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These Witches Don't Burn

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Hannah’s a witch, but not the kind you’re thinking of. She’s the real deal, an Elemental with the power to control fire, earth, water, and air. But even though she lives in Salem, Massachusetts, her magic is a secret she has to keep to herself. If she’s ever caught using it in front of a Reg (read: non-witch), she could lose it. For good. So, Hannah spends most of her time avoiding her ex-girlfriend (and fellow Elemental Witch) Veronica, hanging out with her best friend, and working at the Fly by Night Cauldron selling candles and crystals to tourists, goths, and local Wiccans.
Year:
2020
Publisher:
Razorbill
Language:
english
Pages:
336
ISBN 13:
9780451480347
File:
EPUB, 380 KB
Download (epub, 380 KB)

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5 comments
 
niiiiiiiiceeeee
weirdly enjoyed this one.
05 July 2021 (21:27) 
multifandombookworm
the romance, the witches and the family, love and friends summed up in the plot of a witch hunter was perfect.
02 August 2021 (01:53) 
Anais Bigok
J’ai fait une bonne lecture mais rien d’extra
07 August 2021 (01:02) 
Dilbert
Everything burns, you just need to use the heavy flamer
02 November 2021 (00:42) 
Nicky
super easy to read, loved the storyline, the only thing im not fond of is how this book ended but i will definitely read the next part
17 November 2021 (23:57) 

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			An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, New York



			First published in the United States of America by Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2019

			Copyright © 2019 by Samantha Adams

			Penguin Random House supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin Random House to continue to publish books for every reader.

			RAZORBILL & colophon is a registered trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.

			Visit us online at penguinrandomhouse.com

			LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA IS AVAILABLE

			Ebook ISBN 9780451480330

			This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.



		Version_1





For my wife, Megan. Meeting you changed everything, including this story.





CONTENTS


			 				 				Title Page

			 				 				Copyright

			 				 				Dedication

			 				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

			 				 				Acknowledgments

			 				 				About the Author





1





THEY SAY THERE’S A fine line between love an; d hate.

			I used to think They were idiots. Most people are. What could some faceless They know about love? Or hate for that matter. But then I dated Veronica Matthews.

			Veronica. Matthews.

			The girl who pulled me out of the closet so fast and so completely my head was still spinning weeks later. Our first kiss was life-changing. Identity-altering. Even after a year of dating, I still don’t have the right words to describe it.

			My parents were surprised, though they recovered quickly, when I walked into the kitchen the day of the kiss to announce, “Mom. Dad. Turns out, I’m gay.”

			Dad dropped his sauce spoon on the floor. He blinked a few times, then shrugged. “Oh, well, okay then.”

			Mom picked up the sauce spoon and rinsed it in the sink. “Want to talk about it?”

			I remember shrugging. Dad and I do that a lot. “Nope. Just thought you should know.”

			And that was that.

			Veronica Matthews taught me about love, and I guess They were right. There really was a fine line to cross to hate. The same girl who dragged my ass out of the closet later tore my heart from my chest with her meticulously manicured nails.

			I hate her. The stupid, self-centered—

			Someone clears their throat in front of me. I tear my gaze away from Veronica, who’s in the back of the shop by the prepackaged potions, flirting with a girl whose name I can’t remember. She looks familiar, with her warm brown skin and a tumble of tight black curls. I think she was on the cheerleading squad with Veronica.

			Evan Woelk, a tall, skinny white boy with guyliner thick around his dark brown eyes, stands on the other side of the counter. He smiles when I finally turn my attention his way. “Hey, Hannah.” He drops a pile of merchandise next to the register and shoves his hands deep in his front pockets.

			“Find everything okay?” I ask, stifling a cringe as Veronica giggles. Even the lavender incense burning on the counter behind me can’t calm my nerves when she’s around.

			Evan nods and watches the total go up and up as I scan his items. Black candles. Twine for binding rituals. A book on hexes. Incense. An all-black athame, both edges of the knife sharp even though the blade is only used for directing energy. I fight the urge to roll my eyes. Yet another Reg playing at being a witch.

			I ring up the last item and glance at Evan. He has the whole goth thing going on—black jeans, a tight black shirt, and rings on every finger—which makes this all the more ridiculous. “Eighty-four ninety-five.” I bite my lip as he swipes his card. Part of me wants to warn him. Even if Wiccan magic is child’s play compared to what I can do, it’s still dangerous to mess with forces you don’t understand.

			Not that I’ll actually say anything. To expose my secret is to risk banishment.

			Or worse.

			Evan accepts his bag with a tight smile. He shifts on his feet, not leaving. I plaster on my work smile, but I’m itching for him to go. Veronica’s still giggling over something What’s-Her-Face has said. I don’t want to deal with her, but I can’t leave the counter with a customer in the shop. I never considered myself the jealous type, but if those two don’t get out of here soon, I’ll—

			“Is that Veronica?” he asks, pointing at the pad of paper in front of me. The one with my half-finished Veronica-turned-evil-demon sketch. “I heard you two broke up.”

			Heat burns at my cheeks. I crumple the page and toss it in the trash. “I really don’t want to talk about it.” Of course he’s heard. The whole school gossiped about our public breakup for weeks.

			“Forget I asked.” Evan brushes his dark hair out of his eyes. It’s a wasted effort, as it flops right back into place. “Are you going to the bonfire tonight?”

			I offer a half smile, my thanks for the subject change. “I think Gemma wants to go.” And if my best friend wants to go to the annual end-of-school-year bonfire in the woods, there’s no way she’ll let me skip it. “I take it you’re going?”

			“Wouldn’t miss it.” He raises his bag of magic supplies, the athame poking out through a small tear in the plastic. “See you tonight.”

			“Later,” I say, but I roll my eyes once Evan is gone. I get enough of the wannabes from the tourists who visit Salem. It’s even more annoying when the locals do it, too. They act like it’s all about the wardrobe and accessories. Here, buy a necklace and a few candles. That totally makes you a witch. If they had any clue what real witches were like, what we’re capable of . . .

			They probably wouldn’t sleep very well at night.

			Veronica’s laugh trickles through to the front of the store. Familiar pangs of desire work down my spine, but the ice in my veins squashes the feeling. I want her out of this shop. I want her out of my life long enough for me to get over her.

			But no. If only I were so lucky. The selfish, gorgeous bane of my existence belongs to the same coven as my family. Which was great while we were dating, but now . . .

			“Oh, Hannah. I forgot you work here.” Veronica sidles up to the counter with a small basket of candles and incense, the lie falling effortlessly from her glossy lips. “How are you?”

			I reach for the candles she deposited on the counter and ring them up. “What are you doing here?”

			“Shopping.” She smirks and shares a look with What’s-Her-Face, who snaps her gum.

			“This tourist trap overcharges, and you know it.” I shove the candles into a paper bag, letting my shoulder-length brown hair fall past my face. It creates enough of a barrier to keep from looking at her.

			“Maybe I wanted to see you.” Veronica’s voice is sweet like honey, but I can hear the poison beneath her words. “You’re not returning my texts.”

			“Yeah, well, take a hint.” I place the last of the incense in the bag. “That’ll be forty-four ninety-three.”

			She hands over cash, her fingers lingering on mine. A shiver crawls along my skin, but I won’t let her see that. I can’t let her know she still affects me that way. “It doesn’t have to be like this, Hannah.” She almost seems sincere.

			And the way my name sounds rolling off her tongue? I have to swallow around the lump in my throat before I can speak. “Thank you for visiting the Fly by Night Cauldron. Have a nice day.”

			“Come on, Ronnie, let’s go.” What’s-Her-Face, who Veronica never bothered to introduce, pivots and hurries toward the exit, her heels clicking against the floor.

			But Veronica pauses. Lingers. As if there’s more she came to say. My heart pounds in my chest, and I’m sure she must hear it.

			I tug at my uniform again. “Since when do you let people call you Ronnie? You hate that.”

			My ex watches her friend leave, and when she’s sure we’re alone, she leans against the counter, staring up at me through her lashes. “Be careful, Hannah. I might think you’re jealous.” A deliberate breeze brushes my neck, laced with a current of Veronica’s power. The smoke from the incense swirls its way between us, caressing my cheek and slipping along Veronica’s collarbone, drawing my eye to the bit of exposed skin.

			“What the hell are you doing?” Even though I don’t see anyone else in the shop, I keep my voice low so no one overhears. “If Lady Ariana caught you using magic in public—”

			“Relax, Hannah. It’s not like she’d ever step foot in a place like this. No one’s going to know.” She fixes me with her emerald stare, but I back out of reach. Using magic in public is a surefire way to lose coven privileges. And I, for one, don’t want my training delayed because my obnoxious ex is careless.

			Veronica sighs and pushes away from the counter, releasing her hold on the air. The wind dies and resumes a more natural path. “Happy?”

			I don’t dignify her with an answer. She knows what would happen if a Reg caught us. If our high priestess found out.

			“Listen, Hannah.” Veronica fusses with her bag of candles. “I wanted to know . . . Are you coming to graduation tomorrow? I think I finally perfected my speech.”

			“Really?” I cringe at the encouragement in my voice. Instincts from a lifetime of friendship are hard to quell, no matter how much she hurt me. I cross my arms and glance around the shop to make sure we’re still alone. “No, I’m not. I’d rather let the Council strip my magic than sit through that.”

			The words hang in the air between us, charged with more power than Veronica’s manipulated wind. Her lips part, but nothing comes out. I wonder if she’s thinking about the day we went shopping for her graduation dress. If she remembers what we did the night she was officially named valedictorian, after her parents went to bed. Guilt clutches at my chest, but I push it away.

			It’s her fault we’re not together anymore. She’s the one who hurt me.

			Veronica shifts the bag to her other hand, and a mask settles over her features. Gone is the hurt. Gone is the girl I loved, replaced by the one who broke my heart.

			What’s-Her-Face leans back into the shop. “Everything all right in here?”

			“Of course.” Veronica smiles her perfect smile, brandishing it like a weapon. “Just thought I forgot my receipt. Let’s go.” She turns away, loops her arm through her friend’s, and disappears out the door.

			As the bell jingles their departure, my heart threatens to burst. The tears sting, but I won’t let them fall. I won’t give Veronica the satisfaction.

			If she thinks she can show up at my work all summer, she’s sorely mistaken. Because when it comes to holding a grudge, I’m an Olympic champion.





2





AFTER I CLOCK OUT for the day, I swing by the dance studio to pick up Gemma from her ballet class. She’s easy to spot, standing nearly a head taller than her classmates. When Gemma hit five ten in ninth grade, everyone tried to get her to join the basketball team, but her body is built for dance. Even walking is a performance; she practically floats into my car.

			“You ready to rock the hell out of this bonfire?” Gemma slides on her seat belt and pulls her blonde hair loose from its bun.

			I shrug and pull into traffic.

			Gemma scowls. “I know that face, Han. What’d Veronica do?”

			There isn’t a single subject change that’ll distract Gemma when she’s wearing that expression, so I fill her in on the Veronica Incident. Minus the whole Veronica-doing-magic-in-public thing. The only secret I’ve ever kept from Gem is my status as an Elemental Witch, and that’s a secret I’ll take to my grave.

			When I finish my story, there’s a murderous gleam to Gemma’s eyes. “You should ask your boss to ban her from the store.”

