Excerpt for Burned by Fire by , available in its entirety at Smashwords







Burned by Fire

Keeper of the Flame Book 1

by

LILA KANE


BURNED BY FIRE

Copyright © 2018 by Lila Kane


This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.


Table of Contents

________________________


Title Page

Copyright

Connect with the Author

Summary

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

Sneak Peek at Book 2: BOUND BY FIRE



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Summary


A witch who’s just discovered her powers. A vampire and werewolf both after her. And a spell that could tear apart a whole town.


Willow Donnelly can’t stop catching things on fire. When she travels to the small town of Shadow Hill, she thinks she’s going to get answers about her new powers as a witch. Instead, she meets two dangerous paranormals who hold the key to her past and discovers an old spell that ties them all together.


Before she knows it, she’s falling for both men but one of them isn’t telling her the truth. Sexy and dangerous vampire Logan wants her to end the spell, and quiet and moody shapeshifter Ryan will do anything to protect her from Logan—and from undoing the spell. Willow is torn. Try to keep the spell intact and save her friends and the town from chaos or end the spell and get answers to all her questions about her own powers.






Chapter 1



I take a calming breath and unfold the note to read it one more time before getting out of the car.

IF YOU WANT ANSWERS, COME TO SHADOW HILL.

Of course I want answers. I want to know why I’d dreamed of my father’s death two weeks before it happened. Or maybe why things catch on fire whenever I’m upset.

I drop the note in my purse and open the door. The house sits in the shadows. There aren’t any lights on inside, and even in the low glow of the moon, I can see it looks neglected. Abandoned.

Grabbing a flashlight from the glove compartment, I clench my fingers tight around the cold metal. I walk up the steps to the porch, and then bang on the front door though I doubt anyone is going to answer.

Why the hell would my mom tell me to come here when she isn’t even home? At least, I think my mom was the one who sent the note.

Frowning, I scrub the film on the window with the sleeve of my shirt. Probably because she’s as unpredictable as my father always said she was. Actually, the word he used was unstable. Because she always claimed to see ghosts and said she could make things happen with her mind.

At least that’s what my dad said. I shine the flashlight in the window, narrowing my eyes. Funny how readily I believed what he told me—including the unstable part—until I started experiencing the same thing.

“She’s not there.”

I whip around, my heart slamming against my ribs. There’s a man at the bottom of the stairs, his dark eyes glinting in the moonlight. His T-shirt stretches tight across his chest and his toned arms are relaxed as he puts his hands in his pockets. I think I see the hint of a tattoo on his bicep.

“I didn’t hear you,” I breathe. I squeeze the flashlight tight in my hand, keeping my distance. “Where did you come from?”

He nods to the house next door. Through the thick, overgrown hedge, I see lights shining in the windows.

“I’m Faye’s neighbor, Ryan.”

He moves up a few steps and sticks out his hand. My boots click on the wooden flooring of the porch when I walk to take it. His grip is firm and warm, and his cheeks dimple with a welcoming smile.

“Is there something I can help you with?” he asks.

I relax my grip on the flashlight. “I’m Willow. Faye’s daughter.”

He pulls his hand back, scrubbing it on his stubbly jaw as his eyes glint with something dark and dangerous. “Like I said, she’s not here. And she probably won’t be back for a while.”

“How long is a while?” I ask, putting steel into my voice. I hold the flashlight like a weapon.

His jaw clenches and he props his hands on his hips. “Probably longer than you want to wait. You should go home.”

I frown when he starts to turn. “That’s a generic answer. Besides, she told me to come here. Why would she do that if she wasn’t going to be here?”

He pauses, glancing back. “Wait. She asked you to come?”

“Yes.” Crap. I just assumed it was her because I don’t know anyone else who lives here. Why else would someone summon me all the way out here? “So if you know when she’ll be back, I’d appreciate if you’d tell me.”

He can’t be more than a few years older than me, maybe twenty-five, but his eyes hold years’ worth of experience. He hikes the rest of the steps so he’s standing directly in front of me. Towering over me even in my boots. “Are you sure she told you to come?”

“How is that any of your business?”

Ryan eyes my death grip on the flashlight and he lifts a brow. “Are you planning on hitting me with that?”

“Do I need to?”

His lips twitch. “Listen, I’m going to sound like a dick when I say this, but trust me, you don’t want to wait here for your mom. It’s better if you leave. Go home.”

“You’re right,” I say.

His shoulders relax, and he actually looks surprised. “Good.” He steps aside and says, “Have a safe trip.”

“I meant you’re right about sounding like a dick. Mission accomplished.” I turn to the house again. “Now, if you’ll excuse me—”

When I glance back he’s gone. Vanished into thin air. I scan the bushes, shine my flashlight to the side of the house, but there’s no one there.

“Good,” I whisper to myself, though I have no idea how he disappeared that fast. And that quietly.

Peering through the window with my flashlight, I grit my teeth. Shadow Hill needs a better welcoming committee. All I see is the dark outline of furniture inside. On a whim, I check the door and then pause when I find it’s unlocked.

I freeze on the precipice. I’ve never been in my mom’s house before. She left me and my dad when I was eight, fourteen years ago, and I never heard from her once. The only reason I looked her up was because I thought she might want to know about my father’s death. But I hadn’t ended up calling her or visiting her. I hadn’t planned on contacting her at all until I got the letter from a Shadow Hill address with the confusing message.

I shine the flashlight inside. It smells dusty and sealed up. I sneeze and then step into the living room. A dark hallway leads farther into the house, but I stay where I am, scanning the old furniture and knick-knacks on the mantel.

