Home > This Coven Won't Break (These Witches Don't Burn #2)(4)

This Coven Won't Break (These Witches Don't Burn #2)(4)
Author: Isabel Sterling

   I don’t answer right away, focusing instead on backing into a spot. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Gemma studying Wicca. It’s certainly none of my business, and I’m happy that she’s found a religion that speaks to her, but it’s still . . . a little weird.

   “I’m not mad,” I say at last, when the car is parked and I don’t have any more excuses to delay.

   “Well, that wasn’t very convincing.” She grabs her bag and follows me out of the car. “If it bothers you, I could have found a different ride.”

   “You don’t have to do that. Really, it’s okay.” We maneuver through narrow sidewalks packed with tourists who are already sporting black robes and pointed witch hats, even though it’s almost two months until Halloween. The sun is still hot overhead, warm enough that a small bead of sweat trails down my spine.

   Across the street from the shop, we pause to wait for the light to turn. I try again to convince my best friend that things are fine. “I swear I’m not mad, Gem. It’s just that I had a whole church-and-state thing with this stuff. It’s weird to be bringing you here instead of the dance studio.”

   Gemma nods and turns away without saying anything, and I mentally kick myself. She always gets like this whenever Morgan or I mention dance. Before the car crash, Gemma lived and breathed ballet and modern and tap. She had the rare combination of innate talent and the drive to work harder than everyone else anyway. She could have gotten into any dance conservatory she wanted, and her dream of dancing on Broadway always seemed a matter of when, not if. That all changed when the guardrail smashed into her door and crushed her leg. Despite her age and how hard she works in physical therapy, the doctors haven’t been overly encouraging about her ability to recover in time to audition this year. If she ever does.

   Before I can apologize, the lights turn and we follow the crowd across the street. I pull open the door and bells jingle above me. I smile at the familiar sound, letting the soothing lavender incense draw me into the shop.

   I spot Lauren working behind the register, where she’s converted the back counter into some kind of altar. Beautifully carved wooden statues of the Horned God and Triple Goddess sit at the center of the counter with large gold and silver pillar candles burning beside their respective deity.

   Even from across the room, the flicker of the small flames brushes against my skin. I try to ignore the sensations, but they push and push and push until I can’t block them out. Suddenly, I’m back in the woods again. My legs are bound to a stake. I can’t move. Can’t breathe. Fire presses against my skin, looking for a way past my compromised Elemental power. Smoke fills my lungs. Tears blur my vision as darkness crowds in and—

   “Hannah.” Gemma’s urgent whisper pulls me back to the present, and I find her fingers wrapped tightly around my wrist. “Are you okay?”

   “Yeah.” I can barely choke the word out. It scrapes like ash and rock across my tongue as I press the heels of my hands against my eyelids. Coming here was a mistake. I need Morgan. My nerves are too raw and exposed without her.

   No. I shove memories into a mental box and lock it tight. You can do this. You have to be okay if you want to fight. Just find Cal. Slowly, the tension leaves my body. I still step farther away from the candles though.

   Lauren turns around, and her face lights up when she spots us loitering by the door. “Hannah, I wasn’t expecting to see you.” She’s all warmth and concern as she approaches. Lauren isn’t a member of the Witch Clans, but as a Wiccan high priestess, she has her own kind of power. Different from ours, less dramatic, but still real. It’s that power Gem is so excited to harness for herself. “How are you?”

   I shrug and find my fingers reaching for the necklace again. “I’m okay.”

   Her gaze drops to the tourmaline that she gifted me, a sad smile pulling at the corners of her lips. “You’ve been missed, Hannah. Please know you’re welcome back anytime.”

   Warmth spreads through me, but I don’t see myself coming back. Not while there are Hunters to fight. “Thank you,” I say, not committing to anything.

   “Now, Gemma,” Lauren says, shifting her focus. “Are you ready to discuss the wheel of the year?”

   Gem casts me a glance before she nods and follows Lauren to the back of the shop, where they disappear into the private reading room. It’s usually occupied by tarot clients, but she uses it for her students, too.

   Once they’ve disappeared, I go looking for Cal. I find him along the opposite wall, wearing an orange Cauldron T-shirt, dark jeans, and black-and-white Converse. He’s buzzed the sides of his head since I last saw him, his blond hair still perfectly floppy on top. Cal is busy restocking the hand-packaged potion ingredients that Lauren blesses herself, but he stops to hug me tight as I approach. When he pulls away, I notice dark circles under his eyes that stand out against his pale skin.

   “Are you okay?” I cringe as the question passes my lips. I know more than most how irritating it can be.

   Cal reaches for another packet of dried herbs, this one labeled To Bring Prosperity. “I’m fine. Why?”

   “You look like you haven’t slept in weeks.” I settle beside him and pick up a shiny black bag that promises maximum protection. I run my finger along the gold pentacle emblazoned beneath the text. “Is everything going okay with the you-know-what?”

   I haven’t heard much about the Council’s plans, but I know they intend to destroy the drug that temporarily stole my magic, including every bit of research it took to cook it up.

   Somehow.

   Cal glances behind us to make sure no one is close enough to overhear. He hangs up a handful of Opening Your Inner Eye potions, checks over his shoulder one more time, and then leans close. “There’s a raid happening tonight, actually.”

   “Really? Where?”

   “We found out where the Hunters are manufacturing the drug. There’s a team out of Boston in charge of infiltration and destruction.” A shimmer of hope lights Cal’s expression, and a confusing mix of excitement and disappointment floods through me. Even though I know it’s an irrational hope, I wanted to be part of whatever happens next. I wanted to be the one to destroy the drug that changed my entire life.

   “That’s great.” My enthusiasm sounds false even to my ears.

   Cal nods, but his smile falters. “Archer and I wanted to go with them, but our orders are to continue watching over your coven in case of retaliation.”

   A shiver of fear makes my fingers tremble. I reach for another black bag, this one promising to spice up the bedroom, and squeeze tight to stop the shaking. “What happens once the drug is gone? Is there anything I can do?” I mentally cross my fingers and hope I don’t sound as desperate as I feel.

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