			“That seems a little extreme,” I say as I make the final turn down my street.

			“Everything about Veronica is ‘a little extreme.’ You need space.” Gemma reaches for my hand when I throw the car in park. “At the very least, promise you’ll enjoy the bonfire tonight? Party until you forget all about her?”

			“Promise.”

			A few short hours later, as the sun dips and the sky blushes, Gemma has succeeded in step one of our mission. We’re ready to party.

			The crackle of the bonfire greets us moments before we step through a thicket of trees into the hidden clearing that has hosted generations of Salem High students. Beside me, Gemma scans the party. “Is it me, or does everyone look hotter out here than in class?”

			I survey the dancing teens. I’ll say one thing for sure: there’s a lot more skin showing here than in school. “How do you have beer goggles already? I’m pretty sure you have to drink first.”

			“I’m serious. Maybe it’s the firelight.” Gemma heads for the keg, where she fills a cup, takes a swig, and grimaces.

			“That good, huh?”

			“The first drink is the worst. You’re too sober to forget how shitty it tastes.” She raises the cup but pauses before taking another sip. “Are you okay?”

			“I’m fine.” I force myself to focus on Gemma instead of the growing crowd around us. I refuse to spend the entire night searching for Veronica and What’s-Her-Face. Gem levels me with a look, and I sigh. “I will be. Promise.”

			Behind us, someone adds more wood to the bonfire. The flames snap and crackle along the logs, and I turn to look. My skin tingles with untapped magic as I near the fire, drawn forward like a bug to a zapper. I can’t let myself give in to its song. Not here, surrounded by Regs. Gemma follows, and we stand together beside the bonfire, swaying to the music pouring from someone’s truck.

			I step closer to the flames, until I feel the lick of heat against my face. The energy cascades over me, through me, driving out the lingering hurt from seeing Veronica. Numbing bad memories like a magical novocaine.

			Gemma touches my elbow. I turn, half-dazed, and she nods in the direction of Nolan Abbott. Nolan will be a senior next year, like us, and the new soccer captain has his eye on my best friend.

			“Looks like someone has an admirer tonight.” I nudge Gem in the shoulder. “Are you interested?” I waggle my eyebrows.

			She returns Nolan’s appraising look. “Not my usual type,” she says at last, “but what the hell. A summer fling never hurt anyone.” But then she pauses, biting her lip. She glances back at me. “I can’t abandon you.”

			“It’s fine. I’ll hang by the fire.”

			“Are you sure?” Gemma flashes me a look, and I nod. “When I come back, I want to see you in full party mode. No moping about you-know-who.”

			I raise my middle three fingers to the star-speckled sky. “Scout’s honor. Now go.”

			Gemma grins and glides across the clearing to Nolan, who’s trying to look like he’s not waiting for her. He grins wide when Gemma arrives, and I turn back to the fire.

			“Hannah?”

			I hear my name but don’t look. Instead, I lose myself in the flicker of flames and the pulse of music.

			“Earth to Hannah. Come in, Hannah.” The voice is closer now, a teasing edge to the deep timbre.

			I grin when I realize who’s disturbed my fire gazing and turn to greet him. “Hey, Benton. Excited for graduation tomorrow?”

			“Excited. Relieved. Contemplating my place in the universe.” He laughs, showcasing the dimples that sent Gemma into full-on crush mode back when we were freshmen and Benton was the new sophomore in Salem. “It still feels so surreal, you know? I can’t believe I’m done.”

			I nod, even though I still have another year left. “Art class won’t be the same without you.”

			“I’m sure you’ll manage.” Benton’s eye twitches like he meant to wink but thought better of it halfway through. He stares at the fire instead of looking at me.

			“So . . .” I say, wishing I had a bottle or something to occupy my hands. “Any fun plans before college? Are you going to throw another pool party this year?”

			“I don’t think so. My parents were not pleased with the amount of beer cans they caught me fishing out of the water.”

			That earns a laugh. There were a ton of people at his place last year. “What if it’s just us? I promise to be a courteous guest.” I nudge him with my elbow. “Come on, there have to be some perks to being your art buddy all year.”

			Benton’s cheeks flush pink. “I could probably swing that.” He runs a hand through his hair, and I catch the flash of a tattoo.

			“Nice ink. Is that new?” I gesture to the black triangle on his wrist. “I don’t remember seeing it in class.”

			“What? Oh, yeah. It’s an early graduation gift to myself.”

			“What does it mean?”

			Someone adds more wood to the fire, and sparks flare into the sky. Benton steps back, shielding his eyes. Reluctantly, I back away, too. Nothing compares to the gentle lick of flames across my skin, to the rush of power that comes from contact, but this isn’t the place. As an Elemental, fire won’t burn my skin, but I don’t want to attract any questions if my clothes burn and I do not.

			Benton runs a finger along the triangle on his wrist. “It’s delta. The symbol for change. It’s the only thing in life you can really count on.”

			I nod and fall silent. Benton doesn’t continue, and I don’t push. Instead, I lose myself to the fire’s dance. Another shot of sparks dots the sky. Chills tingle down my back. If only I were alone, the things I could do with a fire this size . . .

			Benton sidles closer to me, and something in his posture draws my attention away from the flames. I have to crane my neck to meet his stare. “How are you, really?” he asks. “I know things have been rough since you and Veronica split.” He shoves his hands in the pockets of his ripped jeans, but he’s standing well inside my personal bubble.

			“Rough’s one word for it.” The mention of Veronica is a shot of poison right to the heart. I want to be home, in bed, where I can hide the tears pressing behind my eyes. Benton should know better. He was there. He saw the shouting match outside our bus back to Salem. He and Gemma comforted me on the horribly awkward ride home.

			“I’m sorry.” Benton tugs at his hair, which makes it stand on end for a moment before it falls. “Um, so I was thinking. I know the timing sucks, but . . . do you want to get coffee sometime?”

			I stare at my friend. Unblinking. Confused. Slightly horrified.

			“I totally get if it’s too soon. I do. And normally I wouldn’t ask someone out this soon after a breakup, but I’m leaving for Boston in August, and I didn’t want to leave without trying, and—”

			“Are you seriously asking me out right now?”

			Benton falters. This clearly isn’t going the way he rehearsed it in his head. “Um . . . yes?”

			“Why?”

			“Because you’re funny. And kind. And smart. And—”

			“And a huge lesbian,” I add before this can get any more awkward. “I thought you knew that.”

			Benton stares at his shoes. “I did. I do.”

			“So, what?” I ask, fury and betrayal rising from deep in my gut. “Did you think you could turn me straight?”

			“No! No, of course not.” He blows out a breath and laces his hands on top of his head. “I feel like such an asshole right now.”

			The tension in my chest loosens. A little. “Let’s pretend this never happened.” I hold out a hand. “Friends?”

			“Friends.” Benton shakes my hand, but his forehead crinkles. “I don’t get why Savannah told me to ask you out. She said you were bisexual. She even said you had a crush on me.”

			I don’t hear whatever he says next. Savannah. That’s her name. What’s-Her-Face from the store this afternoon. I grab Benton’s arm. “Savannah told you? When?”

			Benton glances at the place where my fingers circle his bare skin. I let go. “Like ten minutes ago.” He kicks at a pebble on the ground, sending it skittering into the fire. “This is so messed up.”

			“No kidding.” I’m already scanning the crowd for her expanse of dark curls. “Where was she when she told you?”

			“Over there.” He gestures toward the other side of the clearing, across a throng of writhing bodies.

			“Great, thanks.” I take off toward the swell of dancers moving their hips to yet another wordless song with pounding bass. The crackle of fire is loud in my ears, but familiar laughter breaks through. My hands ball into fists.

			“Where are you going?” Benton’s words chase after me.

			“To find Veronica.” And end this.



* * *



			• • •

			The field around the bonfire is packed tight with seniors who are going to be painfully hungover for their graduation tomorrow. I weave through their gyrating bodies, careful to dodge the cups of beer. I’m going to kill Veronica when I find her. She’s lucky it’s against Council law to attack another witch.

			I’m almost to the back of the crowd when I hear her voice, low and sharp as she speaks to Savannah. I squeeze past the edge of the crowd and spot them.

			Savannah leans against a tree and reaches for Veronica’s hand. “Come on, Ronnie,” she soothes. “After what she did to you? She deserved worse.”

			Veronica hisses something in response, but I can’t make out her words.

			My throat closes, and I see red. I am fire—pure passion and perfect aggression. All the frustrations from the shop today crackle inside, ready for a fight. Savannah sees me first. A smug look pulls at her purple lips, the color bold and sophisticated against her skin tone. Veronica turns, eyes flashing in the moonlight. She wipes her face free of expression, settles on her perfect mask.

			Just seeing her, watching her as she watches me, makes my skin flush hot. I wish, not for the first time since we broke up, that I could forget how good it feels when her body is pressed against mine.

			“What the hell is your problem, Veronica?”

			Veronica drains her cup and passes it to Savannah. “Could you grab me another drink? I think Hannah needs a word.” She stares at me the whole time she speaks, like she’s watching to see how mad I am, to see how far she can push until I lose all sense of myself.

			Times like this I can’t believe we ever dated.

			Savannah glances between us, the victory vanishing from her eyes. She takes Veronica’s cup and stalks off toward the kegs.

			Veronica raises a brow in mock concern when her friend is out of earshot. “Is something wrong? You look a little pale.”

			“You know exactly what you did.”

			She tilts her head. “I haven’t done anything.”

			“Okay, fine, you had your little Reg friend do it.” I snort when she still looks confused. She’s actually going to make me say it. “She told Benton to ask me out. Lied and said I’m bisexual to convince him to do it.”

			Veronica examines her manicure. “There’s nothing wrong with being bi, Hannah.”

			“I never said there was. But I’m not bi. You had no right to lie about that.” My whole body shakes as I stifle the screams bubbling up inside. But Veronica just stands there, smug. “Why are you doing this? What could you possibly gain from making my life miserable?”

			She glances up, and I swear she looks sorry. Almost. “I don’t want you to be miserable.” Veronica peers out over the crowd of dancing teens. “But you’re a cute girl. You have to learn to deal with guys coming on to you.”

			“Excuse me?”

			Veronica steps closer until she’s towering over me. “Isn’t being single the worst?”

			And there it is. Dangling in the air between us.

			A humorless laugh pushes through my chest. “Is that it then? You’ll make single life so miserable that I’ll run back to you?”

			“You and I were good together, Hannah.” She brushes a lock of hair behind my ear and trails her fingers down my neck, my arm, raising goose bumps all the way to my wrist. Which is not helping. “It doesn’t have to be over between us.” She wraps her arm around my waist, pulling me forward until our bodies are flush.

			My skin burns, and I’m tingling all over.

			Until I recognize her touch, her possessiveness, as the same controlling bullshit that ended us in the first place.

			I push Veronica away, stepping back until the cool air swirls around me. “Don’t. Just don’t. This is your fault, and you know it.” I reach into my pocket and grip the keys resting there. I need to find Gemma and get the hell out of here.

			Veronica glares at me. “Rewrite our history all you want, but you broke up with me.”

			“Like you gave me a choice! What did you expect me to do? Go on like everything was normal? Pretend New York never happened?”

			“Yes! It was one bad weekend, Hannah. You didn’t even give me a chance to explain.” She’s close now, shouting inches from my face. Heads turn in our direction. Judging glances. Curious stares.