There’s an open book next to a plush chair and I walk over to shine my flashlight on it. A pentagram is branded onto the leather cover and the pages are filled with sketches and what look like spells and hexes.

Biting my lip, I lift the book. If my mom’s not here, I might as well try to find answers without her. Especially because Shadow Hill is rich in history, full of myths about paranormal and supernatural activity.

Something creaks farther down the hall. Almost like footsteps, but too quiet for them to be coming quickly. I shine my flashlight in that direction. I squint my eyes and peer closer. The light reflects off a pair of yellow eyes. I yank in a breath.

A wolf walks slowly down the hallway, like a predator stalking its prey. I back to the door, the book under my arm and my flashlight in the other hand.

The wolf growls, hair rising on its back. My heart hammers in my chest as I twist the doorknob. Slowly, slowly, I pull it open.

And then I dash through, slamming the door behind me. I drop the flashlight but keep running, my boots hitting the wooden flooring on the porch with loud thuds. When I reach my car, I toss the door open and dive inside.

Once the door is shut behind me, I lock it and stare through the windshield, panting. The porch is empty. The front door is still closed and the night is quiet. Peaceful. The old book sits in my lap, pages open to the middle.

My heart still hammering in my chest, I make out the thick lettering at the top of the page. Werewolf.

“Holy shit,” I whisper.

It’s too dark to read the rest of the page. My hand is shaking when I close the book and set it in the passenger seat. It’s just a coincidence. But even so, I’m ready to get out of here.

I need a drink.

#

Shadow Hill is bigger than I thought. It’s a recreational town along the river with skiing and hiking close by, but also caters to people like me who have no interest in either. Which means it’s easy to find a bar.

It’s a Thursday night, so I’m not surprised when I walk in and see only a handful of people, most of them couples with snacks or meals to go along with their drinks.

I sit at the bar, sliding my bag onto the seat next to me and watching the bartender finish pouring someone a drink before he walks to me.

“Can I get whatever’s on tap?”

“ID please,” he says.

I flash my driver’s license, frowning at the picture when he grabs a glass. It’d been taken two weeks after my father’s death and I’d still been in a daze about the whole thing. The dream I’d had, his actual death, and the fact he’d been secretly storing money in an account for me for years and years.

The first thing I’d done was drop out of college. The next was to try to figure out how he’d died. It had also gotten me interested in everything supernatural and paranormal and landed me a freelance job with a magazine that published articles on the same topic.

The bartender slides me my beer. A man sits a few stools from me, glances at my beer and says, “I’ll have one of those.”

He gives me a smile, the kind that only quirks up one corner of his mouth. The kind that says he needs a drink as badly as I do.

I take a long swallow, and then close my eyes, rubbing my hands over my face. The pentagram, the one I’d seen on the front of the book, is burned into my mind. It’s the same one that had been scrawled on my father’s living room floor when he’d been found dead.

“You look like you’ve had a long day,” the man says.

When I glance over, he’s angled in my direction, eyes dark as slate. Calculating.

“More like a bad year,” I mumble.

He moves to the seat next to me and I straighten. He’s broad in the shoulders, which are covered with a leather jacket. His hair is as dark as his eyes, raven black and askew in the front like he’s run his hands through it more than once.

When he smiles again, desire shoots straight to my stomach. Not a good idea, I tell myself. I’m here for answers.

“I’ve had a couple of those,” he tells me. “Bad years.”

“You live around here?” If he’s local, maybe I can get information from him.

“As of last month. You?”

“No. Just here for research.”

“What kind of research?”

I shrug. “The kind most people don’t believe in.”

That usually makes most guys even more curious. Once I’d discovered my mom wasn’t really crazy and she must have had some kind of supernatural power, I’d started researching everything I could get my hands on. There’s a lot of information about witches out there, but most of it is surprisingly inaccurate. So I researched and traveled and wrote articles and made an income beyond the money my father gave me. All to try to discover more about what I can do and what had happened to my father.

I see the door open out of the corner of my eye. Ryan walks in, gaze connecting with mine before he sits at a table in the corner.

It could be a coincidence, but I doubt it. First, he tells me to leave and now he’s following me.

The man next to me holds out his hand. “I’m Logan Meyers.”

“Willow Donnelly.”

I reach out and his fingers close over mine, sending a shock of electricity through me. My breath catches in my throat and my vision goes hazy.

“Willow?” Logan asks, still holding my hand.

I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. I see a flash of the wolf in my mother’s house, the book with the pentagram flipping pages frantically, and then another face. One stuck in the shadows…far enough back I can only see the glimpse of something white.

Fangs.


Chapter 2



“Willow,” says a low voice. It’s so calm, it’s almost hypnotic.

My eyelids flutter and I open them to find myself slumped against Logan, his arm wrapped snugly around my waist.

“Maybe you should eat something next time you have a drink,” he says with amusement in his voice.

“It wasn’t the drink,” I mumble.

I try to stand, but my legs wobble. Logan squeezes my waist before angling me against the stool. “You okay?”

I nod.

“You sure?”

I swallow, my gaze traveling to Ryan. He’s watching us with a frown. Logan follows my stare and his shoulders tense.

“You know Ryan?” I ask.

His jaw clenches. “I tried to buy one of the houses he flipped. He wouldn’t sell.”

“Maybe he wasn’t ready to let it go.”

Logan looks at me again, humor lighting his eyes. “He wouldn’t sell to me.”

“Why not?”

He brushes his thumb on my arm, sending tingles to the tips of my fingers. “Our families don’t get along.”

I ease back on the stool. “I think I’m fine now.”

“Tell me about your research.”

