Excerpt for The Truth About Familiars by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Copyright © 2018 by Michele Hauf

Cover design by Michele Hauf.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments or events or locales is entirely coincidental.

This digital edition published by Swell Cat Press, LLC.

The World of Dark Enchantments

Welcome to St. Yve Estate. If you are pure of heart and can get past
the threshold guardians, you’re invited to enter the castle gates. Do
not mind the gargoyles, their giant wings will protect you.  Come
inside the Manor and meet the Cadre, a secret order established four
hundred years ago, comprised of both mortals and otherworldly beings.
We have the talents we need to study paranormal creatures, to
experiment and capture them, and sometimes to return the evil ones to
the otherworld. Our goal is to keep the human world safe from darkness
and to maintain the delicate balance between the mortal and the dark

Along with the peaceful science geeks at the university's Department
of Anachronistic Research, and the relentless and deadly agents of the
highly covert branch of the British Security Service called P-Cell,
together we fight the evil powers gathering in the dark realm that
would do all of us harm.

So you can sleep at night undisturbed, knowing we are here, working to
protect you.


Enjoy your visit to St. Yve, but don’t stay too long. Once the sun
goes down, humans who wander into the enchanted faerie wood at night
can never find their way out again. And then, nothing can help you...

Here are the other novellas and novels in the DARK ENCHANTMENTS series. They do not have to be read in a specific order.

These novels were originally published by Silhouette Nocturne in 2007, and have been updated by the authors:


THE VAMPIRE’S RECKONING by Cynthia Cooke (formerly titled Rising Darkness)



The following novellas are brand-new 2018 releases:


THE DRAGON’S WOMAN by Cynthia Cooke



The Truth About Familiars

Chapter 1

Caratacus Bane slipped on wet grass and moss as he made his way through the enchanted forest. Midnight enhanced the full moon’s glow. Somewhere. Clouds blocked his view of the mistress moon. Rain had been falling for twenty minutes. Time to head in and dry off. He would find no night hounds this evening. And if he did get so lucky? His camera was wet. He’d not anticipated the weather changing so quickly.

Striding surely down a sort-of path that wended its way through the forest surrounding his cottage, his rubber boots cracked wet branches. Rain pattered his soaked shirt. The camera clattered against the shoulder holster D-rings that held a knife and his standard gear, a salt-round pistol.

It was never wise to go traipsing around on a night hound hunt without the proper weapons. But his most important item was beyond hope. Despite tucking it into his waistband, the notebook he used to jot down information and research was taking on water fast.

When he finally reached a clearing that designated the wildly overgrown herbal vines and medicinal plants in his backyard, Caratacus paused. The whine of an animal scurried into his bones. A night hound? He lifted his head and tilted it to pinpoint the direction of the noise. It had sounded close.

When something rubbed against his ankle, he jumped. The skin on his arms prickled, and he almost let out a yelp. Almost. He wasn’t taken to screaming like a spooked schoolgirl. Oh no. He had seen it all. From vampires, to ghosts, to—once even, a shifting werewolf.

Moving his hand over the pistol but not removing it from the holster, he slid his gaze to the ground where a soaked black creature rubbed insistently against his boot. Its meow was even more persistent.

“Not interested in felines,” he said, and gently nudged the thing with his foot. Not a successful move to stop the creature’s incessant affection. “I’m after night hounds. Canis malevolentem. You know, the vicious things risen from Hell that stalk the edges of this mortal realm and Fairy?”

The cat meowed louder. Sounded like a nagging tone he’d associate only with his grandmother. And yet…

Caratacus had a thing for animals. All animals. He loved and respected them all. Except for earthworms. They were slimy and cold and—ugg. Earthworms could just screw off, for all he cared.

Another meow insisted he pay attention.


The cat stretched up its paws up and over the top of his boot, claws piercing his camo trousers, as it entreated him with that demanding meow.

“Very well.” He bent and scooped up the wet thing and tucked it under an arm. “You can sit inside until it stops raining. But I warn you, I’ve no food for cats. You are omnivorous. I am not. So unless you like nibbling on kale, you’re not welcome to stay beyond the sky clearing.”

Entering the cozy fieldstone cottage through the door on the back porch, he left his muddied boots on the mat. In the boot room, he grabbed a patchwork quilt from a high shelf and bundled the cat into a purrito.

Carrying the cat in and setting it on the sofa, he then stoked up a fire in the hearth, tossing in rowan amongst the cedar to send out a sensory warning to any creature that may wish to bring harm to his peace.

He was a common human, but he knew all the mystical ways, magics, and mores. In his voracious pursuit to study paranormal breeds, he’d adopted an eccentric mixture of all of the above over his lifetime. And living at the edge of an enchanted forest with a portal to Fairy tucked in its depths, he was accustomed to using every resource he could manage for protection. Yes, mortals could brandish a weak form of magic if their intentions were true.

Because of his knowledge, he’d been recruited into the Cadre at the impulsive age of seventeen. The Cadre was a hermetic order established over four hundred years ago to eliminate evil paranormals and keep the world safe from non-human entities. Over time they’d evolved to pursue more peaceful goals, including Caratacus’s expertise: research.

Crouched before the fire, he raked his fingers through his inch-long hair to speed up the drying process. The cedar logs burned sweetly. His hands and cheeks warmed quickly. Raindrops beating on the rooftop performed a delightful midnight concerto.