			“I don’t want to fight about this every time I see you.” My voice is hardly more than a whisper, but I know she can hear me. The air between us tells me she’s barely breathing. “I want to move on with my life.”

			“Fine.” The word lands like a slap to the face. “Take responsibility for the breakup and this stops.”

			“Like hell.”

			Veronica glowers at me. She starts to say more, but a piercing scream splits the night.

			The music stops. Someone giggles until they’re told to hush. I spare a glance for Veronica and then race toward the source of the scream. Our classmates may need another shout to pinpoint the location, but the wind carries the panic, and the sounds of stifled sobs, right to me.

			Please don’t let it be Gemma.

			Someone falls in step behind me. I glance back, and Veronica is on my heels. We’re alone in our chase. For now.

			The energy in the air grows oppressive. We’re close. Really close. There’s a whimper just ahead, and I rush forward through a cluster of trees and—

			“Son of a . . .” I trail off as Veronica stumbles to a stop beside me. The scene before us is like something out of a bad horror film. Fire flickers a few yards away, but what captures my attention is the girl on the ground.

			Covered in blood.





3





IT TAKES ME A second longer than Veronica to recognize the blood-soaked girl.

			“Savannah.” Veronica rushes forward and drops to her knees beside her wide-eyed friend. “What happened?”

			“I don’t know.” Savannah’s voice breaks, and she wipes at the tears on her face with one hand, holding the other gingerly across her chest. “I saw another fire, so I came to see who was partying over here. But then I slipped . . .”

			We glance behind us at said fire. It’s not a bonfire, not like the one I left Benton standing beside. This looks more like someone carved a circle into the earth, maybe six or seven feet across, and set it ablaze.

			“It’s okay. Everything’s going to be okay,” Veronica says, but she looks at me like she thinks the opposite. The air is thick with malice. The fire burning behind us is vicious and hungry. Even the earth—usually a calm and steady element—feels shaken.

			Something wicked happened here.

			Veronica turns back to Savannah. “Where’s the blood coming from? Where are you hurt?”

			“It’s not . . .” Savannah loses her voice to tears. I wait, worry clawing at my skin. “It’s not mine.” She looks up, and my gaze follows.

			The mangled remains of a raccoon swing from a noose above us. A red slash forms a gruesome smile across its stomach, spilling flesh and blood to the ground. Meatier bits stick to its broken ribs and dangle suspended in the air. A piece slips free and lands beside Savannah. My stomach clenches. Bile burns my throat, and I swallow to keep from getting sick.

			A hand touches my back, and I flinch away.

			Veronica scowls. “It’s me. Relax.”

			“Relax? She is covered in blood. And god knows what else.” I retch and walk farther away from Savannah, toward the flickering fire. My heart aches for the poor creature. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

			“No kidding,” Veronica snaps, but then she stops short and reaches for me. “Look.”

			I follow her pointed finger to the flames. “I know. I saw the fire. I’m not completely oblivious.”

			“Then shut up and really look.”

			Gasoline and wood smoke—and not a small amount of panic—choke the air from my lungs when I finally do as she says.

			That’s not a circle carved into the earth and set aflame.

			It’s a pentacle.

			My hands shake, and I stumble away from the fire. A pentacle near a blood sacrifice means one of two things, and neither is particularly great. Either a Reg is dabbling in dangerous magic . . .

			Or there’s a Blood Witch in Salem.

			“Do you think she followed us?” I ask, keeping my voice low so Savannah won’t hear, but I can’t bury the fear. The panic. If this isn’t a Reg prank—please, please let it be a Reg prank—then it has to be a Blood Witch.

			Of the three Witch Clans, Blood Witches are the only ones who use animal sacrifices in their magic. And they don’t have a good reputation for respecting human life—Reg or Clan.

			On reflex, my fingers rub against my jaw. I can almost feel the long-healed bruise there. The cut on my skin. The—

			“Hey, it’s okay.” Veronica pulls my hand from my face. “She has no idea where we live. This isn’t her. Come on, let’s get this cleaned up.” She releases me and rushes back to Savannah’s side. “Can you stand, sweetie? We need to get out of here.”

			Sweetie? Are Veronica and Savannah— I push the thought away. I have more pressing concerns right now than whether or not my ex is hooking up with one of the hottest girls in Massachusetts.

			“I think so.” Savannah reaches for Veronica’s outstretched hand. “But my wrist . . . I think it’s broken.”

			Branches snap in the distance. Someone calls my name. A second later, Gemma and Nolan spill into the small clearing, followed by a few of Nolan’s teammates.

			“Oh, thank god, there you are.” Gemma rushes over and flings her arms around me. “When I couldn’t find you by the bonfire, I thought for sure—” Her voice dies when she sees Veronica supporting Savannah’s weight. “What’s going on here?” She looks up and gasps. “And what the hell is that?”

			Nolan steps forward and slips in the puddle of blood. A string of muttered curses fills the tense air as he wipes his previously pristine Adidas on the grass. Behind us, the crowd grows as classmates follow the soccer team into the clearing.

			“Ha-ha, very funny.” Nolan sounds anything but amused as he scans the tipsy group behind him. “You got us. Joke’s over.”

			A murmur works through the crowd, but no one responds.

			Something violent flashes through Nolan’s eyes. “I’m not kidding, assholes. Clean this up. Prank’s over.” When no one answers, he tries another angle. He plasters on his most charming smile and approaches Savannah. “What happened? Who did this to you?”

			Savannah eats it right up.

			“I saw the fire and thought someone set up a quieter party. I didn’t see the blood until it was too late.” She cradles her injured arm carefully against her chest.

			“Did you see anything else?”

			To my surprise, Savannah nods. “I saw someone running away.”

			Relief washes over me. “Was it someone from school?” If a Blood Witch did this—if she were here—there’s no way they’d stick around long enough for a Reg to spot them. This has to be a prank. A cruel—and super gross—prank.

			But Savannah shakes her head, puncturing my sense of surety. “I didn’t see their face. They were wearing a hoodie.”

			At that, Nolan circles the crowd, moving along the edge of the burning pentacle. “All right, which of you assholes tried to ruin my bonfire?” He stops in front of Evan, who’s wearing a black hoodie and even thicker eyeliner than he had on in the store. “Looks like we’ve found our witch. Shall we break out the gallows?”

			Nolan’s teammates laugh, but I flinch at his words. At their meaning. Though no Elementals died in Salem’s witch trails, a few Caster Witches perished alongside the accused Regs. Nolan’s cruel smile makes me want to hit something. Preferably him.

			Gemma sidles closer to me and makes a face. “I can’t believe I made out with that asshat, like, five minutes ago.”

			“So much for your summer fling,” I say, casting her an apologetic look.

			Nolan steps closer to Evan, sizing him up. “What’s the matter? No spells to make you disappear?”

			“Back off, Abbott. I didn’t do anything.” Evan shoves Nolan and separates himself from the crowd of soccer players gathering around him.

			Nolan looks to his teammates and grins. “Not until you clean up your mess.”

			“Screw you.” The fire in front of Evan casts a strange glow on his face. He curls his hands into fists like he’s ready for a fight. Like he’s been hoping for one all along.

			There is no version of this story that ends well. I need to get out of here. Now. I turn to Gemma, but she’s not there. Dammit, Gem. Where are you? I push through the crowd and find her ending a call on her phone.

			“We gotta go.” I reach for her arm, but her hand flies to her mouth. There’s a deep thwack, the unmistakable sound of a fist connecting with someone’s face.

			I turn as Nolan stumbles back against a tree, touching his lips. His fingers come away with blood. He lunges forward, catching Evan around the waist.

			The boys hit the ground and roll, first Nolan on top, then Evan. Fists fly. Half the soccer team joins the fray, some pulling the guys apart, others adding their fists to the fight. They roll down the small incline toward us, heading right for the—

			“Keep them away from the fire!” I rush to the pentacle, pushing frozen onlookers out of the way, and kick dirt over the blaze.

			Veronica falls to her knees beside me, using a sweater to pat at the flames, but the fire is dying faster than it should. I glare at her. Even if she doesn’t care about getting in trouble with our high priestess, even if she thinks no one in our coven will ever find out, this place is crawling with Regs. If anyone saw her using magic to put out the flames, it could spark a repeat of our town’s most infamous history. Witch Hunters may be a thing of the past, but it’s not a past I’m eager to repeat.

			Gemma rushes forward to help, but the fire’s stubborn. It’s only a matter of time before Evan and Nolan roll this way. And if their clothes catch on fire, this night will get a million times worse.

			Someone knocks into me, throwing me off balance. I fall forward, and my magic reacts on instinct, ready to protect me from the flames. Ready to expose a centuries-old secret.

			Hands grip my arm, then circle around my waist. I’m hauled upright and my magic recedes. When I’m standing on my own, I turn and fling my arms around the person standing there. They just saved me—and my entire coven—from exposure.

			I pull away to see who it is. “Benton.” The blush on his cheeks makes me step back. It probably wasn’t the best idea to hug him so soon after turning him down. “Thank you.”

			Benton grips the back of his neck, his face still blooming with color. “Yeah, no problem. It’s the least I could do after the whole . . . well, you know.”

			“No, seriously. Thank you. That would have . . .” That would have been the end of life as I know it. “Thanks.” I turn back to check on the fire, but my help isn’t needed. A few of the guys have dragged over the keg and are spraying down the flames.

			“Like I said. No problem.” Benton spares a fleeting glance for the dead animal hanging from the tree and grimaces. “I’ll catch you later.”

			I grin, but I don’t think the pun was intentional. “I’m going to hold you to that pool day.”

			“Only if you bring those triple chocolate brownies you made last year,” he says, and I’m surprised he remembers. I agree, and Benton waves, heading back toward the main bonfire.

			Once he’s out of the way, Gemma rushes in and wraps me in a hug. “Thank god Benton was there.”

			“I know.” I squeeze back and release her.

			Gemma’s gaze trails after Benton as he leaves, and she lets out a dreamy sigh. “I should have spent the night with him instead of Nolan. He’s much more my type.”

			“I thought you were over him?” I promised Benton I’d forget about our awkward encounter, but I don’t want Gem to set herself up for heartbreak either. She shrugs, and I nod in the direction he disappeared. “Come on, we should get out of here.”

			“But we have to wait.”

			“For what? The guys will get the fight under control.”

			Gemma shakes her head. “That’s not what I meant. Savannah needs a doctor, and I—”

			“Oh, Gem. Please tell me you didn’t.” Her stubborn look says she most certainly did. She already called for an ambulance. I sigh. “The paramedics don’t need us here to do their job. Let’s go. Unless you want our parents to find out you were drinking.” At that, Gem loses her smile and nods.

			But before we can take more than a step, sirens wail and police lights pierce the trees.



* * *



			• • •

			Paramedics wrap Savannah in blankets and load her in the back of an ambulance; its flashing lights create a patchwork of dancing shadows in the woods. Gemma and I stand huddled together as police swarm around us. They question classmates and send them home, confiscating keys from anyone who seems even a little bit tipsy, forcing more than a few teens to call home for a ride.

			Veronica approaches, all her earlier bravado gone, the smirk wiped clean from her face. “Can we talk?”

			Gemma casts me a glance. I nod, and she steps a few paces away. In her absence, Veronica leans against the tree beside me. “That was pretty intense, huh?”