I swivel on my stool and stall by taking another sip of my beer. I kind of dig Logan for being cool about my swooning episode, so I don’t really want to tell him about my research. He’ll probably return to the stool farther away from me. But Logan’s dark eyes are locked on mine again, pulling an answer from my lips.

“Supernatural activity, the occult, paranormal happenings.” I flash him a smile. “Things that go bump in the night.”

“Sounds like you’ve come to the right place, then.”

Intrigued, I swivel to face him again. “Why’s that?”

“Shadow Hill is full of things that go bump in the night. Or so I hear.”

“Where did you hear that?”

He leans in, pitching his voice low, and licks his lips. I try to keep my gaze even with his, but it’s hard when his mouth is so close. I can feel his breath on my arm when he whispers, “Everywhere.”

“What?”

“It’s everywhere around here. You can see it, feel it. There are ghost tours in the gold mines off the highway, a haunted house over on sixth, animals that only come out when the moon is full. And my favorite?” He smiles, traces his finger from my shoulder to my neck, and lingers. “The ones that suck your blood.”

Fangs. That’s what I’d seen in my vision. My vision when Logan touched me.

“You’re pretty good at that,” I say.

“At what?”

“Storytelling.” I wiggle my shoulder so his hand drops. I drink the rest of my beer and stand. “But I haven’t believed in stories like that since I was a kid.”

Not entirely true, but I rarely believe what I don’t see in person. And I’ve never seen a werewolf or a vampire or a ghost—if you can even see them. The stories of Shadow Hill could very well be a myth like most other places I visit.

Logan watches as I sling my purse over my shoulder and slide a tip onto the shiny bar. He stands before I can take a step and grins down at me.

“You planning on staying for a while?” he asks. “Prove me wrong about the stories?”

I feel eyes on me from across the room, but I can’t look away from Logan. His gaze is dangerous and calm at the same time. Dark and deep, but welcoming.

“I’m planning on staying,” I say. “For a bit.”

He steps back, releasing me from his stare. “Good. Maybe I can take you on one of those tours I mentioned.”

I don’t meet his gaze this time, just smile and slide by so I’m not caught up again. Ryan’s still at his table in the corner, nursing a beer and looking pissed off. He shakes his head when I walk by. I ignore him and step outside.

Maybe there’s something here after all. And if Shadow Hill has any secrets, I’ll find out.

#

It’s six a.m. when I hear the sound of fluttering. I sit up with a jerk. The sun peeks through the edges of the curtains, but it’s hard to see anything more than the outline of the furniture.

I scoot to the edge of the bed, trying to even my breathing. My bare feet touch the short motel carpeting. The fluttering sounds once more. I gasp and stand. What the hell is that?

The noise comes once more from the tiny desk on the opposite wall of the bed. I yank the curtains open and whip around just in time to see the pages of my mother’s book shuffling. They flutter one way and then the other like a deck of cards.

When I step closer, they stop. The top of the page is labeled Curses.

I purse my lips. Most of the witches I’ve met, the true ones that actually draw their power from the elements, aren’t into curses. A witch from Georgia let me see her Book of Shadows once and there wasn’t a lot about curses in there. Mostly just spells that used herbs and elements, stuff from the earth.

My mother’s book looks a lot like a Book of Shadows. But there’s information in here I’ve never seen before.

I flip a few pages and see a spell for healing and another for getting a better night of sleep. I mentally mark that page for the future. Another few pages and my hand freezes. There’s a crude drawing at the bottom of the page and next to it, it says, Creatures of the Night.

I shove my hair behind my ears. Creatures of the night. Does that mean vampires?

Who believes in vampires anymore? My mother, I guess. But in all my research I’ve never come across any indication that there are real vampires out there. Of course, it didn’t stop me from packing up a wooden stake when I traveled. Just in case.

I’m nothing if not prepared.

I want to read the book from front to back, but I have no idea how long I’m going to be here, so I decide on a shower and then a trip to downtown Shadow Hill to find answers.

My hair is still wet and curled to the middle of my back when I discover downtown is only a block over. I walk instead of driving, taking in the sunshine and thinking it would be really handy right now to have my own Book of Shadows.

Or a mother who could talk to me about hers. If she would ever stick around long enough to talk to me.

After getting over my frustration with Ryan, I figured he was probably right. My mother didn’t send the note. I’d known it back in the corner of my mind all along. It was too cryptic and it made no sense for her to lure me here when she could flat out ask me.

So if someone else sent the note, why? Why do they want me here?

I’m charmed by the stone entryway to a small building with stained glass windows. It’s like it’s from a different era. I don’t see a sign right away until I step closer to the door, which is propped open with a wagon full of paperbacks.

It’s a library. Exactly where I want to be.

Inside, books line shelves all the way to the ceiling. They stretch across counters and lay on round tables by chairs. I fall in love a little before I notice the librarian watching me.

“Morning,” she says, drawing her glasses off her nose. Her long blonde hair waves away from her face, highlighted like she’s spent a lot of time in the sun. “Something I can help you with?”

I trace a finger along a shelf, thinking. “Local folklore. Legends, myths, anything supernatural.”

She lifts her eyebrows.

“I’m researching,” I tell her. “I freelance for a magazine—anything paranormal, out of the ordinary. I hear there’s a lot of unusual history in Shadow Hill.”

She smiles and waves her hand vaguely. “Like most towns.”

I feel like she’s trying to blow me off. She looks at her cell phone like I interrupted something.

“Can you point me in the right direction?” I ask. Or do I need to find it myself?

She smiles again, warmer this time, and points. “Local history is around the corner in the back room.”

I barely take the time to thank her. She’s probably already on her phone again, texting some local about how the out-of-towner thinks there’s real supernatural history here.

