In witching society, magic and politics are the only things that matter, and marriages are arranged for advantage rather than love.
Tulah Ngozi doesn’t want to go home, but she’s being forced to attend the wedding of the man who killed her father years ago. The Ngozi men are determined to use her in their plots against each other, but she takes her future into her own hands when she learns that Adam Davenold will also be in attendance. Adam is a powerful man in a matriarchal Family, used to being seduced by women looking to gain power. He’s good at guarding his heart—until he meets Tulah.
Diplomacy demands that the Davenolds attend the wedding and, in the company of their Matriarch, Adam and Georgeanne travel to the Ngozi residence, where they become embroiled in a frightening power struggle. Georgeanne is grateful for the unexpected presence of her betrothed, Silviu, who arrives uninvited after he learns she will be there. When the groom proves disturbing and the Davenold Mother falls to a suspicious illness, Silviu’s magic is the only thing Georgie can depend on for support.
In witching society, magic and politics are the only things that matter, and marriages are arranged for advantage rather than love. But more than politics is at stake in a minefield of lies and betrayal. Death and dark magic stalk the Ngozi–Levy wedding, and only Silviu and Georgeanne’s Matched magic has a chance of getting everyone out alive.
Reader Advisory: This book is best read in sequence as part of a series.
General Release Date: 20th October 2015
“Hurry, Tulah! They’re coming up the street.”
“Oh, God, Mama, I know he’s with them. I just know it.” Dread knotted Tulah’s stomach until she could hardly breathe. She came to a dead stop on the claustrophobic stairs and rested her forehead against the wall, trying to soak up the coolness of the perpetually damp plaster as a remedy for the nauseous heat rolling through her.
“Don’t let him see you like that!” Her mother stamped her tiny foot on the bottom step in warning. “You must be strong at all times.”
“Strong?” Her voice was barely a croak, so Tulah tried again. “Strong? He killed Papa.”
“And if you’re not strong, he’ll kill you, too. Get down here. Now!”
It took Tulah another minute to move. Confused and angry, defiant and stubborn, she stared at her mother. Chelsea glared back with the same emotions in her eyes, looking like a little doll whose face was painted to show determination. And fear.
She stepped down and her stomach shriveled. Tulah was beyond fear—there was no name for what she felt. Her legs almost gave out, and she pressed both hands to the walls, grateful—for the first time—to the medieval architect who’d built the cramped house. She usually considered the stairwell to be a horrid, constricted passageway, being no more than two feet wide. Now, the narrowness was all that held Tulah up.
“Listen to me.” Her mother banged on the wall to get her wandering attention. “You get that petrified look off your face, right now!”
The words snapped into her spine. Tulah drew herself up and fought to find a blank mask to slip over her features. Her cheekbones ached with the effort and her teeth sank into her lower lip, but her mother nodded sharply, giving her approval.
There was a knock at the door.
Tulah dragged in a deep breath and held it until she was dizzy. Still bracing her hands
against the clammy walls, she descended the rest of the steps. Her mother twirled and reached for the door that nearly pressed against her back in the tiny house.
Fully expecting to see her uncle, Tulah was shocked to find Charles Ngozi standing on the other side instead. The man was big and intimidating, his pale skin a striking contrast to the black braids falling down his back in blatant challenge to any rival. Pull those braids and die. Try to use them to gain the advantage in a fight, and die. People generally died around him—which suited his job for the Family.
He was an enforcer who broke all the rules for his out-of-bounds leader.
His brown eyes found Tulah’s and the sensation of a thousand wriggling cockroaches crawled over her. His eyes brightened and sparked with lust as they made their leisurely way over her body. Both women were forced to ignore the sudden tenting of his pants, though his slow smile prompted Tulah’s mother into a tone that came too close to derision.
“Charles. Why are you here?”
“Come to collect Tulah.” He waved his hand toward the dark car idling at the curb, nearly blocking the traffic in the narrow street. “Graves will explain.”
Tulah’s heart sank. The spell her mother had cast at either end of the street let them know if any Ngozi Family member came close. She’d felt the cold stirring that warned her of the man’s presence, but she’d found a spark of hope when only Charles had been revealed behind the door. He was big, fast and murderous, but not the most intelligent man that ever walked the Earth. She could’ve handled him.
Graves was a different matter, entirely.