			A police officer comes near, so I make a noncommittal noise. Once the officer passes, the fear bubbles up again, and I can’t hold it back. “Do you think she found us?” My voice shakes, but Veronica knows who she is. The Blood Witch in New York who took control of my body, who forced me to my knees, with only a single drop of my blood. “We have to tell our parents.”

			“No, we don’t.” Veronica grips my shaking hands in hers, and I almost feel safe. “There are no Blood Witches in Salem, Han. This was a prank. We’re fine.”

			“But—”

			“Hannah, no.” Her words grow harsh, and she drops my hands. “We swore we would never tell anyone about what happened on that trip.”

			“But if she’s here—”

			“But nothing. She’s not here, and what we did in New York could send us straight to the Council. We could lose our magic.” Veronica goes silent as another officer walks past. “Use your head.”

			“We have to say something,” I whisper, scanning the crowd for any members of Salem PD I recognize. “My dad will hear about the raccoon and pentacle at work.”

			“So? Your dad is smart enough to know this is either a Reg prank or some kind of pagan ritual. Either way, it doesn’t involve us or our coven.” Veronica sighs. “I’ve worked too hard to miss graduation. I’m not going to skip my speech because you’re afraid of a Blood Witch who doesn’t even know what state we live in.”

			When she puts it like that, I can’t deny the logic in her words. But I hate admitting that she’s right. “Fine,” I say, clipping the word short. “I won’t say anything about tonight until after graduation.”

			Veronica looks like she wants to argue, but she shakes her head. “I’m going with Savannah to the hospital. You good?”

			“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.” I bounce forward on the balls of my feet and ignore the stinging in my eyes. “Go ahead. You don’t want to miss your ride.”

			Veronica worries at her lower lip. I think for a second she might say more, but she shakes her head and disappears into the back of the ambulance.

			My chest aches to see her like this. Vulnerable. Afraid. Not trying to make my life miserable. It’s so much easier to deal with all the emotions swirling inside—the betrayal, the hurt, the lingering attraction—when we’re fighting.

			“Hannah?” Gemma steps close and wraps her arms around me. “You okay?”

			“I will be.” I soak in her warmth and watch the ambulance drive off. Someone took down the mangled raccoon, bagged it up, and carted it away. I’m not sure what happened to Nolan or Evan after the fight. I didn’t see either of them in handcuffs, so that’s probably a good sign.

			Gemma and I tried to leave earlier with the rest of our classmates, but someone told the cops I was the one who found Savannah. Never mind that Veronica and I found her together. Veronica gets to ride off in an ambulance while I’m stuck out here with the raccoon blood.

			Lucky me.

			I’m about to ask one of the officers if we can leave when a man with short brown hair and a tall, lean frame heads our way. Unlike the rest of the cops, he’s not in uniform. He’s wearing a dark gray suit with black dress shoes. Not exactly bonfire-in-the-woods attire.

			“Good evening, ladies. I’m Detective Archer. Which of you is Miss Walsh?” He taps a pen to his small notebook.

			It must be a slow night if they sent a detective out for this. “I’m Hannah Walsh,” I say, and release Gemma’s hand, reminding myself to breathe. I let Veronica’s earlier conviction steady my nerves. Nothing that happened tonight has anything to do with the Clans. This wasn’t a Blood Witch. We’re safe.

			“You found Miss Clarke this evening?”

			I assume he means Savannah. I don’t actually know her last name. “Yeah. Veronica and I heard her scream over the music. I happened to get here first. But, like, by a second. Tops.”

			The detective stares at me like he’s waiting for me to say more. His attention is unnerving; it prickles along my skin, making me shiver.

			“I’m not sure what else I can tell you. We barely beat the others here,” I add when he still doesn’t speak.

			Detective Archer scribbles something in his little notebook. “And did you recognize the symbol burned into the ground?”

			“Umm . . .” How much is dangerous to admit? I’m a terrible liar, always have been. Some say it’s an admirable quality, but those people must not have any real secrets to keep. “Yeah, sure. Of course,” I answer after the silence has stretched on far too long. “I’ve lived in Salem my whole life. I know a pentacle when I see one.”

			“And you’re aware the pentacle is a symbol of witchcraft?” The detective stares at me, unblinking.

			I catch myself rolling my eyes, but not fast enough to prevent it. Gemma shoves an elbow in my ribs, and the detective cocks a brow. “Sorry, it’s just . . . Salem. Witch trials. It all kind of comes with the territory.”

			Detective Archer stops with the note-taking for a second and really looks at me. “Well then, it’s a good thing I met an expert on my first assignment.”

			“I’m not an expert.” The words fly out of my mouth before I realize they’re in my brain. I’ve barely said anything. How could he— Then the sarcasm registers, followed by the rest of his sentence, and embarrassment burns my cheeks. “You’re new here?”

			The detective gives a quick nod and returns to his notes, flipping back a couple pages. “Can you explain why you and your friends tried to hide evidence?”

			“We didn’t—”

			“You didn’t destroy the burning pentacle?”

			I glance at Gemma, but she’s still tipsy and hasn’t spoken. I try to act like this whole conversation isn’t hitting too close to home. “We didn’t want the guys to roll through the flames and catch themselves on fire. I didn’t think it was evidence.”

			“Right. The fight between Nolan Abbott and Evan Woelk. Any idea whether either of them might be involved with the sacrifice?” Detective Archer holds his pen poised and ready.

			“I don’t know. We don’t really run in the same circles.” I glance back toward the pentacle and it hits me. Evan came into the store today. He could have used the athame to kill the animal . . .

			Beside me, Gemma shivers. “Um, sir? Could we go home now?”

			The detective looks to Gemma. “Perhaps. Do you have anything to add, Miss . . .”

			“Goodwin,” she says. “Gemma Goodwin. And no. I got here after Hannah. I’m the one who called for the ambulance.” She tucks her hair behind her ear and flutters her lashes. I love the girl, but damn is she a suck-up sometimes.

			Detective Archer flips the page on his little notebook and scribbles something down. Each second that passes feels like an hour, and I reach for the phone in my pocket. It’s late. Really late.

			“Umm . . . Detective? We’re going to miss curfew if we don’t leave soon.” I haven’t had a curfew in ages, but it seems like a normal enough excuse for the detective.

			“Right, of course.” He asks a few more questions, makes sure Gem isn’t driving, and sends us on our way.

			Gemma and I walk in silence back toward my car. It isn’t until we’re safely on the road that Gemma speaks. “What do you think happened back there?” Her voice is a whisper, barely audible above the soft music coming from the speakers.

			“I don’t know.” I grip the steering wheel. There are too many possibilities taking up space in my head. Was it Evan? If so, what purpose could he have for a ritual like that? And if Veronica’s wrong, if this wasn’t a Reg, we have bigger problems than a ruined bonfire.

			Gemma rests her head on the window, her eyelids drifting shut. “That poor raccoon. Here’s hoping it was a one-time thing.”

			“Fingers crossed.” I turn off my high beams as another car comes into view, and by the time I flick my brights back on, Gem is asleep.

			In the dark, with only the moon and my headlights to guide us, an icy fear grips my spine. I try very hard to fully convince myself that this was a Reg. That it was Evan, taking his goth look way too far and dabbling in the more destructive parts of pagan magic.

			Because if there’s a Blood Witch in town . . .

			No one is safe.





4





BANGING PANS AND THE smell of sizzling bacon pull me out of restless sleep. Fragments of nightmares cling to the edges of my consciousness, but they dissolve into smoke when I try to force them into focus.

			All things considered, that’s probably for the best.

			Gemma stirs on the air mattress below me. There was a time when we’d take turns hosting sleepovers, but ever since I came out last year, her parents have been more than a little awkward around me. Suddenly, their house had all these new rules—keep the bedroom door open, no hangouts without adult supervision, sleepovers have to be in separate rooms—like they were afraid my queerness was contagious.

			“Good morning,” I singsong when she finally rubs at her eyes and sits up.

			“Morning,” Gem grumbles back. She stretches her arms over head and yawns loudly. “So, last night was a hot mess.”

			“And gross,” I add, a chill creeping up my spine. I pull the blankets tight around my shoulders as I sit up, a fluffy shield against the memories of mangled animal parts and dripping blood.

			“I can’t believe you talked to She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named without someone getting killed.” Gem grabs the toothbrush from her overnight bag and heads for the door. “It’s a summer miracle.”

			“Hilarious, Gem. Really.”

			“You know you love me,” she says, and glides out the door. The smell of bacon intensifies with her departure.

			While Gem uses the guest bathroom in the hall, I throw my hair into a ponytail and reach for my phone, desperate for news. Maybe the police already caught the misguided Reg dabbling in sacrificial magic.

			I punch in my passcode, and I’m shocked Mom let me sleep in so late. Normally, anything past nine results in a lecture. Out of habit, I check my notifications before searching for news. I’m tagged in a few blurry photos from the bonfire, my pre-party pic with Gem has a decent number of new likes, and there’s an unread direct message waiting for me. Without thinking, I open the message and freeze.

			It’s from Veronica.

			Seeing her name pop up sends tears prickling in my eyes. I should delete it unread. Block her account so she can’t send any more. But I can’t. I have to know. Maybe she’s writing to apologize. Maybe last night made her regret what happened between us. Maybe . . .

			Hannah,

			I’m graduating today. Top of my class, just like I promised when we were kids. I did it, Han. I really did it.

			You should be there, sitting in the front row. I wrote so much of my speech for you. It won’t be right without you there. Everyone is coming, all the families. Doesn’t that mean anything to you? We’ve been friends our entire lives. What happened in NYC shouldn’t change that.

			I would go if it were you.

			—V

			I read her message again—coded to avoid mentioning the coven—torturing myself with her words. Should I go? Would she really go if our places were reversed?

			A door opens and clicks shut in the hallway. I wipe the tears from my face and delete our message history. My chest constricts as years’ worth of exchanges disappear in an instant. I want to undo it the second they’re gone, but like our relationship, what’s done is done.

			My door opens and Gemma steps inside, her hair wrapped tight in a towel, her shirt sticking to her not-quite-dry skin. “What’re you doing?”

			“Nothing.” My voice sounds guilty, even to me.

			Gemma cocks her head to one side, which looks ridiculous with the huge towel engulfing her hair. “Then why do you look like someone punched you in the gut?”

			“I don’t—”

			“It’s Veronica, isn’t it?” Gemma crawls into bed beside me and reaches for my hand. “What’d she do this time?”

			I stare at the ceiling, as if that will stop the flood of emotions drowning my eyes. “She wanted me to go to graduation.” Which started twenty minutes ago. She might be giving her speech right now, staring into a sea of faces, hoping to find mine.

			“Are you upset you missed it?”

			Yes. No. Maybe. I shake my head. “No.” I pick at my comforter. “Does that make me a terrible person? We’ve been friends since we were in diapers, long before she was my girlfriend.”

			“Is that her excuse?” Gemma wraps her arm around my shoulders. “She hurt you, Hannah. Don’t let her guilt trip you for trying to heal. You don’t owe her anything.”

			“I know.” If only things were that simple. If only I could delete her from my life completely. “But—”

			“No buts. You made your choice, and so did she. It’s too late to go now anyway.” Gemma pulls away and removes the towel from her head. “Do we need to have a ceremonial burning of Veronica’s things?” She gestures toward my closet, where she hid all my relationship keepsakes in a shoe box. “I know I said to hang on to them, but maybe you need a good purge.”