I know there is. At least where my mom is concerned. But I have no idea what the rest of the town knows about her.

The room is filled to the brim with books just like the rest of the library. I glance to my right and see stairs. There’s a sign that says Children and Young Adult Downstairs.

Not bad for a small-town library.

The first shelf gets me nowhere. But I find some legend on the local mines and remember Logan telling me about the ghost tours. Could be something. I move on, roll my eyes when I see a book about the Loch Ness monster, and pause when I find one on the Shadow Hill Hotel. The back cover tells the history, when it was founded, and the tragic death of two of the owners.

It also says it’s haunted.

Looks like the motel I picked was the wrong place to stay the night.

I tuck the book under my arm but freeze when I hear voices at the front of the library. One is the librarian and the other is low and male.

I’m about to sneak closer to eavesdrop when Ryan appears in the doorway. He props his shoulder on the jamb. “Still here, huh?”

“Still a dick, huh?”

He smiles. The stubble is thicker today, tracing his jaw and his upper lip. In the light, I can see his eyes are gray like the sky before a storm and his hair isn’t nearly as dark as I thought.

He walks closer to me. When I hold my ground, he props his hand on the shelf next to my head and looks at the books in my arms.

The Shadow Hill Hotel,” he reads, voice so deep it vibrates in my chest. “Ghosts of the Shadow Hill Mines.” He lifts his head, gaze connecting with mine. “Going gold mining?”

I point my finger at his chest. “You know what I’m doing here.”

He captures my hand in his. “Sure. Mother hunting, passing out in the bar and taking in the local history.”

I try to wiggle my hand from his grasp, but he tightens his grip. “Let go.”

“I told you to go home.”

“Last time I checked, this was a free country.”

A flicker of anger lights his eyes. “You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.”

“Looks like a threat to me,” I say, keeping my voice even.

His gaze drops to my lips and lingers before he leans in close. So close his breath tickles my ear. “Shadow Hill doesn’t have the answers you’re looking for. If you say you’ll leave, I won’t bother you anymore.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Life is going to start getting very difficult.”

I grit my teeth. “Let go of me.”

He eases back, but his gaze stays locked with mine. “Say you’ll leave.”

“Go to hell.”

“I’m not going to ask again,” Ryan says.

The fire builds inside of me, shooting straight to my fingertips. In an instant, the books wedged between us go up in flames. I gasp and drop them on the ground. The fire grows, and Ryan stomps on the books with his boots.

I shove around him and run for the door.

“Hey!” the librarian shouts after me.

I don’t stop, don’t slow down. I race through the open door and glance back as I hit the last stair.

Two more steps and I slam into someone’s chest.


Chapter 3



The momentum is enough to make me stumble, and I hit the cement hard with my palms, scraping them against the rough surface.

“Willow?”

A hand closes around my elbow, pulling me up. I swivel and look straight into midnight blue eyes.

“Logan,” I murmur.

“Where’s the fire?” he asks, amusement in his voice.

I point to the library entrance. “In there. I should really go.”

He looks torn between stopping me from making an escape since I just admitted to a fire and coming with me.

“Wait.” He follows me around the corner before he catches my arm again. “Are you running away?”

“Not from you,” I say, peering around the corner. I wince when I place my hand on the brick wall of the building.

“You hurt yourself.” Logan grabs my hands. His eyes are glued to the palms, where small beads of blood stain the surface. I see him swallow. “It’s bleeding.”

His pulse throbs at his neck. He squeezes my hands and then yanks his eyes away. “We should get this taken care of.”

“It’s a scratch.”

He grins. “I’ll help you escape.”

I hear voices around the corner and suddenly, escape sounds like a great idea. “Okay.”

Logan curls his arm around my shoulder, and I can feel the strength in his muscles. He guides me across the alleyway and two doors down to an independent building. There’s a medical cross on the front above the door.

He ushers me inside and nods at a man at a desk. “Hey, James.”

James nods back. “What have we got here?”

Logan’s eyes flicker to mine with amusement. “A felon.”

I glare at him although technically it’s true. I did just run away from the scene of a crime. But then, no one can prove I caused the fire. And it was just a few flames. I imagine Ryan and the rude librarian have it under control by now.

My only regret is that I didn’t get to check out my books.

“Can we use your first aid kit?” Logan asks.

“Sure. In the back,” James says.

I follow Logan to the back of the large room, where there’s a cot next to a few chairs. “Where are we?” I ask.

“Search and rescue coordination station.”

“That’s a mouthful.”

“Sit,” he says. When I go for one of the chairs, he snags my arm and swings me to the cot. “Here.”

“Really? I just need a sink to wash my hands.”

He nudges me onto the cot. “It could get infected.”

“That’s reaching a little, don’t you think?”

His smile is dangerous. “You never know.”

I set my hands in my lap and watch the way the muscles on his back move through his black Henley when he reaches for a first aid kit. I could handle getting rescued like this more often.

He sits in a chair and scoots it close enough our knees are touching. He places his hand on my knee as he adjusts in his seat, and the warmth sends tingles all the way up my leg.

“Do you work here?” I ask, distracting myself from his touch.

“No. I’m actually thinking of opening a business. During the summers, I give tours and hikes and any kind of recreational thing you can think of. For the tourists, basically.” He smiles. “They like to climb those big mountains back there to say they hiked up to fourteen thousand feet, and I take them on the interesting trails. Anyway, if hikers go missing or skiers get buried in an avalanche or something else, they send out rescue missions from here and sometimes I help.”

“Seems like you’re a good guy to have in an emergency.”

