This witch takes in strays. Stray animals, not stray ex-boyfriends, magical cultists, or shifters.
At least, that used to be the rule…
Luna Summerwood has always taken in strays. As a witch who runs a veterinary clinic, she’s healed creatures that fly, swim, and crawl. She’s not the most powerful Summerwood witch; her only magic is the ability to communicate with animals. But when an exotic maned wolf is brought to her in the dead of night, Luna is plunged into the shadowy underground world of shifter trafficking.
With the help of her ex-boyfriend—who also happens to be a local deputy and someone who pushes all her buttons—she investigates a series of occult crimesinvolving missing farm animals. After her ex is nearly killed, Luna discovers thatthe Casimir, a cult of magical collectors, plans to steal the maned wolf.
This beautiful maned wolf is more than he seems—he’s a shapeshifting man named Renan.He was once captured by the Casimir and forced to do their dark bidding. Luna is his last chance at finding sanctuary…and perhaps love.
But the Casimir want more than just Renan. Centuries ago, the Summerwoods warred with the Casimir. Now, these sorcerers will stop at nothing to possess the Summerwood land and theburied magic of the witches themselves.
“Hello,” I whispered to anyone who might be listening. “I need your help.”
That whisper rolled through the field and into the forest, over the creek, and settled down into the earth. Animals with much better hearing than I possessed would hear me. I reached out with my mind, envisioning the shadowy creatures who moved in the dark and the bright ones who fluttered in the day. I needed them. I didn’t know who was out there, but I needed help. I didn’t have any messages in bottles, but I didn’t need them with the animals.
The earth stirred. The forest seethed, and the grasses churned. At first, I thought that might have been some of Celeste’s wind witchery, but this was not that. Shadows roiled and glowing eyes approached, fixed on me.
Hair stood up on the back of my neck as the eyes circled me: deer, coyotes, snakes, mice, opossums, raccoons. A fox wove in the underbrush, while a family of skunks approached. A great horned owl lit on a branch to stare down at me. Bats fluttered overhead, exiting from the top of the barn to swirl above me in a thick, moonlight-dappled cloud.
I exhaled, feeling the animals sighing with me, across this land. I was used to thinking of this land as belonging to the Summerwoods, but it really didn’t; it belonged to the creatures who had been here, who had always been here and who always would.
“Evil people are coming,” I said. “They came here before, centuries before. Their ancestors are buried here, in this field.”
A stag approached, his dark eyes seeming to take me in. Stories of those people have been passed down, whispered in the memory of the forest. Those men smelled like blood.
I nodded, mouth dry at his magnificence. “They would use the magic here for harm. They are coming, and the Summerwoods will fight them. But we are afraid that might not be enough.”
A fox peered at me through grasses. What do you ask of us?
I licked my lips. “I ask you to be vigilant. To warn us if strangers come to this land. If they approach, we need to know to be prepared. Can you…can you do that for us?”
The possum crept forward. You leave me cat food. I will watch.
The stag lowered his head. You do not hunt my family. I will watch, too.
The bats squeaked overhead. You give us shelter. We will watch.
The snake slid over my shoe. You do not kill me when you see me. I will watch.
The bobcat crept at the edge of the woods. You give me untouched land to roam. I will watch, too.
The owl futtered its wings. You leave water for us when the creek is frozen. I will keep watch.
One by one, the animals agreed. All but the skeptical fox. He sat before me, staring up at me with reflective eyes, before demanding: Why should I help you?
I crouched down to look at him. I might be able to talk to animals, but I never wanted to compromise their free will. “I don’t know you. But I mean you no harm. Go in peace, and I hope that we may someday be friends.”
A tongue lolled from the fox’s mouth, and he seemed to consider me with less skepticism than before. And that is what you have given us on this land. Peace. Your neighbors allow their children to chase us, while the adults poison and try to kill us. This place is a place of peace, and it should remain so. I will watch.
Tears stung my eyes. I had never thought of what this place meant to the animals who lived here, that it was an oasis for them. I knew how the animals in the barn and the clinic felt, but it was difficult to know what the wild ones perceived. But I knew they loved this place as much as I did.
“I will do everything I can to defend this place,” I vowed. “Thank you.”
The animals faded into the grass and slipped behind the trees. A feeling of serenity swept over me. I had faith in the creatures of the earth who had promised to warn us of danger. Nothing would escape their gazes.
I turned to find Renan watching me from a respectful distance. I walked back to him, and he took my hand.
“You are powerful,” he said. “Powerful and magnificent.”
A blush crept up my cheeks, and I began to protest, but Renan placed his finger on my lips. “No. You have brought the beasts of the forests and the fields together. You summoned all of them. This is your land, and you are queen of it.”
Laura Bickle grew up in rural Ohio, reading entirely too many comic books out loud to her favorite Wonder Woman doll. She now dreams up stories about the monsters under the stairs and sometimes reads them to her cats. Her books have earned starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. Laura’s work has also been included in the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer Project 2013 reading list and the State Library of Ohio’s Choose to Read Ohio reading list for 2015-2016. The latest updates on her work can be found at authorlaurabickle.com.
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