			“Girls!” Mom calls to us from the bottom of the stairs before I can reply. “Breakfast is ready.”

			Gem lights up at the mention of food. She runs a comb swiftly through her hair and bounds for the door. I trudge after her, a clumsy ogre in the wake of her ballerina’s grace.

			“Good morning, Mrs. Walsh,” Gemma says with a smile. “Need help setting the table?”

			“Already done, but thank you.” Mom points down the hall to the dining room. “Go on ahead, I just need to grab the toast.”

			Gemma doesn’t need to be told twice. She practically sprints down the hall and disappears into the dining room. But I don’t follow. I head for the kitchen, trailing after Mom.

			“Hannah?” Mom pauses with a plate full of toast in her hands. “What’s wrong?”

			“Something weird happened last night. At the bonfire, Veronica and I—”

			“Marie! You coming?” Dad’s voice carries through the house, deep and rumbling. “The eggs are getting cold.”

			Mom shifts the plate into one hand and places the other on my shoulder. “I’m sorry you had a bad night, Han. I know you and Veronica aren’t on good terms right now, but you’ll have to learn to be around each other sooner or later. We can talk after brunch.”

			“No, Mom—”

			But she’s already gone. I follow her into the dining room where fried eggs, fruit, and a small mountain of bacon load up each plate. Mom sets the toast in the middle of the table, and we take our seats.

			Dad smiles at me over his coffee. “Good morning.”

			I mumble a response around the piece of bacon I shoved in my mouth.

			“How was the bonfire?” Dad asks when I chomp on my toast instead of saying hello.

			Gemma drops her fork back onto her plate. “You won’t believe what happened.” She leans forward, and my mouth is too full to tell her to hush. “Someone killed a raccoon and burned a pentacle into the ground. There was blood everywhere. And then there was this fight, and a girl broke her arm. Not from the fight, she got hurt before. Wait, let me back up. I’m not telling this right.”

			“Geez, Gem. Take a breath in there somewhere,” I say in a futile attempt to lighten the mood. My parents turn to stare at me. A crease deepens in Mom’s brow.

			“Sorry, I didn’t mean to forget the most unusual part.” Gemma cups her hand to the side of her mouth and mock-whispers to my parents, “Hannah and Veronica talked without killing each other.”

			Dad chuckles politely. “Now, that is something.”

			As Gemma launches back into her story, describing the bloody scene with more detail than most people find appropriate for breakfast conversation, last night’s worries slither through my brain. I know Veronica said this was a Reg, but what if it wasn’t?

			“Mom? Do we have any jelly?” I ask, standing up from the table. “Could you help me find it?” I shoot her a look and hope she reads the meaning there.

			She meets my gaze and nods. “Sure. There should be some in the fridge.”

			“Do you have strawberry?” Gem asks as she spears a piece of cantaloupe with her fork, oblivious to how much I’m panicking.

			“Probably. I’ll look,” I say, and lead Mom into the kitchen. I don’t know how to explain this with Gemma in the next room, chatting to my father about last night’s fight.

			“What’s going on, Hannah?” Mom asks, opening the fridge and pulling out a jar of jelly. “What’s this about an animal sacrifice?”

			I glance back to the dining room, but we’re far enough away that I can’t make out Gemma’s words. Even so, I keep my voice low as I tell Mom everything that happened last night. Savannah’s scream. The sacrificial raccoon. The pentacle. I leave out the part where Veronica used her magic in public. I may hate my ex, but I don’t hate her that much.

			When I’m finished, Mom lets out a long sigh. “Regs in this town . . . Their foolishness never ceases to amaze me.”

			“What if it wasn’t a Reg?”

			Mom cuts me a look, her eyes flashing. “You think this was a Blood Witch?”

			I nod, fingers trembling.

			“Hannah.” Mom rests a hand on my shoulder. “There haven’t been any Blood Witches in Salem since the trials. What makes you think they’d come back now?”

			Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because Veronica and I stumbled into a turf war between a Blood Witch and a group of Casters when we went on our school trip to Manhattan last month? Maybe because said Blood Witch threatened to kill me if she ever saw me again? But I can’t say that. Any of it. “I could feel it, Mom. There was an energy to that ritual. Something more than a Reg playing a prank on us.”

			Mom considers me, her gaze sweeping across my face. I worry she’ll see all the things I’m hiding from her, but she doesn’t say anything. Instead, she rolls her shoulders and cups her hands together. Air swirls in the space between them, spinning faster and faster until it starts to glow. “I’ll let Lady Ariana know.”

			I swallow. Hard. If anyone can determine whether there’s a Blood Witch in town, it’s our high priestess. Unfortunately, she’s also the person most likely to sense I’m hiding something, and she’s not exactly someone whose shit list you want to be on. Ever.

			Mom whispers something into the spinning orb and sets it free. Though I can’t see or sense it—that particular skill is one I won’t learn until I’m eighteen—I know it’s traveling across town to take a message to Lady Ariana. A few seconds pass, and Mom tilts her head like she’s listening to a response. “We’ll finish brunch, then you and Veronica will show Lady Ariana what happened last night.”

			Before I can protest about the inclusion of my ex, Mom turns and carries the jelly back to the dining room; I follow, my feet dragging against the carpet. The wall zaps me with static as I brush past.

			“The closest we had in the fridge was raspberry. Is that okay?” Mom asks, her voice free from the worry that closes my throat.

			“Raspberry works.” Gemma reaches across the table and takes the jar from my mom.

			I slip into the chair next to my best friend. Her presence doesn’t do anything to dissolve the pit of worry in my stomach. I pick at the eggs on my plate. They’ve gone cold.



* * *



			• • •

			After brunch, I stall as much as I can before we have to meet Lady Ariana in the woods. When I’ve changed my outfit for the fifth time, Mom finally drags me out of the house. We drop Gemma at her place, then head for the site of last night’s bonfire. With the detour, we’re the last to arrive at the woods. Veronica and her parents—Mr. and Mrs. Matthews—are waiting outside their car, but Lady Ariana is still in her ancient Impala. It’s old enough to be rusted and rotted through, but the metal is in pristine condition. One of the many perks of being an Elemental High Priestess.

			As Dad shifts our car into park, Lady Ariana swings open her door and steps out. Her silver hair is pulled into a tight bun, the lines around her eyes and mouth set deep. She glides across the earth with the kind of grace only age and power can bestow. I hastily scramble out of our car and stand beside Veronica’s family.

			Lady Ariana stops before us; her eyes narrow, almost imperceptibly. “Show me.”

			I nod and stumble forward, Veronica close behind. Our parents wait for Lady Ariana to pass before bringing up the rear of our multigenerational investigation team. The ground before us is trampled, the grass squashed beneath the comings and goings of nearly one hundred Salem High students. With the amount of police presence last night, I’m surprised there isn’t any crime scene tape blocking off the area.

			When we reach the spot where Veronica and I fought last night, Veronica stops. “We were here when we heard the first scream.” Her voice is subdued, but I don’t trust it. She’s still wearing her graduation dress, the deep maroon beautiful against her white skin, the hem skimming the top of her knees. The clothing choice feels deliberate, like she’s trying to remind me of what I missed.

			“We followed the screams this way.” I shove past Veronica, feeling oddly underdressed in my denim shorts and the orange Salem State T-shirt Mom got me when the university bookstore was having a sale. “This is it. The raccoon was hanging there.” I point to the branch that held the sacrificial animal last night. The ground beneath is still red with blood.

			“You two,” Lady Ariana says, pointing at me and Veronica, “stay here.” Our high priestess crosses the small clearing, kneels, and places her hands just outside the pool of blood. She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and that’s when the show really begins.

			Wind kicks up and swirls around us, pulling loose strands of hair out of my ponytail. Goose bumps prickle across my arms, and I shiver despite the late June heat. A slight tremor works through the earth, like the gentle ripple of a pond after a pebble’s been tossed in. The amount of magic in the clearing is heady. Intoxicating.

			After a moment, Lady Ariana stands, eyes still closed, and presses a hand against the trunk of the tree. I hold my breath, waiting as she reads the energy flowing through each ring of the tall oak.

			Mom fidgets beside me. “Was this the work of a Blood Witch?” Her voice trembles, and I wonder if she’s thinking of all those bedtime stories she told me—the ones with Blood Witches so powerful they could control your mind or stop your heart with a single thought. I wonder if she’s ever faced a Blood Witch before. If she knows how terrifying their strength and speed is. How quickly their wounds heal.

			Lady Ariana shakes her head and pats the side of the trunk like it’s a beloved pet. “There’s no indication of magic by the tree. None in the blood.”

			“So that’s it? We’re still the only Clan in Salem?” The relief that flows through me nearly brings me to tears. We’re safe. She didn’t follow us home.

			Lady Ariana purses her lips. “Did I say I was finished?” With swift, sure steps, she crosses to the remnants of the fiery pentacle. As she kneels, Veronica reaches for me and digs her fingers into my bare skin.

			I yank my arm from her grip. What? I mouth the word to avoid disturbing Lady Ariana.

			Veronica nods toward the ashy pentacle. Her eyes grow wide as Lady Ariana puts a hand to the earth.

			And then I remember.

			Veronica used her magic to help put out the fire.

			I see the moment Lady Ariana senses magic in the ashes. Her eyes cloud over; a brisk wind blasts into us, knocking me back a step.

			And then the earth swallows us whole.

			“I’m disappointed in you.” Lady Ariana approaches with slow, deliberate steps. She stares down at us, where we’re buried to our necks in the ground. “Especially you, Veronica. How dare you use your gifts in the presence of non-witches.”

			Our parents go pale. My mom’s jaw falls open.

			Even with most of Lady Ariana’s wrath focused on Veronica, panic claws at my chest. Every instinct shouts at me to dig my fingers into the ground and pull myself free, but that’s exactly what she wants. So I remain still.

			Power crackles around our high priestess, and it’s like every element stretches toward her, eager for her energy. The soft breeze whips into a gale. The trampled grass around her feet stretches back to its full height, growing vibrant and green. I suck in a breath as the earth around my legs tightens, moving up and up until it pushes out my breath.

			“I demand an explanation.” Lady Ariana’s voice is quiet, and yet it permeates the air, burrowing in my ears, making her disapproval inescapable. “I found no traces of Blood Magic. So I ask again, child. Why did you use your magic so carelessly?”

			Veronica tenses beside me. A strangled cry passes her lips, and she struggles to inhale as the earth tightens around her chest. Her parents share a worried look, but they don’t intervene. No one intervenes when a high priestess is disciplining her coven. “I wouldn’t have done it if there had been another way,” she says between gasps.

			“Altruism is no excuse for breaking the Council’s laws.”

			“But—”

			“The Council leaves no room for exceptions. Our very existence demands absolute secrecy.” Lady Ariana sighs like she’s about to do something she finds distasteful.

			“Wait!” I struggle against the earth, but it doesn’t budge. “It’s not her fault. She didn’t have a choice. These guys, they were fighting, and they almost rolled into the flames. No one noticed her. I swear.”

			“Were these ‘guys’ Regs?”

			The earth tightens around my chest. “Well, yeah.”