He holds up antiseptic. “This is going to sting.”

He sprays it on both palms and I grit my teeth. Then I catch my breath when he leans in, sliding his hand against my cheek and into my hair. “Just give it a minute and the pain will go away.”

With his gaze so strong and even on mine, I can hardly feel anything. Except for calm.

His hand tightens on my hair, sending a shock of desire straight to my stomach. “I’m having a hard time not kissing you right now,” he says, breath warm against my lips.

“I’m having a hard time convincing myself you shouldn’t.”

He sets his hand on my thigh again. I exhale when he slides it a little farther, glancing toward the front of the building where James is occupied with a phone call.

“Did you convince yourself yet?” he asks, eyes dropping to my lips.

“Sorry.” I clear my throat because it doesn’t sound convincing if I can’t even get the words out. “Not this time.”

Logan drops his chin for a moment, then pulls back. “Probably a good idea. I think you only need one bandage.” He touches his fingertip to the deepest scrape. “Right here.”

I let him put the bandage on in silence. When he finally does speak, he says, “Shit. I’m sorry.”

“Why?”

“You’re here researching and I’m…” He gives a wicked grin. “Trying to distract you.”

“What’s life without a little fun?” I ask, standing.

But I was distracted. And pretty tempted to take a detour wherever Logan wanted me to go. That isn’t going to help me figure out where my mom is or why I’m supposed to be here. And it definitely isn’t safe for him considering my history with getting intimate.

He invades my space, sliding his hands from my shoulders all the way down my arms to grasp my hands. “I think we should go out.”

“Go out where?”

“On a date. Wherever you want.”

“The Shadow Hill Hotel.”

I have the satisfaction of seeing his eyebrows lift before his face relaxes into a grin. “I’m not going to say no to that.”

“For research,” I tell him, stepping back.

“Always a catch.” He gathers the items to return them to the first aid kit. “I can handle that, though.”

“I need to get a feel for the place. I might be able to use it in an article.”

“Wouldn’t hurt to look around. Tonight? I could pick you up at six so we have some daylight before dinner in their restaurant.”

“Dinner?”

“I want a date, you want to research. I think it’s a good compromise. The wine will help you relax.” He grins. “And make you more open to the spirits.”

“So you’re saying the hotel is haunted?”

“Why don’t you tell me what you think when we get there?”

I shrug. “It’s a date. I’m at the motel over on Blake. You know it?”

“Yep. What room?”

“217.”

He follows me to the door.

“You don’t have to walk me out.”

“You’re not running anymore?”

I peer outside, scanning the street for Ryan. I don’t see him or the librarian. “All clear.”

He props his hand on the wall beside me. “You going to tell me what that was all about?”

I flash a smile. “Maybe after the wine helps me relax.”

“I’ll hold you to that.”

I leave and realize I’m holding my breath. Hold me to it. He can say that, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to comply. The last time I let the flames come out, a guy I was dating was trying to take our relationship a little too far. He’d gone to the hospital with severe burns on his arms.

Getting intimate with someone is a bad idea. I don’t know if something might happen again. I blow out a breath. But this is research. And as long as Logan keeps his distance, I’ll get wine and some information. Not a bad combo in my book.

#

Back in my motel room, I shove my hands in my hair and do a slow turn. Something’s wrong. It’s not the door, which was locked just as I left it. It’s not the curtains, which are still open from when I’d whipped them to the side once the Book of Shadows started going through pages on its own.

My gaze travels to the desk where I’d left the book. There’s nothing there.

I walk over, touch the spot I left as if that’s magically going to give me answers. Then I duck down to look under the desk. Finally, I do a quick sweep of the room just in case. But I’m not worried the book somehow moved itself to another location. I’m worried someone moved it.

Or stole it.

Grabbing my room key, I jog outside, down the stairs and to the front office. There’s a middle-aged man inside reading a familiar UFO magazine. I wrote an article for them once.

“Excuse me,” I say.

He looks up. “Can I help you, miss?”

“Was there someone in my room today?”

“The maid probably. Oh, and there’s a crew on site preparing to renovate some rooms in our main building. But they shouldn’t have been in your room.”

Bullshit. Someone was in there. But I can’t accuse someone if I don’t have proof. I change tactics. “I was thinking about doing some renovations myself. I might have to take a look at their work and talk to whoever’s in charge. Do you know who that would be?”

“Ahh…” He flips through some papers on his desk, then swivels to a file cabinet behind him. There are more papers on top and he checks them before turning back to me. “Ryan McCord.”

Ryan. I grit my teeth. I’m not surprised.

I force a smile. “Thanks.”

I walk back to my room, mind racing with scenarios to confront him. Most of which involve setting something on fire. Preferably him.

If I knew more about my witch history or had a Book of Shadows, I’d do a spell. But a good old-fashioned break-in might have to suffice.


Chapter 4



Logan already thinks I’m a felon, so I’m almost tempted to tell him how I think Ryan stole my book and involve him in my crazy scheme to break into Ryan’s house. But logic gets the best of me, and I decide against it.

Even worse than being a felon is getting caught, and I don’t know Logan well enough yet to believe he’d keep my secret, let alone be my accomplice.

He picks me up on time, dressed to match my sleeveless black dress. I don’t know why I brought it, but a girl never knows when she’s going to need something fancy. Ghost hunting sometimes requires a specific kind of attire.

The heels put me closer to Logan’s height, enough that I’m staring at his eyes instead of his lips when I step out the door.

He smells like the woods, something dark and inviting. Mysterious. It’s hard not to lean in for more.

Logan scoops his arm around my waist, turning his mouth so it brushes my hair. “I’m rethinking dinner.”

