October is here and with it the beautiful changing of seasons from the green of summer to the oranges, yellows, and browns of fall (unless you live in Phoenix, Arizona). It is a month that we long for pumpkin and spice, cookies and pies. We welcome the thrill of spooks and specters, witches and warlocks. In honor of this festive time, we give you a sneak peek into Rachel’s second book of the Personal Demon Series and to the mother of witches, Fiona, the first white witch.
Personal Guardians: Chapter 4
My gaze traced the line of the demon’s black handled knife, down the smooth blade, to my red nightshirt. My head swirled, vision blurred, as realization dawned.
Dropping my knife, my immediate reaction was to pull the offending object from my body, but strong hands stopped me from doing so, pinning my arms to my side.
“I have to pull it out,” I breathed, nearly hyperventilating.
“No,” the voice said, his grip tightening.
But he didn’t understand. There was too much blood and the knife was too big. I chanced a glimpse at the dagger, but it was a glow that caught my attention instead. A woman entered my bedroom carrying a single candle in her hand.
Setting it on my nightstand, the woman struck a match. It fizzed to life; the smell of sulfur dioxide heated my senses as she lit the wick and snuffed out the match. Keeping her gaze lowered, the woman nodded before quitting the room. Confused, I looked down at the candle, watching the flame flicker, momentarily mesmerized by its beauty. More light arrived as another resident arrived bearing a candle—then another, and another. They slowly trickled in, bringing a spark as they came, placing them in random spots all over my room.
“Am I—am I going to die?” I asked.
“No,” Darius said, coming into focus. His eyes caught mine, forcing me to pay attention, forcing me to see him. “Be still, Ava.” His voice soothed as he stared into me, unblinking, his face only inches from my own. Keeping my gaze fixed on his, I slowed my breathing. “That’s a good girl.” He nodded in encouragement. A gentle smile softened his expression, the hard lines of his face gone.
How different Darius appeared when he wasn’t scowling at me. Eyes overflowing with apprehension, he pleaded with me not to move and I listened, but only because he had asked nicely. Only because he had looked at me with such worried kindness—at me—that I couldn’t do anything but obey.
Examining his face in the new light, my sight caught upon muscled shoulders, a hard chest, and powerful arms, each sculpted to the extreme. A huge black tattoo, scrawled over the left side of his chest and down the ribcage. From memory I knew it fell down his back on the same side. His tanned skin glowed warm, and enticing, and my heart accelerated, beating painfully. I would have blushed if I had the blood to.
“Why are you naked?” I asked, my voice pitched, grimacing through the pain. And why did he have to be so beautiful? It made breathing all that much harder.
Shocked, Darius stirred, then almost grinned. “I’m not naked, Ava. Don’t talk right now.”
“But you have no clothes on,” I hissed, attempting to look away.
Darius was about to argue when Elisa breezed into the room. She nodded to him as she passed into the bathroom. I heard the faucet whine and water from the bathtub pour, but hadn’t taken my eyes from the doorway or the ethereal beauty that stood watching from the threshold.
“You may go, Darius,” the woman spoke, her alto voice richly accented.
I shook my head. “I don’t care that I hate you. Don’t leave me with her,” I whispered.
“You hate me?” Pain flickered across his features. He looked down at my hands, now grasping his in a firm grip, my knuckles white. “Ava, this is Fiona. She is your Healer. You have nothing to fear.”
“But I don’t know her,” I mouthed.
My head spun with warnings from my father. I surveilled the newcomer with unconcealed suspicion as she shut the door behind her. A lilac nightgown wrapped her long, slender body as if it was specially tailored for her and all her generous feminine curves. Thick, black hair twisted down her back in untamed waves. Picking up a candle, she glided barefoot to my bed. Her olive skin shimmered in the candlelight, eyes wide and curious. She looked positively wild and powerful—which unsettled me even more.
“Leave, Darius,” she commanded.
He hesitated. “She wants me to stay.”
“Of course she does, but you cannot. Go to your room; crack the door if you’d like. Just leave.”
“Darius,” I begged, but he was already pulling his hands from mine, his warmth abandoning me.
I shivered, alone in my bed, watching as he backed to the secreted entrance, his gaze never leaving mine, and slipped away into the darkened room. The door he left ajar.