			A sad smile softens her wrinkled face, and I catch a glimpse of something no one else gets to see in her. The love—and disappointment—of my grandmother. “I expect more from you, Hannah. The last time witches grew careless with their magic, the Regs rose against us. Witch Hunters killed hundreds of witches before we formed the Council and put them down. They killed Casters in this very town. You know this.”

			“I know,” I grumble. I’m not the one who needs a history lesson. “We don’t use our magic in public. We don’t risk ourselves for Regs. It’s not our place to save them from themselves,” I say, repeating her weekly reminder at coven meetings.

			“You may know, Hannah, but you do not understand.” My grandmother sighs and transforms again into Lady Ariana, high priestess of one of the largest Elemental covens in America. “You will learn. In time.”

			I don’t like the sound of that.

			“Veronica, our next private lesson will be delayed a month.”

			Beside me, Veronica blanches. “A month? But our next lesson isn’t until August. If you add another month, I’ll be away at college!”

			“You should have thought of that before you chose to use your magic so carelessly. Be grateful I don’t send you to school with a binding charm.” Lady Ariana’s threat hangs in the air, turning my stomach even though her words weren’t aimed at me. The thought of wearing a binding ring again, of forcing my magic out of reach, is almost unbearable. “Hannah, you will share in Veronica’s punishment. I’m moving your final initiation back thirty days.”

			“But I didn’t do anything!” All the magic I’ve been dying to learn my entire life—air messages and scrying and creating fire from nothing—slips further out of reach.

			“Isn’t that a bit harsh, Mother?” Dad says, coming to my defense. “Hannah did tell us about the Reg ritual this morning.”

			Lady Ariana’s expression remains impassive. “Did she mention Veronica’s transgressions?” When Dad doesn’t reply, she shakes her head. “I cannot show her favoritism, Tim, just as I couldn’t do the same for you. She and Veronica will share an equal punishment. And for her outburst, she’s banned from this week’s usual lesson as well.”

			Anger and bitter disappointment flare inside, and it takes every ounce of self-control to keep my mouth shut. To hold back the tears stinging my eyes. I glare at Veronica, whose own outburst didn’t lengthen her sentence, but I don’t dare say anything. With my luck, I’d lose another week of lessons for breathing too loud.

			“Come.” Lady Ariana ushers our parents back toward the cars. “The girls need time to consider their actions.” She glances at me over her shoulder, and I catch a brief hint of familial love. “Good luck.”





5





WE’RE TRAPPED.

			It takes every ounce of the control that’s been hammered into me my entire life to keep the panic at bay. I reach for the earth, trying to convince it to let me go, but it’s still saturated with my grandmother’s power. Her magic is strong. Unyielding. Just like her.

			We’re not going anywhere.

			“This is ridiculous,” Veronica grumbles once she’s sure we’re alone. “I have three graduation parties tonight. This is going to ruin my manicure.”

			I close my eyes—partially to stop myself from rolling them at Veronica’s out-of-whack priorities—and push against the earth’s power, begging it to move, to soften, to loosen its hold. Nothing. Not the barest of budges. “Yeah, well, maybe you shouldn’t have used your magic in public. You’ve gotten careless.”

			“Well, if you weren’t so irrationally afraid of Blood Witches, Lady Ariana never would have found out.” Veronica curses as she struggles against the immovable earth. “This is just as much your fault as mine.”

			“It’s not irrational to be afraid of someone who tried to kill you,” I snap back, and Veronica finally shuts up. I reach again for the earth’s power, but I’m like an ant trying to move a mountain. It doesn’t help that earth has always been my weakest element.

			Veronica doesn’t seem to be having better luck. She struggles and groans but stays firmly rooted in the ground.

			While we strain our magic to dig ourselves out of these vertical graves, my mind drifts back to last night. What reason could a Reg have for doing this? What did they hope to accomplish? And then there’s the bigger question: Who?

			Evan still seems like the best suspect given his purchases at the Cauldron, but that doesn’t mean it was him.

			There’s also Nolan. He certainly had a strong reaction to the sacrifice. Was he actually pissed or simply using his outrage to hide his involvement? He had plenty of time to perform the ritual before Gemma and I arrived in the woods.

			Or maybe this wasn’t even meant to be a spell. Maybe Savannah was trying to mess with me again. After she slipped in the blood and hurt her wrist, she could have faked seeing someone else run away from the scene of her crime.

			“This is useless.” Veronica sighs, her forehead damp with sweat. “There’s no way we can overpower Lady Ariana’s magic.”

			Veronica’s right, but I don’t say so. I don’t say anything. Despite what she thinks, this whole thing is her fault.

			The breeze picks up, fluttering the grass that’s practically at eye level. Lady Ariana spelled the earth, but she didn’t touch the air.

			“Do you remember when Gabe was eight, and he slipped off his binding charm without permission at our Beltane celebration?” I ask, the memory of Veronica’s younger brother bringing a smile to my lips despite everything.

			Veronica laughs. “He got so dizzy from dancing around the maypole that he spun a cyclone that nearly uprooted all of Lady Ariana’s gardens.” She glowers. “His first initiation was only pushed back two weeks for that.”

			“He was a child, V. Of course his sentence was lighter.” I scowl at her. “And he was surrounded by the coven, not a bunch of Regs.”

			“What’s your point?”

			“My point is that I have an idea.” I reach for the air, my magic humming under my skin, and grab hold of its will. It resists at first—air is a slippery element—but soon it bends to my call and starts to spin.

			It takes all my focus to spiral the air into a thin cyclone and keep it from growing too large. The mini tornado pulls my hair loose and whips it around my face. As the wind reaches maximum velocity, I send the cyclone tunneling into the ground. Dirt flies into the air, and my makeshift shovel loosens the earth that binds me. I push until my muscles ache, until my power fades, and I only hope it’s enough.

			When the wind calms, and the dirt settles, Veronica and I are both covered in debris. I climb out of my loosened grave and fall onto my back, chest heaving from the effort.

			“Clever,” Veronica says, a smile on her face. If I didn’t know better, I’d think she looked proud. The warmth in her gaze, the familiarity of that old us-against-the-world look in her eyes, punctures the armor around my heart.

			I can’t do this. Not anymore.

			As Veronica takes a deep breath and copies my technique, I pull myself up and escape the clearing, struggling against the pull of the wind at my back.

			“Hannah, wait.” Branches snap behind me as Veronica rushes to catch up. She pulls me to a stop one bend before the cars, where we’re still hidden from view.

			I flinch away from her touch. “What do you want?”

			Veronica steps forward, but she doesn’t snap back. She looks . . . confused. “Why’d you do it?”

			“Do what?”

			“You stood up for me. Against Lady Ariana, of all people. Why?”

			I force a shrug, but the movement is constricted by her closeness. “If Benton hadn’t caught me, I might have done the same thing.”

			“But you didn’t.” Veronica shakes her head and steps closer. She trails her fingers down my bare, dirt-streaked arm. “I think it’s more than that.” She tries to lace our fingers together. “Do you still love me?”

			Her words rattle through my rib cage, and it’s all I can do to shake my head. I pull my hand from hers and step out of reach. I can’t let her see how much my skin sings under her touch. How true her words used to be.

			“Come on, Hannah.” Her voice is breaking, and I can’t bear to look at her. “We were so good together.”

			But we weren’t. “I can’t do this right now.” I try to turn away, but Veronica blocks my path. She steps closer, and her familiar scent—floral body wash and coconut shampoo, now with a hint of earth—washes over me. It floods my senses until I’m drowning.

			Veronica leans forward, her forehead resting against mine. “You can’t deny you miss me,” she whispers, her breath warm on my face. “I miss you so much.”

			I want to tell her no. Tell her she’s wrong, that I never loved her, but I can’t. I did love her. First as a friend and then as the girl I thought I’d marry. And now, with her so close, that’s the only part I can remember.

			In my silence, Veronica leans in and closes the final gap.

			And then I’m flying.

			Her lips are warm against mine, and all the feelings I tried to bury flare back to life. The love, the passion, the heat of everything we shared. Against my better judgment, I kiss her back. Nothing about this moment is tender. It’s frantic. Hungry. Full of hurt.

			I wrap my arms around her waist, my hands slipping along the thin fabric of her dress. The one we picked out together. I pull her tighter to me, until our bodies are flush, but it still isn’t enough.

			Veronica bites my lip, and the pain reminds me of all the reasons this has to end. I pull away, hating how much her sudden absence affects me. My body doesn’t feel whole without her pressed against it.

			“We can’t do this. I can’t do this.” My breath comes out in a rush, and I’m powerless to stop the tears. “We’re over.”

			“But why? We were perfect together. We can have that again.” Tears pool in her eyes, making the green shine bright. “You want me just as much as I want you. That kiss proves it.”

			“It only proves I’m lonely.”

			“Oh, please. There was passion in that kiss.” Veronica brushes away her tears, her movements harsh, like she hates to show weakness. But then she softens. “I love you.”

			“No, you don’t.” I shove past her and continue toward my parents’ car. I’m bursting with all the reasons we can’t be together. “You loved having a girlfriend who never said no. The second I stood up for what I needed, you abandoned me.”

			Veronica grabs my arm and spins me back to face her. “That’s not true.”

			“It is!” My voice reverberates through the woods, startling birds into flight. “I told you I wasn’t comfortable with those Caster Witches, but you didn’t care! You were so busy trying to impress them that you didn’t listen to me.”

			“Hannah—”

			“No. You don’t get to spin this. Not again.” My breath comes in short, painful gasps. A phantom ache spreads through my limbs. “You didn’t even help me when I was attacked by a Blood Witch, because you were too busy sucking up to people we were never going to see again.”

			The memories threaten to pull me down like an undertow. Pain blossoming across my face. My blood on the other witch’s hands. Her smile as she took control of my body and forced me to my knees.

			“Can I speak now? Or are you going to cut me off again?” When I cross my arms and say nothing, she continues. “I’ll admit, the thing with the Blood Witch was not my best moment—”

			“She nearly killed me. Do you have any idea what it feels like, to have your body possessed by Blood Magic?”

			“—but you can’t throw away our entire history because of one bad decision,” she finishes, like she wasn’t even listening to me. Which is half the problem right there.

			“Fine, forget New York,” I say, even as I remember the feel of the witch’s hands closing around my throat. Veronica was so taken by the trio of Caster Witches we met in Manhattan that she refused to listen to me. She even abandoned me in Central Park when I begged her to stop talking to them. The Blood Witch attacked moments later, mistaking me for one of the Casters.

			I shake the memories away and focus my anger on Veronica. “Our entire relationship was me doing whatever you wanted. You decided when we’d hang out and what we’d do. You always picked the restaurant. You even tried to decide how and when our relationship would end!”

			Veronica falls back a step, confusion creasing her brow. “What are you talking about?”

			“I’m not oblivious, V. I caught every one of your ‘long distance is so hard’ and ‘holding on to high school partners in college is almost impossible’ hints. I know you were planning to break up with me when you left for school.”

			“I never said I wanted to break up with you.” Tears shimmer in Veronica’s eyes, but she doesn’t let them fall. “I’m not wrong. Long distance is hard, but I think we can make it. I want us to make it.”

			“It doesn’t matter. Not anymore.” I step around her and head toward the cars. “It’s too late to go back to the way we were.”

			“Why?” Veronica reaches for my wrist and holds firm. “Why can’t we go back?”