“Can’t. I’m on assignment.”

“Really?”

I nod.

He narrows his gaze. “Really? You’re actually writing an article? That wasn’t just a story?”

I laugh, nudging him away from me. “No. I told you I’m a freelance writer. If I find an angle here, I might have a story. A story means getting paid. And if I plan on staying in Shadow Hill for a while, I need money.”

“So you’re planning on staying?”

My heels click on the stairs as we descend to the parking lot. I consider my answer. More than a story, I need to find my mom. I shouldn’t be researching before I find out more about her, but I’m not sure where to look. And talking to Ryan doesn’t seem to be helping.

“I’m planning on staying long enough to get a story,” I amend. “I don’t know how long that will take.”

He opens his car door for me and the smell of his cologne follows me inside. I breathe slowly while he walks around to the other side and gets in again, flashing me a smile. My stomach tightens when he reaches for the stick shift and his hand grazes my leg.

The fire stays buried inside.

I can’t say it’s going to stay there, which is why spending time with Logan, especially when his dark eyes collide with mine, is a bad thing. I’m getting pretty good at convincing myself bad is sometimes good, though.

Logan starts the car and backs out. “You look amazing, by the way.”

“Thanks.”

He checks the street before pulling out. “Do you always wear something like that when you research?”

I glance down at the tight black dress and quirk one corner of my lips. “I find I get more answers this way.”

“I’ll tell you anything you want,” he says, voice low. “Right now.”

I smile. “I want to know about…wolves.”

His hand tightens so hard on the stick shift I see his knuckles turn white. He’s lost the cocky smile and now a muscle works in his jaw.

“I guess I need a better dress,” I say, intrigued. Logan knows something.

“No.” He clears his throat with a sly glance at me. “I just didn’t know how…acquainted you were with local folklore.”

“You mean wolves in Shadow Hill are a legend? Because I’m pretty sure I saw one my first night here.”

He shifts smoothly and points to our right. “There’s a nice hike that way if you want to get out and enjoy the beginning of the summer. The path is pretty dry.”

There are trees with bright green leaves guarding a path I can only partially make out. Aspens and pines rise up the hill. It’s backed by a mountain that’s still capped with snow.

“Not a terrible distraction technique,” I tell him. “But I still want to know. Are there wolves around here? Is that really what I saw?”

“Is that what you think you saw?”

I angle in the seat to face him. His profile is serious. “I saw sharp teeth. I didn’t study the markings or anything. I was mostly trying to stay alive.”

He smiles. “Probably a good call on your part.”

“Still not answering my question.”

“There have been a few wolf sightings in Shadow Hill. That might be what you saw.”

I leave out the fact the wolf was in the house and I have no idea how it got in.

Logan points again. “There. Shadow Hill Hotel.”

It looks like a mansion from a tragic love story. Or maybe a ghost story. What I can see of it is old, stately, almost dark. It’s surrounded by trees and backs up to the mountain.

“There’s a burial ground not too far from the main building. The Hill family buried their own there, but there are some unmarked graves no one knows where they came from.”

Logan downshifts, turns us onto the road to the hotel and smiles at me before his eyes do a slow scan of my bare legs. “Did I mention how much I like that dress?”

I laugh. “Once or twice.”

He parks in a lot on the side of the hotel and comes to my side to open the door. He takes my hand to help me out, and I wonder what kind of family he has. How someone in their early twenties has developed so much charm and such good manners.

Until he closes the door.

Then he reaches on either side of me to prop his hands on the roof, boxing me in. His thighs brush mine.

“Willow,” he whispers. “Can I kiss you?”

I swallow, heat igniting in my stomach. I was prepared to avoid advances, but it’s different when he flat out asks me. And waits for my answer to make sure it’s okay.

“That might not be in your best interest,” I whisper.

He traces one hand down my side and stops at my thigh. “Are you married?”

I laugh. “No.”

“Engaged?”

“No.”

“Just getting out of a relationship?”

I sigh. “No, but it’s complicated.”

“Meaning you’re not attracted to me.”

My throat dries. “I’m insanely attracted to you.”

His hand curls around the back of my neck, drawing me in. His mouth collides with mine, sparking heat and desire. My hands fist in his jacket when his tongue brushes my lower lip. My breath rushes out in a half-moan.

“This isn’t good,” I say against his mouth. The flames start to flicker inside, but I can’t seem to stop.

His other hand traces my spine, all the way down before he squeezes my hip. “This isn’t good?” he asks with a laugh, lips brushing mine.

“No, I mean—this. This,” I say, pointing between him and I. I ease back, making the fire subside.

His dark eyes find mine. “Your heart is racing.”

It is. Thumping against my ribs like it’s trapped. I press my hand against his chest. “I’m not the only one.”

He closes his hand over mine, holding it there. “It was just a kiss. No harm done.”

Tell that to my heart. I try to break his gaze, but I can’t.

“There’s time, right?” he asks. His voice lowers. “Because you’re staying for a while, like you said.”

I swallow, moistening my throat, speaking as though the words aren’t my own. “I’m staying for a while.”

He flashes a smile and backs up. “Great. Then let’s go in.”

He takes my hand, being gentle with the scratches, and walks us to the building. Enormous stone columns decorate the front. I can see people milling inside through the huge windows. A few couples sit on the porch out front, holding cocktails and talking.

We enter the wide double doors to the sound of piano music. Someone is playing in the corner near a fireplace that’s lit despite the warmth outside. A wide staircase sits across from the door and it rises up in both directions to connect to a balcony at the top.

“Fancy,” I murmur.

“You should see the suites upstairs.”

I glance over, a smile on my lips. “You stay here a lot?”