If I had the proper energy for it, I would have been furious with him—at everyone—for not telling me that his was the room located right next to mine and with an entryway into my very own. As it was, I couldn’t give the subject the proper response it would require. I would save that one for next time—if there was a next time.
Soft laughter caught my attention. “Why don’t you want to be alone with me, child?”
I met her steady gaze, refusing to answer her simple question, panting through the rising pain.
Fiona’s lips lifted in the corners as she regarded me, and then—she began humming. A strange, low tune that caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand. One long finger played with the flame as it danced upon the candle she held, her song growing louder as she began to sway. Setting the candle on my nightstand, she closed her eyes, caught up in her own song. Humming transformed to mumbling. Words I had never heard blended together in an accent strong and fluid.
Fiona’s eyes flew open, peering at me queerly. She called me by my name as she glided toward me: “Ava Matthias.”
Before I could answer, she placed her hand on the side of my head. Leaning down, she whispered words into my ears. Verses distinct, yet alien, came sharp and articulated.
Her fingers trailed down my face in comforting strokes, sliding down my lids, gently forcing them closed. Voices entered upon my mind, whispering to my soul, comforting me.
I could trust her—have faith in my Healer.
And I did. She would take care of me. She would help me.
A second later, a harsh jolt sent me reeling as she grabbed the blade by the hilt and ripped the dagger from my shoulder. Pain erupted and I screamed, flashes of light littering my view. She threw the knife clattering to the floor and pressed her fingers into the wound. My hands clasped hers in an effort to pry them from the cavity, but she was strong and kept firm, kept singing, kept praying.
My eyes glazed over from the pain, my head dropping back against the headboard, and I watched as the flames from each lit candle cast shadows on my mother’s wall of vines, making them dance and move with the music, with Fiona, with the beating of my heart.
The music stopped, and I sighed in relief as the pressure released. My eyes drooped closed.
“No sleeping, my dear. You must be up and awake.”
Strong arms snaked under my knees and behind my shoulders, lifting my weak body with ease. I heard another door, the secret door into my chambers, click closed as Fiona carried me into the bathroom where Elisa waited. Arms stretched, Elisa received me, standing me up on wobbly legs. Eyebrows furrowed; worry pulled at her features.
“Laith,” I croaked. He had gone after the demon and hadn’t returned. “He—”
“He’s fine,” she said, studying my face. “He’s with a large group of security ensuring the demon is gone and searching for any missing members.”
I breathed in relief.
Elisa lifted my soiled nightshirt, leaving my pendant on, and removed my underthings. For a brief moment, I wondered if I should be embarrassed by my nudity, but no—I couldn’t care less, not anymore. They had saved my life.
They guided me into the bathtub. The smell of oils and herbs enlivened my senses. Pouring water onto my head, Fiona rubbed shampoo into my hair. Her fingers massaged my scalp, alleviating the painful drumming inside my head. Elisa called helpers to clean my bloodied linens and clothes.
Fiona laughed behind me. “You’ve stirred excitement into this compound that the residents haven’t seen in years, if ever, my niece.”
“Your niece?” I asked, opening my eyes, my vision clearing, but Fiona didn’t answer.
Elisa returned, sitting on the edge of the tub. She handed me a wash cloth. I hesitated, afraid to know, to see the damage from the demon assassin.
Sensing my hesitation, Elisa smiled encouragingly. “Don’t worry, Ava. Look at it. You are healed. You are fine.”
My heartbeat intensified as I prepared myself for what I could only guess I would find from the demon’s deadly blade, but while blood caked my shoulder and chest, no repulsive ruin of flesh marred my vision. I gaped at the smooth skin.
“I can heal you. Bind your wounds and mend your broken bones, but I cannot siphon the blood from your body. That you must wash off.” I could hear the laughter in Fiona’s voice as I further examined myself. Relief flowed over me like a balm.
“How did you do it?” I asked, turning in my bathwater to Fiona, who only dumped a cup of water on my head to wash out the suds. I coughed and sputtered through the downpour.
“Just like you are the Defender, and Elisa is a Herald—I am a Healer. It is my calling,” she said simply.