She looked beyond Charles toward the car, where another man hopped out of the passenger seat and hurried to open the back door. The vehicle’s tires boasted shockingly green hubcaps, its windows were tinted dark enough to match the exterior paint and tiny green designs trailed down the hood, the roof and the boot, defiling the once-sleek luxury sedan.
It suited the man emerging from its depths perfectly. Tulah swallowed hard, holding tight to her composure as Charles watched her closely. She could do nothing but stare at the man who’d killed her father. The man who had unrepentantly killed his own nephew and tossed his wife and daughter into the streets to fend for themselves.
Graves Ngozi was a monster. Arrogant and cunning, tyrannical and deadly, he was a man who pit himself against the Family Father and stirred the shit everywhere he went. He was on full display today, the darkness of his skin emphasized by a white linen suit set off by a poison green tie and matching green saddle shoes. The white fedora on his head was perched at a cocky angle and he swung a heavy, emerald-tipped walking stick carelessly.
Tulah made a mental note to watch what he did with that stick.
He strolled up the path and into the house as if he owned it, disgustedly peering over dark sunglasses made needless by the thick London fog. Tulah lifted her chin as Graves stopped before her, looking her up and down.
“Well, well,” he purred, “look at what the years can do.”
Tulah couldn’t help herself. “Not enough years, if you ask me.”
Chelsea pinched Tulah’s arm but spoke to Graves. “What brings you to our door? I thought you were happy to see the last of us.”
He licked his teeth in an odd gesture that threatened the impassivity of Tulah’s expression and smirked. He turned in a tight circle to survey the tiny foyer before moving under a low arch into the square sitting room. The women had no choice but to follow him.
He threw himself back onto the fragile sofa, a second-hand piece Tulah feared would crumple under his abuse.
“Congratulations.” Her mother’s tone was devoid of any joy.
Graves stretched himself out on the couch, his arms across the back of it, his knees spread wide.
“I’ve always thought it was a marvelous thing that your parents settled in Chelsea when they came to England, rather than, say…Liverpool. What on earth would they have named you then?”
Tulah’s mother took it in stride. “I suppose they would have thought of something.”
“I’ve come for your daughter, Chelsea.”
“For what reason?”
“To take her to her rightful home, of course.”
“Rightful home?” Tulah lifted her eyebrow. “Graves, you sold the Ngozi estate out from under all the Family and bought a hotel, instead.”
“It’s convenient, pet. When the rooms aren’t full of Family, I fill them with tourists. It’s an investment.”
Chelsea took a deep breath. “Why do you want her presence in your…residence?”
Graves dropped his arrogant smirk. “I told you, I’m betrothed. Pay some fucking attention.”
Tulah saw the flash of helpless anger cross her mother’s delicate face and reached out to take her hand. “What she means, is why do you require me to be there? I have been banished from your presence for eleven years.”
Graves stood up and leaned against his walking stick. “I am the head of the secondary branch of the Family. If I require your presence, it is not for you to question me.”
Tulah took a step forward, indiscreet with the anger clamping down around the knots of fear in her belly. “I think it is, you murderous son of a bitch. I’m not going anywhere with you.”
The back of his hand slammed against her cheekbone before her words could fully leave her mouth. The crack of his knuckles stilled her, even as fire swept over her teary eye. Her mother grabbed her shoulder and pulled Tulah behind her. Ludicrous, as Chelsea was so very tiny and Tulah had gotten her father’s height.
It had happened so quickly, immediately tossing Tulah back into her childhood. Old fears poured over her, blinding her for an instant as her cheek throbbed, mocking her moment of confidence. It was a brutal reminder of how fast Graves was, how ruthless. Tulah struggled to hold on to her strength and tried to remember how hard her mother had worked to make her into a strong, confident woman.
Not a patriarch’s chattel to be abused, or a weakling prone to tears.
Graves tugged at the cuff of his jacket. “There will be a great gathering. Ngozis and Levys both, with a few other guests specially invited.”
Chelsea took an audible breath. “What does that have to do with us?”
Graves took a step forward and both women took an instinctive step back. He smiled.
“Muso Ngozi is coming to the betrothal celebration. He has requested your presence.”
“He’s not coming to England.” Chelsea shook her head. “He swore he’d never return here, after…after…”
She wasn’t willing to finish her thought, and neither was Tulah. Graves was too intimidating to voice the truth to. Even saying as much as she had was enough to have his face closing down, his skin tightening until his cheekbones shone nearly blue. His black eyes became an abyss of rage.