			She’ll never understand. The realization washes all the fight out of me, leaving behind only heartache. I gently pull my wrist from her grip. “Because,” I say, my voice so soft it’s nearly swallowed up by the trees, “I’m standing here, telling you how much you hurt me, and you can’t hear it.” Tears fill my eyes. I’ve lost the strength to hide them. “You broke my heart, and you didn’t even notice. How can I . . .” My throat closes up, and I look away. “How could I ever trust you to put the pieces back together?”

			Veronica is silent after that. I glance up to find her watching me, but she doesn’t speak.

			I don’t expect her to. There’s nothing left to say. I turn again to leave.

			“This conversation isn’t over.”

			My response sticks in my throat. I can’t even look at her. “Yes. It is.”





6





THE CONFRONTATION WITH VERONICA leaves my nerves jagged and raw. I ignore my parents’ attempts to talk about it, choosing instead to spend the rest of the weekend locked in my room, blasting what to others may seems like a bizarre array of music. To me, it’s like comfort food, warm and soothing. My playlist shuffles from screaming heavy metal to heartbroken show tunes to forlorn pop ballads. I listen to my favorite breakup song over and over, sobbing until I can’t breathe. Until Mom begs me to play something else. Anything else.

			That’s when I switch to headphones and throw my pain on a canvas, not caring how much paint splatters all over my clothes.

			My hands are still covered in vibrant colors on Monday, and it takes forever to scrub my skin clean as I get ready for work. At some point last night, my insides shifted and rearranged, replacing pulsing pain with boiling rage. I cannot believe Veronica cost me an entire month of training and got me banned from this week’s lesson. She knows how much I’ve been dying to learn the next phase of magic. I bet she doesn’t even care.

			The smell of coffee lures me into the kitchen, but I grab an energy drink from the fridge instead. Coffee may smell great, but it tastes like dirt. When I plop into my chair at the dining room table, Mom shoves a plate of scrambled eggs and buttered toast in front of me.

			“Long shift today?” Dad asks as he sweeps into the dining room with his coffee thermos. He’s dressed for court, trading in his usual goofy ties for a slate-gray one. He’s had a full caseload since his boss, the district attorney, went on maternity leave, spending more time than usual in court.

			“Uh-huh.” I wonder if Dad’s cop buddies have any theories for him about the weekend’s bonfire. My phone alert goes off, a five-minute warning before I need to be out the door. I take another bite before swallowing the first.

			Dad kisses Mom goodbye. “Have a good day,” he calls as he heads for the door.

			And then it’s just Mom and me. Goody.

			She tries for small talk, asking about my art and my plans for the week, but I lob one-word answers in response.

			“I really wish you’d stop with the sulking.” Mom sips her coffee, her eyebrows raised as she waits for my answer.

			“I’m not sulking. I’m eating.” My phone beeps again. If I don’t leave in two minutes, I’ll be late. “Sorry, Mom. I have to go.” I shove the toast in my mouth and deposit the plate of half-eaten eggs on the kitchen counter. I almost make it to the door before Mom calls out to me.

			“Hannah. Wait.”

			I wait. But not patiently. “Mom, I’m going to be late.”

			“I just . . . I know this was a hard weekend for you.” Mom’s face softens for the first time since my grandmother’s punishment. “Lady Ariana’s lessons may seem harsh, but everything she does is for the good of the coven. She loves you.”

			“Was your old high priestess this tough?” Mom used to belong to a smaller coven in a coastal town a few hours from Seattle. She moved to Salem for a job at the university, and when she fell in love with my dad, she stayed.

			Mom pauses, too long to be telling the truth.

			“Never mind. I have to go.” I slip out the front door just as my final alarm rings on my phone.

			I drive to work in an angry haze. I’m not oblivious. I get why we need strict laws—exposure would be catastrophic—but I wish my parents could stand up for me once in a while. I wish my grandmother was more like Gemma’s, someone who’d bake me sweets and host sleepovers. A grandma who’d spoil me rotten, let me stay up too late, and make all my favorite foods.

			With that particular pang of jealousy souring my hastily eaten breakfast, I arrive at the Fly by Night Cauldron. The lights are on, but the CLOSED sign still faces out.

			“Lauren?” I call to my boss as I push through the already unlocked door. Tightness constricts my chest when she doesn’t reply right away. “Are you in here? Should I change the sign?”

			A chair scrapes somewhere in the back of the shop. I tense, and my magic flares, reaching for the air around me. I shove the magic down, burying the impulse. “Lauren?”

			“I’m with a customer. Go ahead.” Lauren’s voice floats through the shop like incense on a gentle breeze, and the power swirling under my skin finally relaxes.

			I flip the sign to OPEN and head for the register to clock in. I punch in my four-digit passcode as a curtain to my left flutters, then rips open. Lauren stands on the other side with a man, his back to me. I can’t hear what he says, but it elicits a blush from my boss. Lauren gestures toward the door, and the man turns.

			Shit.

			Detective Archer. At my work. What is he doing here? As the detective passes the register, his gaze lands on me. Recognition lights his face, but he merely nods to me and continues out, the bell above the door jingling his departure. When my heart rate returns to normal, I look to Lauren. “What was he doing here?”

			“Hmm?” Lauren fusses with her hair, the wide sleeves of her dress falling to her elbows. “Oh, Ryan? He’s new in town. I guess he’s introducing himself to all the local business owners.” She sighs and leans her hip against the counter.

			Something doesn’t add up. “What was he doing in the back?”

			Lauren’s face flushes even redder. “I offered him a tarot reading. On the house.”

			“Anything interesting?” Maybe something came up about the bonfire. Not likely but not impossible either, especially since the detective was investigating it so recently.

			“You know I can’t discuss a client’s reading, Hannah.” Lauren may look like a ridiculous cliché—with her old-fashioned black dress, dark hair hanging well past her shoulders, and a pentacle the size of a baseball swinging from her neck—but she’s a professional through and through. She isn’t some Reg playing dress up, either; she’s the real deal.

			Well, sorta.

			Lauren wasn’t born to the Witch Clans, but she’s a legitimate Third-Degree Wiccan High Priestess. She’s studied Wicca for over a decade, advancing through the stages of initiation, learning all she can about the magical properties of herbs and moon phases and crystals and the rest of the natural world. Providing counsel to her own initiates and those who come to her for guidance.

			She’s almost like a Caster Witch, brewing potions and weaving spells. The same thirst to always learn more.

			But that’s where the similarities end. Lauren isn’t a Caster. Her magic has nowhere near the reach. The immediacy. The strength. And yet there’s no denying the power she does have.

			“I will say this, though,” Lauren continues, glancing toward the door to make sure Detective Archer isn’t lingering on the premises, “that man is going to be good for Salem.” She sighs, a soft, dreamy sound, and then seems to realize I’m still standing next to her. “Why don’t you dust the shelves while we wait for Cal to arrive.”

			“Cal?”

			Lauren nods. “He interviewed yesterday and was eager to get started. When he gets here, can you teach him the register? I’ve got back-to-back appointments most of the day.”

			“Sure,” I say, reaching behind the counter for the dust cloth and Lauren’s homemade cleaning spray, a mixture of water, vinegar, and lemon oil. I’m fairly certain she blesses each batch under a full moon for good measure.

			I start with the counter, then move to dusting the tops of the mirrors and picture frames that hang along the back wall. Customers always get a kick out of Lauren’s Shoplifters Will Be Hexed! cross-stitched sign.

			The bell above the door jingles, and I turn to herd the day’s first official client back to Lauren’s private reading room. Most of our customers are drawn to the shop by Lauren’s reputation with tarot, and today is no exception. I lead a short man in a crisp black suit to the back of the shop, where Lauren has candles and incense burning to cleanse and prepare the space. When I head back to the counter, there’s someone drumming their fingers along the glass.

			“Can I help you?” I ask, trying to keep the annoyance out of my voice. I just finished cleaning that.

			The drumming stops, and the guy turns with a wide grin that immediately puts me at ease. He’s about my height, his blond hair shaved on the sides and longer on top. He’s wearing dark jeans and one of our Cauldron T-shirts. “I’m Cal. I’m supposed to start work here today.” He gestures at our matching purple T-shirts to illustrate his point.

			“Hannah,” I say, shaking his hand. “Lauren’s busy, so she asked me to show you the ropes.” I gesture for him to follow me behind the counter. “Did she give you a code for clocking in?”

			Cal nods, reaching into his back pocket for a small moleskin notebook. He flips it open and riffles through a few pages. “Yup. Right here.”

			I pull up the clock-in screen on the register and have Cal punch in his code. “Are you new in town?” I ask as he finishes up. “I haven’t seen you around before.”

			“It depends on how you define ‘new.’ I just finished my first year at Salem State. I’m from Boston initially, but I decided to stick around and earn some extra cash while I get ahead in my courses.” Cal gestures to the register. “Mind if I try?”

			“Sure.” I return the ancient register to the cheesy early 2000s home screen and watch as Cal brings up the clock-in function. “Why do you have to get ahead?”

			“College isn’t cheap,” Cal says, like it’s an obvious answer. “If I can finish my computer science degree in three years, I’ll save an entire year of tuition and housing costs. What about you?”

			“What about me?”

			“What are you studying in college?”

			My cheeks warm, but there’s something so earnest about how Cal asks that I don’t mind telling him the truth. “I’ll actually be a senior at the high school this fall. Veronica’s going to college this year, though. She’s going to study journalism at Ithaca College in New York.”

			“Who’s Veronica?”

			My heart skips a beat when I realize what I’ve done. I thought this stupid reflex, this subconscious need to include Veronica in every part of my life, was broken. Dead. Gone.

			“She’s my ex,” I whisper, my stomach clenching as I wait to see how Cal responds. Coming out is always nerve-wracking, no matter how many times I do it. And now that Veronica and I are broken up, there’s an added sting of loss along with the rest of the anxious emotions.

			Cal pauses a moment, considering me. Then he lets out a knowing sigh. “My first boyfriend broke up with me a few months before he went to college, too.”

			“Yeah?” I ask, instantly feeling a tighter kinship with my new coworker, like seeing a familiar face in a crowd of strangers. “What happened?”

			“Some of it was the usual stuff, like not wanting to juggle a relationship while we went to separate colleges. Mostly, though, I don’t think he wanted to date a guy.” When Cal sees my confused expression, he clarifies. “I’m trans. I came out senior year.”

			“Oh,” I say, trying to hide my surprise. “I’m sorry he dumped you.”

			“It’s fine.” Cal smiles wide, his pale cheeks flushing. “My new boyfriend is a much better match. He’s home in Brooklyn for the summer though.”

			I offer my condolences on the long distance and walk Cal through the most common functions on the register. As we work, we swap stories about our exes. Cal groans sympathetically when I tell him about the public shouting match that ended my relationship, and I pester him for details about how he met his current boyfriend.

			“This is the least intuitive register system I’ve ever seen. How old is this thing?” Cal asks, interrupting his own story. We’re in the middle of a practice return, and the register keeps making angry beeps at him.

			“You’ll get the hang of it. Sometimes it helps if you smack it.”

			“That doesn’t actually—”

			I hit the register with the heel of my hand, and Cal cringes at the shuddering clang the old machine makes. “Try now.”

			Cal eyes me suspiciously and runs through the steps again, glancing at the notebook where he wrote the instructions. This time, the return goes through fine.