“I’ve visited a few times. My family lived here—in Shadow Hill—when I was younger. Part of the reason I moved back.”

“That’s part of the reason I’m here, too,” I say. “My mom lives here.”

He pauses at the base of the stairs. “Really? So, it’s not just research.”

I shrug. “That’s all it might be if she doesn’t come back. I guess she’s out of town for a while.”

“You guess?”

“I’m not sure. I haven’t actually seen her in a long time. She probably doesn’t even know I’m here. And I don’t know when she’ll be back.”

“Who’s your mom?” He smiles when I lift my eyebrows. “It’s a small town. People talk. If anyone has heard anything, they might be able to tell you.”

“Faye Donnelly.”

He thinks a minute and then shakes his head. “Sorry, I don’t know her. But if I hear anything, I’ll let you know.”

“Thanks.”

He entwines his fingers with mine and brings the back of my hand to his lips. “Let’s explore.”

He guides us to a hallway and the noise around us fades out.

“Are we allowed to walk around like this?” I ask.

“Sure. This is a big place for the tourists with the history and all. The founding family was discovered murdered here and their ghosts are still hanging out.”

The lights are dim and we stroll past a few rooms with numbers scrolled next to the doors. The carpet is quiet under our feet and I feel a draft from somewhere.

I shiver and Logan puts his arm around me. “Cold?”

“Just a draft.”

He pauses and glances around, looking mischievous. “I hear there are secret passages all over this place. Supposedly the founding family was made up of witches.”

My gaze whips to his. “Witches?”

He leans his shoulder against the wood paneling on the wall. “Is that something that might be interesting for your research?”

“Definitely.” I lean against the wall as well and then straighten when I feel another draft right by my shoulder.

“What is it?”

I peer closer at the wall, looking for gaps or holes. “I felt cold air.”

Logan presses both hands against the wall, leaning in. “Secret passage,” he says, grinning at me.

I lean in as well.

Willow…

My breath catches. I turn around, scanning the hallway. “Did you hear that?”

“What?”

“A voice.”

He frowns. “No.”

I step close to the wall again and the sound of whispering fills my ears. Willow, we need your help…

Pressing my ear against the wall, I hold my breath and listen.

Willow…

The wall shifts. I gasp, stumbling back. Logan catches my arm and pulls me next to him.

“You’re right,” I whisper. “There’s something behind the wall.”

Logan glances both ways down the hall, gives a shrug. “Let’s check it out.”

I’m ready to protest, but I’m as curious as he is. He presses his hands against the wall again and pushes. The panel moves and darkness yawns before us.

He leans in as I feel a breath of cool air brush my cheeks. I try to peer in next to him, but it’s so dark I can’t see beyond a few feet.

“I can’t see anything,” he says.

Logan starts digging in his pocket, probably for a lighter, and I duck my head into the passageway again.

Willow…

I swallow, feeling drawn to the darkness. The voice calls again. Willow…

I sway, my body moving into the yawning hole. It’s like a gust of wind pushes me inside, and I stumble, going down on one knee.

And then the panel closes behind me with a final thud.


Chapter 5



My breath shudders out in the darkness and I get to my feet, trying to find the wall with my hand.

“Willow!” Logan’s voice is muted on the other side of the wall, his fists hitting the panel repeatedly. “Are you okay?”

The whispers return.

Willow…

I whip around, my eyes racing back and forth without being able to see anything. There’s only a sliver of light where the panel separates from the wall.

Willow…Keeper of the Flame…

The flame? My chest heaves with sharp breaths. “Who’s there?”

Family.

The voice continues to whisper, echoing in the dark space.

“Willow?” Logan calls again.

I turn to the panel, pressing my palms flat against it. “Logan?”

“Willow, I can’t—I’m trying to get this open and I can’t figure it out. Push from your side.”

I push against the panel, shoving it first, and then pounding with the heels of my hands.

“Logan!” When I hear the whispering again and something like cold breath touches my neck, I start yelling. “Open the panel! Get me out of here!”

“I’m trying.” I hear a shuffle and then he says, “I’m going to get something to pry it open.”

My hands are already sore from the scrapes this afternoon, but I’m afraid to stop banging. The voice whispers behind me again, and I’m worried something’s going to brush my bare leg or grab me.

Willow. He’s not who you think he is.

I squeeze my hands into fists, trying to stand up to the faceless voice. “Who?”

Find yourself, and don’t trust him.

“Him who?” I ask, putting strength into my voice.

There’s the sound of something wedging into the panel behind me. I hear Logan curse and something falls on the ground. I push the panel and this time it pops open easily.

When I stumble out, Logan catches my shoulders. “What the hell was that? Are you okay?”

“I don’t—I don’t know. I heard whispering.” I glance back to the panel. “Like someone was in there.”

He cups my cheeks between his hands. “Willow. Focus. Are you hurt?”

“No.”

His eyes are black in the dim lighting, locked onto mine. “What did you hear? You said you thought someone was in there.”

“I…” The words from the whisper come back to me, Don’t trust him.

But it can’t be Logan who I shouldn’t trust. Maybe it’s Ryan because he wants me to leave. And he stole my mother’s Book of Shadows, which I need more than ever now since I’m apparently communicating with ghosts.

There were other words before that, though. He’s not who you think he is.

“Come on,” Logan says. He closes the panel, and I’m surprised no one has come by and seen us. “Let’s get out of here.”

When we near the lobby again, it’s brighter and there are people everywhere. I’m still shivering from the cold inside the wall, and my palms are stinging.

“I think I want to go,” I tell Logan.

He glances to the dining room entrance, looking torn. “You’re not hungry?”