“Well, here he comes, darlings. He wants to meet the bride, apparently.”
“Who?” Tulah managed to ask. Hearing the shakiness in her own voice, she stepped to her mother’s side, unwilling to continue cowering behind her. She needed a greater show of strength than girlish tears and wobbling words.
“Constance Gage-Levy. She’s on her way to London as we speak.”
Tulah shared a look with her mother. This was huge news—not the bride, though Graves’ voice had softened to a surprising degree when he’d said her name, but the Father. This could be a chance to gain his ear, to find recompense for all they’d lost.
Her mother went rigid, eerily calm. “I see. Then we’ll go pack our bags.”
“Oh, no, no, no, darling Chelsea, not you.” Graves smiled wickedly. “Muso didn’t even mention you at all. Just Joseph’s daughter.”
Tulah’s heart stopped. She’d never been away from her mother, not even for the night. It was much too dangerous for them, in the heart of Ngozi territory. Ice clogged her veins but fire licked the inside of her skull. Tulah struggled to keep breathing, ignoring the ragged edge of every pant.
“I’m not letting you just take her!” Her mother’s hands clenched.
Chelsea tried again. “She can’t go without me.”
Graves made a patently false moue of apology. “Darling, you have so many more things to concern your pretty head with.”
“I promise you, I don’t! She’s my daughter.”
“Mmm, but you’ll need to spend time searching for lodgings. Preferably in France.”
Both women stilled. Tulah grabbed for her mother’s hand again, squeezing her fingers as she tried to decipher the cold slide of Graves’ tone. Moving to stand at his leader’s side, his big body blocking the weak light from the window, Charles grinned. Tulah didn’t trust the look in his eye.
“What are you talking about?” she finally asked.
“I am now the proud owner of this tiny little hamlet you’ve found in the back alleys of the city. I bought the whole block, when I learned of your whereabouts.” Graves grinned. “It’s the perfect place for a parking lot, don’t you think?”
Tulah blinked, fought for words. “You bought our building?”
“The whole block, pet. All the buildings.”
Tulah looked around the tiny space, dumbfounded. It was small and cramped, all they could afford on both their meager salaries. Chelsea had been raised in the midst of a patriarchal Family of witches. She hadn’t been taught the skills of autonomy before her husband was killed and she was thrown out of the only protection she’d ever thought she’d need.
She’d scrimped and saved, and had taken her daughter all over the city, from hovels and hotels to rented rooms and dismal flats. Once Tulah had been old enough to take a job as a cashier, they’d been able to save enough to rent the house.
Dingy peeling walls, claustrophobic rooms and cracked window casings aside, it was the first home they’d had since Joseph Ngozi’s death. They’d survived, they’d eked out a life for themselves, and Graves was taking it away. Again.
“But it’s medieval,” Tulah said stupidly, and kicking herself for it. “It survived the Fire.”
“But it won’t survive my wrecking ball.” Graves slid forward, raising his hand. He stroked his fingers over Tulah’s cheek gently, but fresh flames licked over her skin. He’d hit her hard enough to bruise, and now was admiring his handiwork. “I suggest you pack all of your things. You won’t be coming back here.”
“And where do you expect me to go?” Chelsea demanded.
“I don’t give a fuck where you go, so long as it’s out of my country.” Graves flashed her an angry glance that had Tulah squeezing her mother’s hand tighter. “Why don’t you go back to Japan?” he said silkily. “Back to your own Family.”
“I’ve never even been to Japan,” Chelsea grated out. “As you well know, my parents came here before my birth.”
“Perhaps it’s time to see a different part of the world, then. Surely the Shimizu Family will welcome you with open arms?”
Chelsea’s jaw clenched, obviously refusing to give him the words that would prove the statement false. She’d never met the Shimizus. She’d been betrothed to Joseph Ngozi when she was a teenager, her mother dead and her father ill and banished from his homeland. She’d moved into the Ngozi stronghold soon after, never knowing another Family’s customs.
“I have a cat!” Tulah jerked as the words left her mouth, praying she could slide this by Graves. “I’ll need to bring it, if this won’t be my home anymore.”
Graves waved impatiently. “Whatever, pet, just get the fucking beast and let’s go. I’ve wasted enough time on you today.”
Tulah nodded quickly, dragging her mother with her as she turned for the stairs. “We’ll go pack my things.”
