For all those of you who have taken me up on a free prerelease copy of The Coveted, I’ll be sending out an email this week with the .MOBI file! I can’t wait to share it with you all. But for now, here’s a teaser to hold you over:
The séance was being held in one of the main library’s back rooms. As Oliver, Leanne, and I passed the rows of cloth-bound, gold-leafed books, I saw Lydia Thyme, Peel’s head librarian. Our eyes met and she winked at me. I smiled and nodded back.
Not so long ago she’d helped me when I desperately needed it. I wasn’t sure which side of good and evil she fell on, but I also wasn’t sure I had the luxury of defining my world by such absolutes any longer.
At the back of the library there was a series of doors, one which was propped open. The three of us slipped inside.
A group of students already sat in seats placed along the edges of the room. Leanne, Oliver, and I grabbed three of the remaining seats and waited for tonight’s activities to begin.
I leaned into Leanne. “Remind me again what a séance is?” I asked, studying the round table in the middle of the room. Resting at its center was a crystal ball.
“A séance is a gathering of individuals who attempt to communicate with the dead.”
That’s what I thought. I was just wondering why this was a good idea. There were plenty of people I knew who were dead, and only a couple I’d be okay communicating with. With the exception of my parents, I seriously hoped none of my deceased acquaintances showed up.
“Séances are strongest when done close to Samhain,” Leanne continued, “hence tonight’s event.”
I eyed the ground. Under the table someone had drawn a large pentagram within a circle. Five unlit candles rested at each point of the star. Considering my last foray with candles and old buildings didn’t go so well, I desperately hoped these would remain unlit.
A few minutes later, after more students trickled in, Madame Woods entered the room, her velvet dress trailing behind her.
“Welcome, welcome,” she said, steepling her hands together and bowing to us.
She straightened up. “I am Madame Woods, and my work is in the field of mediumship. Tonight I will be conducting a séance, a communion with the dead. For those of you who are unfamiliar with my procedures, I will first step into the protective circle I’ve created and light each of these five candles.”
Well, there goes my earlier hope.
“That,” she continued, “will activate the circle. Then I’ll seat myself in front of my crystal ball and hypnotize myself. Once under hypnosis, those spirits that want to be heard will communicate with me, and I will pass along their messages.”
With that, she stepped inside the chalk circle and began to light each of the five candles.
When the fifth and last candle was lit, Leanne inhaled sharply.
“What is it?” I whispered to her.
“I can actually see the contours of the protective circle—it’s actually a sphere,” she said, her eyes never straying from the middle of the room. “The top half of it is visible; the bottom half must be underground.”
I followed her gaze, but I couldn’t see anything. The air was still as invisible as ever.
I shivered. There was something in the room that I couldn’t see. The thought made me feel vulnerable. I wondered what other unseen things lurked just beyond my five senses and whether they could peer at me.
Madame Woods sat down in her chair. Rather than waving her hands around the crystal ball—which, I’ll be honest, I was kind of hoping for—she folded her hands in front of her and stared into it.
For a long time nothing happened. Just as students were beginning to get restless, she spoke. “Does anyone have a deceased relative whose first name starts with a ‘J’?”
When no one answered, she continued. “This is a female presence, and she’s telling me she was young when she died. I’m seeing water—either she drowned or … something to do with water.”
An audience member cleared her throat. “I think that may be my younger sister, Jacqueline. She drowned in a lake on our property when she was ten.”
Something about this moment, this confession, made me profoundly uncomfortable. I shouldn’t know about this stranger’s painful past, and I sure as hell didn’t want to share my own.
Madame Woods focused on the girl who spoke. “Your sister wants me to tell you that she knows you carry around a picture of you two in your wallet. And on bad days you sometimes pull it out.” At this the audience member began to cry.
“She wants me to tell you that she loves you very much and to not worry about her.”
The tearful girl smiled. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Madame Woods nodded and turned her attention back to the crystal ball. This time, we all waited patiently for her.
“An older woman is coming through. Her name begins with an ‘A,’ and it’s an unusual first name. Adele? Arianna?”
Leanne made a noise in the back of her throat. “Adelaide?” she asked.
“Yes,” Madame Woods said empathically.
“That’s my grandmother.”
I looked at Leanne sharply. My impression had always been that her grandmother was still alive. After all, her grandmother was the one who had tipped Leanne off about the persecution tunnel in the basement of the women’s dormitory.
“Oh, I like her,” Madame Woods said. “She has a mischievous personality.”
I watched the smile spread across Leanne’s face. “She does.”
“She’s been gone for awhile now, right?” Madame Woods said.
Leanne nodded. “She died when I was eight.”
At this, I felt my eyes widen.
“Hmm,” Madame Woods said. “She’s making it sound as though you two still chat often.”
The skin at the corners of Leanne’s eyes crinkled. “We do. I dream about her often.”
“She wants me to tell you that she enjoys those conversations immensely.”
The medium’s face darkened. “She also wants you to know that things are changing. You need to trust your abilities now more than ever. Because you can see what others can’t, you are more vulnerable to attack. Protect yourself.”
Leanne sucked in her cheeks. “Okay.”
Once more Madame Woods focused on the crystal ball in front of her. I studied the way her unblinking eyes watched the ball. Slowly her lids began to droop. Then they slid shut and her body went slack.
Somewhere in the room a clock ticked rhythmically. Students glanced at each other, no one sure what to make of the medium’s limp body.
The candles in the room flickered, and Madame Woods gasped to life.
Only, Madame Woods was no longer Madame Woods.
“Where is she?” The voice was unnaturally deep and gravelly. Unfocused eyes searched the room. The students shifted. A couple whimpered. Around the room I saw wide eyes.
“Where is the devil’s consort? I smell her.” The eyes roved around the room. Until they locked with my own.
“You.” The beast controlling Madame Woods strode towards me.
What had the thing called me? The devil’s consort? Ew. I mean seriously—ewww.
The chalk line was only two feet in front of me, and that white line was all that separated the medium from me. Right about now I was having trouble believing an invisible wall separated us. But I sure hoped one was.
“He’s watching you now, just as he always has.”
I stilled. It seemed that even my heart slowed. Whatever lingered behind those eyes was ugly and twisted. And it knew about the man in the suit.