			“Told you.” I grin, and Cal smiles back. It’s nice having some fresh blood around here. Lauren is cool and all, but she’s still the boss.

			The bell above the door rings, announcing a new customer. Cal plasters on a smile so wide it rivals Lauren’s best customer service grin and offers a hearty, “Welcome to the Fly by Night Cauldron!”

			His enthusiasm is infectious. I turn to greet the newcomer, too, but I freeze when I see who it is.

			Evan.

			I hardly recognize him at first. Gone is the goth kid who came into the shop before the bonfire. This new Evan’s face is free from makeup. He’s wearing dress pants, a white collared shirt, and a name tag with the Witch Museum logo.

			What is he doing here?

			“You good?” I ask. When Cal nods, I follow Evan down the candle aisle. I cross my arms, all my customer service training forgotten. “Can I help you?” I snap, my tone more hostile than my words.

			Evan raises a brow. “Uh, hello to you, too, Hannah. And I’m fine. I know what I need.” He disappears down another row, and the clinking of glass tells me he’s looking through our vials of magical herbs.

			A war rages inside, leaving me frozen in place. Evan’s a Reg. His actions shouldn’t concern me. Lady Ariana’s words echo in my head: It’s not our place to save them from themselves. If Evan wants to sacrifice another animal and risk the consequences of that kind of magic, that’s on him.

			And yet . . .

			By the time I glance back at the register, Cal is cautiously ringing up the first of Evan’s supplies. Crystals and candles, most of them black. Evan isn’t by the counter, probably searching for something else. I peek down the herb aisle, but it’s like he’s disappeared. He’s not in the book aisle either. I turn to help Cal at the register and smash into someone.

			“Shit. I’m sorry.” I look up. Evan. He’s carrying vials of blood root and hemlock. I’m suddenly feeling much less apologetic. “What are you doing?”

			He stiffens under my stare, and his expression becomes guarded. “That’s none of your business,” he snaps, and shoves past me to the register, where Lauren has appeared to help Cal. She shoots me a look as she rings up the rest of Evan’s purchase, but I can’t tell whether she’s upset by his collection of supplies or my lackluster customer service skills.

			With her, it could really go either way.

			Evan pays and heads for the door. As he draws near, I step in his way. “What’ll it be this time?” I ask, hands clenching into fists. “Another raccoon? Or are you going after something bigger?”

			“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Evan says, holding my gaze like he’s daring me to accuse him again. “Get the hell out of my way.”

			“Or what?”

			Anger flashes through Evan’s eyes. “Or you’ll be next.” He stalks around me, his arm jostling my shoulder, and he’s out the door a second later, the chime a discordant crashing in my ears.

			“What was that about?” Cal asks, coming around the counter when Lauren heads back to her office. “You okay?”

			I nod, too busy fighting the angry thrum of magic in my veins to speak. Evan does not get to threaten me and walk away feeling smug. He’s a Reg. Whatever power he feels, whatever rush he got from his ritual—and given his reaction, I’m almost certain it was his—that’s nothing compared to what I can do. Less than nothing.



* * *



			• • •

			“Tell Lauren I’m taking my break,” I say. “I’ll be right back.”

			Locals and tourists mix and mingle along the narrow sidewalks as I slip out of the shop. I spot the crisp white of Evan’s shirt as he turns the corner and hurry after him, weaving through pedestrians with a string of apologies in my wake.

			A pack of middle schoolers clog the sidewalk, and I step into the street to hurry around them. A car horn blares behind me, and I jolt, pushing back onto the sidewalk and knocking into the gaggle of sixth graders.

			“Hey!”

			“Watch it, weirdo!”

			“Out of the way, loser!”

			When did preteens get so rude? I was terrified of seniors when I was their age. I consider tripping them with a crack in the sidewalk, but I shake the thought away. Elementals don’t interfere with the lives of Regs; only Blood Witches do that. Besides, Lady Ariana would skin me alive if she found traces of magic someplace with such a heavy Reg presence. I’m not letting my training get pushed back another second, especially not because of some snotty middle schoolers.

			Up ahead, Evan crosses the intersection and heads for the Witch Museum—the one with those creepy wax figures that explain the witch trials—and I hurry after him. On second thought, maybe preteens have always been little shits. Abigail Williams was only eleven when she turned an entire town on its head.

			Thankfully, the light is red as I race through the intersection at top speed. I ignore the people who give me strange looks and reach for Evan before he passes the small crowd in line for tickets. “Evan, wait.”

			Evan jumps, startled, and pulls away from my touch. The Cauldron bag swings from his hand as he spins to face me. “What do you want?”

			“You—” I suck in a lungful of air, my chest heaving. I am so not a runner. I press my hands into my thighs and double over, which totally ruins the fierce vibe I was going for. “You do not get to threaten me and walk away like it’s nothing,” I say when I finally catch my breath.

			“Whatever.” Evan rolls his eyes, dismissing me.

			“I’m serious,” I hiss. “You don’t get to hurl curses as threats.” My magic flares with my temper, kicking up a breeze in the cramped square. I press the reflex down.

			“I told you. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He glances at the tourists around us and leads me away from the line by the elbow. His thumb digs painfully into my bicep.

			“Get your hands off me,” I snap, but I catch myself keeping my voice low, like I’m afraid to cause a scene. I tear my arm from his grip and shove a finger toward his purchase. “That bag is full of cursing supplies. Whatever you’re doing, it has to stop. And you’re sure as shit not going to curse me or I’ll—”

			“Or you’ll do what?” Evan raises an eyebrow at me, and I hate that I can’t show him the magic I could unleash if he tried to hurt me.

			I force myself to take a deep breath and switch tactics. “I’ve worked at the Cauldron since I turned sixteen.” I pause as a woman drags two young children past us. Only when they’re out of range do I continue. “I know the beginnings of a hex when I see one. Hurting people is not the way to get what you want.”

			“Some people deserve to be punished.” His eyes flash, glimmering in the sunlight. His voice is thick with hurt. “Some people deserve to watch their lives fall apart. Why shouldn’t I be the one to make that happen?”

			His question catches me off guard, and I don’t have an immediate answer beyond that’s not how life works, and somehow I doubt that will suffice. I search for a Wiccan explanation, hoping all his time in the Cauldron means he gives a shit about more than the magic. “Whatever evil you conjure, the Law of Return will send it back three times worse. Are you willing to risk that?”

			“That’s all I’m trying to do, make sure he gets what he deserves.” Evan curls his hands into fists, squeezing so hard his arms shake, but he doesn’t clarify who he is. “I don’t care what happens to me.”

			“Evan—”

			“Does your boss know you’re here?”

			“I . . . uh . . .”

			“Didn’t think so.” Evan steps closer, until I have to crane my neck to meet his stare. “Leave me the hell alone, Hannah, or I will stop coming to the Cauldron. And I’ll tell your boss exactly why she’s lost my business.”

			This threat actually lands. I can’t lose my job. As much as I complain about the tourists, the Cauldron is the only reason I can afford my clunker of a car and the insurance to keep it on the road. The extra cash pays for art supplies and midnight diner trips with Gem and even my half-assed excuse for college savings. “You wouldn’t.”

			“I don’t want to. Your boss has the best supplies in town.” Evan’s eyes go hard; he leans in close. “But I’m not going to let you harass me every time I walk through the door. Stay out of my business.”

			I really want to tell him to go screw himself, but the thought of getting fired and losing my only source of income—meager though it may be—silences my tongue.

			“Understood?”

			“Fine.” I cross my arms and return his stony glare. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

			“Whatever.” Evan acts tough, but he can’t hide the tremor in his voice. He may be desperate enough to break one of the fundamental tenets of Wicca—harm none—but he clearly knows he’s playing with fire.

			I lean against the rough exterior of the Witch Museum and watch as Evan slips inside. I consider asking Lauren why she even stocks the supplies for hexes and other negative spellwork, but I can practically hear her response in my head. Something about balance and the importance of letting people make the mistakes necessary to find their true path. Nonsense, really. Lady Ariana would never allow so much freedom.

			There is no room for mistakes in the Clans.

			A warm breeze drifts past, pulling strands of hair across my cheeks and rustling the low bushes beside me. I glance down.

			It can’t be . . . I jolt away from the building, my heart hammering against my ribs, adrenaline preparing my body to run. Lady Ariana said we were safe. She said there was no Blood Witch here.

			She was wrong.

			On the side of the Witch Museum, behind a row of bushes, shines a series of runes.

			Drawn in blood.

			In an instant, I’m transported back to a tiny apartment. Bloody runes cover the walls, and a girl with blue hair is desperately scrubbing them away, trying to erase them before the magic can take hold.

			And then I’m in Central Park, where the Blood Witch finally finds me. Where she wraps her fingers around my throat—

			Laughter cuts through the memory, bringing me back to myself. Behind me, a small child toddles down the sidewalk, squealing with delight as their two dads chase after them. The trio passes the Witch Museum, and the taller of the dads scoops up the curly-haired kid and reaches for the other man’s hand. The family walks across the street to where a row of food trucks is serving lunch.

			I smile after them and find the courage to study the runes more closely. Nothing bad will happen to me around all these people. I recognize Jera—two interlocking capital Ls, twisted on a diagonal—and Peorth, which looks like an hourglass tipped on its side with the top missing. I don’t recognize the other runes, but I know Jera deals with time and change while Peorth refers to things hidden. Usually magical things.

			What is the Blood Witch trying to do? As the question presses to the front of my mind, I know I’m right. This wasn’t a Reg.

			I may not know much about blood, but I understand paint. There’s a confidence to these runes, a sureness to their creation. If a Reg drew these, there’d be imperfections in the lines where they hesitated and consulted their guide. No. These runes look exactly like the ones in New York, complete with the impressions of two fingers in each stroke along the stone wall. A Reg couldn’t do this. They wouldn’t be this precise.

			Was I wrong about Evan? He’s clearly up to something, but maybe he wasn’t the one who killed that raccoon. Maybe the same witch who drew these runes was out in the woods with us.

			My hands shake as I reach for my phone. How did they do this without getting caught? This isn’t exactly a quiet street. Even now, people in line are giving me weird looks for climbing through the bushes to take a photo. I doubt even Lady Ariana could test the wall for magic without being seen, so how did the Blood Witch—

			It doesn’t matter. I just need proof so Lady Ariana will believe me and take care of the intruder. She’ll keep us safe.

			I snap pictures of the runes with my phone. My parents should be able to identify the rest and tell me what they mean. In case that isn’t enough to prove this wasn’t a Reg with access to Google, I grab a receipt from my other pocket, soft and worn from going through the wash once or twice. I cringe as I swipe the thin paper along the markings, careful to avoid skin contact. I know firsthand what happens when a Blood Witch takes an Elemental’s blood.

			I’d rather not find out what happens if I touch theirs.





7





I’M HYPERAWARE OF THE blood in my back pocket when I return to work. Cal shoots me a panicked look as the register beeps at him, and I hurry over to help ring up a pair of tourists purchasing matching amethyst necklaces.

			After my shift, driving home is an unexpected challenge. I keep picturing the bloody receipt pressing against me, and the thought twists my stomach into knots. I’ve never gotten out of my car faster than when I pull into our driveway.

			My parents aren’t back yet. Of course. The one time I actually want them to beat me home from work, they