“Ten minutes, Tulah.” His hard tone was all the warning she would get. He said nothing else.
Together, the women raced upstairs. Tulah charged into her room, throwing the creaky door open with enough force to send it bouncing against the wall. She let go of her mother and ripped open the door to her pathetically barren closet.
Tulah grabbed everything in a single sweep of her arms and raised her brows at her mother. “Go get your things. Hurry!”
“This isn’t going to work.”
“It will.” Tulah threw everything on the bed and dropped to her knees, blindly seeking the faded old duffel bag stowed beneath. “He won’t blink an eye at two pieces of luggage. He won’t even think about how little we really have, he’s so used to having too much.”
“He might understand, love.”
“Did Graves ever see you—?”
“Absolutely not! Your father never told a soul.”
“Thank God.” Tulah surged to her feet and dropped her voice. “We have to take the chance. All we have to do is get to Muso, then everything will get better, Mama. Please!”
With a growl of surrender, Chelsea moved into her own room. Through the paper-thin walls, Tulah heard drawers open and close, the bed creaking. Her mother was obeying her command.
It had been the same since Tulah had turned eighteen. Chelsea hadn’t been taught to think for herself and had been rabidly protected by her husband. She’d gone from a life where she wanted for nothing, to a nightmare where she had to fight for every gain. She could be a tigress where her daughter was concerned but, out of necessity, Tulah’s self-assurance was much more ingrained than her mother’s, and Chelsea almost always surrendered to her offspring’s determination.
Two minutes later, Chelsea returned with a battered carpet bag containing everything she owned. There was nothing downstairs worth taking. Their furniture was second-hand and there was precious little money for knick-knacks. Their entire lives condensed down into two bags.
Chelsea shut the door as she whispered a spell to hide her magic before letting it flow free. The air around her delicate shoulders took on a wavering quality, like looking through a gentle waterfall. Power flowed out of her skin to wrap her body in a gauzy shroud Tulah could just barely see. It didn’t matter, though, the force behind the magic beat at her skin, a warm pressure tap-dancing over her nerves.
Chelsea was Shimizu, a Family of kitsune witches known for their shape-shifting abilities.
Predominantly taking fox form, the fact that a few could take the appearance of other small animals was a fiercely guarded secret. Her mother’s body dissolved, flowing into the form of a sleek black cat. Black was handy, unexceptional and easily able to melt into the background.
Tulah had inherited the same gift and a similar form.
Tulah scooped her mother up in her arms and grabbed the bags. Chelsea hissed.
“Yes, Mama, I know. He could always remember that you are a kitsune descendant, but he won’t be able to prove anything, so long as we’re careful. And hopefully he’ll think fox, not cat.”
Tulah came down the stairs cautiously, protective of the animal snuggled in her arms.
Charles surprised her by taking the bags.
Graves looked up the stairwell. “Where is your mother?”
“She said she couldn’t bear to watch you take me, too.” Tulah dropped her eyes, hiding the lie and attempting to look demure.
He only laughed before gesturing Charles through the narrow door. “It must be terrible to be in her position. A weak female with so very much to lose.”
Tulah said nothing as she followed the men to the car. Graves forced her into the back seat and the man who had opened his door when he arrived slid in on the other side. Blocking her exit.
Graves saw the look on her face. “It’s time you learned, pet, that I will win every battle.”
He stroked his large hand over Chelsea’s furry head, briefly exerting a pressure that startled a squawk from the animal. “And if you try to fight me, I will take your kitten, too.”
Tulah wrenched back, gathering her mother closer. She burrowed into the side of the other man, glaring at Graves when Charles’ weight sank the right side of the car as he slid behind the wheel.
“I know what you’re capable of, Graves,” she said. “I’ve seen you in action.”
“Yes, you have, pet. Keep it in mind as you keep your mouth shut. Muso may want to lay eyes on you and see how you’ve grown, but he won’t wish to hear any tales. You know how he runs things in Africa, don’t you? Women have even less power than they do in my house.”
Tulah dropped her eyes and stroked the cat. “I know, Graves. I remember full well what kind of power the women have in the Ngozi Family. It’s why I was happy to have been banished.”
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An extensive traveler who loves to incorporate various legends from around the world into her tales, Lola White likes to twist reality at its edges in her stories. She likes delving into the emotions of her characters, finding their strengths and weaknesses, and seeing (and showing) how they get themselves out of whatever trouble has found them—if they can.
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