I shake my head.

“You need a drink.” He flashes a smile and caresses my shoulder with one hand. “And something to warm you up.”

That gets a chuckle from me. “Are you volunteering?”

“I’m at your service.”

And it’s pretty tempting. I can tell he’s disappointed we’re not staying for dinner. His jaw is set, and though his eyes are soft, he’s hesitating.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asks.

I nod.

“Really?”

“I think I just need a hot shower and a warm bed,” I tell him, turning to the exit.

He clasps my hand in his. “I can definitely help with that.”

“You’re persistent, I’ll give you that. But I meant back at my room.”

We walk to his car again, and the air is still warm, making me feel better. Making me look at the whispers and what just happened from a logical point of view.

“I think I need to come back,” I say.

He lifts his eyebrows and opens my door for me. “Yeah? That fast, huh?”

I smile. “Not tonight. But soon. There’s clearly something there.”

“Are you going to tell me what?”

“Ghosts?” I bite my lip, leaning against the side of the car. “Something trying to speak to me.”

His jaw shifts.

“You can call me crazy and take me home if you want.”

His gaze connects with mine again. “I don’t think you’re crazy. I believe you. What were the ghosts trying to say?”

I debate what to tell him. I don’t understand most of it anyway. “They told me to find myself.”

“What does that mean?”

I can guess. And that guess would be that I think they want me to discover my witch roots. But I can’t tell Logan that. He’s already had to deal with me running from the library like a mad woman and communing with the dead. Oh yeah, and my awkward fainting episode in the bar.

“I don’t know,” I tell him.

He holds my gaze for a long moment and then opens the door wider. I get in, wondering what he’s thinking. But instead of telling me, he starts the car and drives us from the hotel. He’s quiet on the way back until we reach my motel.

When I get out, he walks with me.

“I can make it to my room fine,” I say.

He pockets his hands. “I’ll walk you.”

“Trying to prolong the date a little more?”

“Something like that.”

At my door, he rocks on his heels at the precipice. “I’d feel better staying with you a while. Just to make sure you’re okay.”

I lean against the door frame with a smile. “Ghost hunting is in the job description.”

“But is encountering them part of that job, too? Because that sure as hell looked like what happened tonight. I couldn’t get that panel open. It moved so easily for you and then in an instant, you were trapped. And now you want to go back.”

“Tenacity is a good trait in my field.”

He shakes his head. “I didn’t like it.”

I reach out, pressing my palm against his cheek. “That’s nice of you to be concerned.”

Logan grips my wrist, heat flashing in his gaze. He leans in, just a breath away from kissing me. His eyes find mine, black holes I’m already drowning in. “You sure you don’t want me to come in?”

Yes. The word is on the tip of my tongue. But I can’t get it out. I do want him to come in. So bad I ache.

His free hand slides down to my waist, pulling me closer. “Just a few minutes,” he whispers.

The room phone rings, and I break away. I give a short laugh. “Sorry, I have to get this.”

I don’t know who’d be calling me on the room phone, but I answer it anyway. I see Logan fold his arms, still waiting outside the door.

“Hello?” No one answers. “Hello?”

I hear a click on the other end.

“Wrong number?” Logan asks.

I replace the phone and walk to the door again. I blow out a breath and take off my heels. “I guess. I think I’m going to take that shower I talked about. Wind down.”

He drops his chin, then nods. “Sure.”

“Thanks for this evening. I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”

Logan steps away from the door. “I get it. We should try again another time.”

“We should.”

Leaning outside the door, I peer up into the dimming sky and find the moon. “It’ll be full in two days.”

He follows my gaze. A smile curves his lips. “You follow the phases of the moon?”

“Sometimes. There’s a lot about me that doesn’t fit your typical mold.”

“I’ve noticed. Which is why I think I should take my time to get to know you.”

“Is that what you think?”

Logan strolls toward me again, several inches taller now that I’ve lost my shoes. “It doesn’t stop me from wanting to get to know you faster.”

He hauls me against him, capturing my mouth. I rise to the tips of my toes to wrap my arms around his neck. I run my fingers through his hair and arch my back when he trails kisses along my jaw. His breath is hot and it lingers at the hollow of my throat.

His fingers dig into my hips, reaching down to curl under the short hem of my dress. I fumble to catch his hand.

It feels too much like the last time. And the last time things hadn’t ended well for either of us.

“Logan,” I breathe.

His arms vice around me, our bodies flush against each other. He makes a noise low in his throat. “I’m pretending I can’t hear you.”

I laugh and give his chest a gentle shove. When he eases back, I point a finger at him. “You just…” I catch my breath. “You’d better keep your distance if that’s what’s going to happen every time I’m around you.”

“That’s no fun,” he says, reaching for me again.

I swat his hand. “There’s a time and place for fun.”

He backs up. “Okay, you’re right. A time and place. Not outside your motel room. Not standing by my car outside a haunted hotel.”

“Right.”

“Got it.”

“You sure?” I ask.

He nods, folding his hands behind his back. “You’re interesting, Willow.”

“You’re interesting, too. And still not leaving.”

He laughs and starts walking. “All right. I’m going. Sleep well.”

I close the door once he disappears down the stairs and slump against the other side. Sleep well? Not likely.

Last time I’d been kissed, we’d been in a college dorm room and a thousand “no’s” hadn’t made him stop. I’d done the only thing I could, lashed out with fire. It had been instinct, really, because I had no idea what I was doing.

One minute he was on top of me and the next his arms were on fire.

I can’t control it, it controls me. I was hoping my mother could help, but now I have no idea where she is and only one source for answers.

Ryan.


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