper I quickly shifted to, “sleep with.”

“Thanks, Raven. I suppose you’re right. Unless I put myself out there, how am I ever going to find someone? I’m just not sure what to do.”

I thought quickly. “Let’s get Llew involved. He’ll set you up with a spell to meet someone who’s right for you.”

As the blush on Gary’s cheeks faded, he gave me a genuine smile.

I motioned to Llew. “Gary needs a love spell to attract a good match for him. Could you get him set up with something? I’ve got to run. My father’s coming in tonight and I have to go grocery shopping and get home before he meets Kipa without me.”

While I was certain my father was going to like Kipa, I had a sudden vision of my boyfriend stumbling over his words and blurting out something the wrong way. If I was there, I could smooth the introductions.

Llew motioned for Gary to follow him. “Come on, let’s go get you situated. Have you ever done any magic at all?”

Gary shook his head as Llew led him over to the counter. Feeling a little guilty about foisting Gary off on Llew, I gathered my things and slung my purse over my shoulder. Dropping my cup in the recycling can that Llew kept in the shop, I glanced outside. The rain was still thrashing the streets. No matter what, I was going to get soaked on my way back to my car.

Steeling myself, I pushed open the door and made a run for it.

COLLAPSE

Playlist for Witching Time

Air: Moon Fever; Playground Love; Napalm Love
Airstream: Electra (Religion Cut)
Alexandros: Milk (Bleach Version); Mosquito Bite
Alice in Chains: Sunshine; Man in the Box; Bleed the Freak
Android Lust: Here & Now; Saint Over
Band of Skulls: I Know What I Am
The Black Angels: Currency; Hunt Me Down; Death March; Indigo Meadow; Don’t Play With Guns; Always Maybe; Black Isn’t Black
Black Mountain: Queens Will Play
Blind Melon: No Rain
Boom! Bap! Pow!: Suit
Brandon & Derek Fiechter: Night Fairies; Toll Bridge; Will-O’-Wisps; Black Wolf’s Inn; Naiad River; Mushroom Woods
The Bravery: Believe
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside
Camouflage Nights: (It Could Be) Love
Colin Foulke: Emergence
Crazy Town: Butterfly
Danny Cudd: Double D; Remind; Once Again; Timelessly Free; To The Mirage
David Bowie: Golden Years; Let’s Dance; Sister Midnight; I’m Afraid of Americans; Jean Jeanie
Death Cab For Cutie: I Will Possess Your Heart
Dizzi: Dizzi Jig; Dance of the Unicorns
DJ Shah: Mellomaniac
Don Henley: Dirty Laundry; Sunset Grill; The Garden of Allah; Everybody Knows
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being
Eels: Love of the Loveless; Souljacker Part 1
Elektrisk Gonnar: Uknowhatiwant
FC Kahuna: Hayling
The Feeling: Sewn
Filter: Hey Man Nice Shot
Finger Eleven: Paralyzer
Flora Cash: You’re Somebody Else
Fluke: Absurd
Foster The People: Pumped Up Kicks
Garbage: Queer; Only Happy When It Rains; #1Crush; Push It; I Think I’m Paranoid
Gary Numan: Hybrid; Cars; Petals; Ghost Nation; My Name Is Ruin; Pray For The Pain You Serve; I Am Dust
Godsmack: Voodoo
The Gospel Whisky Runners: Muddy Waters
The Hang Drum Project: Shaken Oak; St. Chartier
Hang Massive: Omat Odat; Released Upon Inception; Thingless Things; Boat Ride; Transition to Dreams: End of Sky; Warmth of the Sun’s Rays; Luminous Emptiness
The Hu: The Gereg; Wolf Totem
Imagine Dragons: Natural
In Strict Confidence: Snow White; Tiefer; Silver Bullets; Forbidden Fruit
J Rokka: Marine Migration
Jessica Bates: The Hanging Tree
Korn: Freak on a Leash; Make Me Bad
Lorde: Yellow Flicker Beat; Royals
Low: Witches; Nightingale; Plastic Cup; Monkey; Half-Light
M.I.A.: Bad Girls
Many Rivers Ensemble: Blood Moon; Oasis; Upwelling; Emergence
Marconi Union: First Light; Alone Together; Flying (In Crimson Skies); Always Numb; Time Lapse; On Reflection; Broken Colours; We Travel; Weightless
Marilyn Manson: Arma-Goddamn-Motherfucking-Geddon
Matt Corby: Breathe
NIN: Closer; Head Like A Hole; Terrible Lie; Sin (Long); Deep
Nirvana: Lithium; About A Girl; Come As You Are; Lake of Fire; You Know You’re Right
Orgy: Social Enemies; Orgy
Pati Yang: All That Is Thirst
Puddle of Mudd: Famous; Psycho
Red Venom: Let’s Get It On
Rob Zombie: American Witch; Living Dead Girl; Never Gonna Stop
Rue du Soleil: We Can Fly; Le Francaise; Wake Up Brother; Blues Du Soleil
Screaming Trees: Where The Twain Shall Meet; All I Know
Shriekback: Underwater Boys; Over the Wire; This Big Hush; Agony Box; Bollo Rex; Putting All The Lights Out; The Fire Has Brought Us Together; Shovelheads; And the Rain; Wiggle & Drone; Now These Days Are Gone; The King in the Tree
Spiderbait: Shazam!
Tamaryn: While You’re Sleeping, I’m Dreaming; Violet’s In A Pool
Thomas Newman: Dead Already
Tom Petty: Mary Jane’s Last Dance
Trills: Speak Loud
The Verve: Bitter Sweet Symphony
Vive la Void: Devil
Wendy Rule: Let the Wind Blow
Yoshi Flower: Brown Paper Bag

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Witching Time