A mug of cocoa would serve as a fitting resolution to the night.

He stood, and having forgotten about the creature he’d rescued, Caratacus sucked in a breath at the sight of what now sat tangled in the quilt on his couch.

“Well, that’s unexpected.”

Chapter 2

Mirabelle tugged up the snuggly blanket up around her shoulders and across her lap. The fire beaming onto her bare skin provided much-needed warmth. And her short-cropped black hair was quickly drying.

A handsome man with dark, tousled hair, stood before the blazing fire, a stunned look on his face. A chiseled countenance that spoke of sinewy strength, much like his body. He was lean yet muscled. Sleeves rolled above his elbows, his tanned skin spoke of hard work and a propensity for the outdoors. Rugged, was how she would describe him. And kind, for he had taken her in from the rain and bundled her up to chase away the shivers.

But he likely had not expected her to show her true form.

“Have you never seen a familiar before?” Mirabelle asked innocently. She held back the innate temptation to flirt. She was naked, and she didn’t want to give the man the wrong idea—even though such an idea always felt right to her.

“I…have not,” he finally said. “Though I do know of your kind. I’m surprised, is all. Didn’t expected that water-soaked kitten to be…” He gestured absently toward her, clearly taken aback.

“Thank you for your kindness. And I’m not a kitten, I’m a cat.” Mirabelle pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders to relieve a shiver. “I had nowhere to go. I fled my witch’s home. And I’m afraid she’ll find me.”

“You belong to a witch?”


Familiars generally agreed to work with a witch. They were never owned by one, and could move from witch to witch freely. Or they could choose not to work with those sorts at all and live an independent life. But her witch raised Mirabelle since she’d been a kitten, and therefore, Mirabelle was bound to her. She had never known freedom. Had never believed it possible.

Until her last lover had told her the truth about familiars. They were freelancers. Witches should be thankful for those familiars who chose to work with them. Mirabelle had brought up subject with her witch and…the hag had turned her lover into a tadpole, and then had promptly ate him.

“Well?” the man prompted.

“I choose not to belong to her any longer. She is cruel and eats children, and…other things.”

His reaction produced a raised brow and a sputter of non-syllables.

“It’s true,” she assured him. “She uses children’s bones for her spells. Terrible stuff. And don’t even ask about my last lover.” A shiver made her tail straighten. Even though she wasn’t in cat form, the fearful reaction to her situation was visceral. “Anyway, I waited for my chance and escaped this very night. And now I’m all alone. Can you help me, please?”

“Help you?” He swallowed. “You mean fend off a child-killing witch?”

Mirabelle nodded. “She’ll come after me. I won’t be a party to her cruel ways any longer. No one should own me. It’s not right. Oh, please, mister… What’s your name?”

“Oh, it’s Caratacus Bane. Though associates often call me Bane.” He slid a hand over his drying hair, a move that stretched the shirt tight over his muscled chest. That was a sight for a pussycat’s eyes. “I’m not terribly conversant with, uh, familiars and witches. Nasty things, witches, aren’t they?” He eased a hand along his jaw and turned to the table that sat before the rain-streaked window. With a gesture, he said, “Actually, I’m studying night hounds. So I’m quite sure you’ll not want to be anywhere near me—“
“I’m not afraid of hounds,” Mirabelle hastened out. “And I wouldn’t be much trouble. I don’t eat much and I’ve no personal things to store or stumble over.”
She winced as she watched the man sort out the situation. He’d thought he was taking her in for the night. But…she was hoping for something a bit more permanent. At least until she could sort out her life and make plans on how to proceed with living on her own.

Caratacus? What a mouthful for such a beautiful man. Bane, it would have to be. Right now, Bane was thinking much too hard. She shouldn’t have told him the exact nature of her witch’s foul deeds. But a brave man wouldn’t think twice to stand up for all that was good and right. Would he?
“You’ve no home?” he asked. “I mean, away from the witch’s house?”

Mirabelle shook her head. She’d dreamed of moving to London proper. Had heard it was exciting and cosmopolitan and offered all sorts of food, entertainment, and people. The forest was so boring. But to move to a place on her own, she needed money, and her job as a witch’s familiar didn’t pay in anything more than cat food and scratching posts.

Not that there was anything wrong with a multi-tiered, carpeted cat tree.

“I suppose not.” He rubbed a palm along his thigh, which drew Mirabelle’s eyes to the powerful muscles in his legs. The wet pants conformed to his shape. Must be a runner, or perhaps he hiked through the crazy forest that could change in a blink and ever challenged her navigational skills.

Bane was, in a word, sexy. Mirabelle was experienced with men. Well, one or two anyway. Perhaps experienced wasn’t the correct term, but rather, enthusiastically practiced in the ways of getting naked with those who attracted her. There had been a fairy just a few months ago. And before that, a human man lost while a mushroom-obtaining pursuit. She’d helped him navigate the way back to his car, but not before he’d made her purr in a thatch of wild strawberries.

A cat couldn’t chase mice all the time.

“I won’t be any trouble,” she offered. “I’ll be free of my witch’s control with but a simple task. I’m sure you can handle it, being such a strong, handsome man.”

“And that task is?”

“Get rid of the witch. Permanently.”

Chapter 3

Caratacus was not averse to ending the life of a vile and cruel being with a penchant for killing children. That said, his strengths were in research and adventurous travel. The salt-round pistol he often carried was effective in defeating demons, and sometimes even ending their lives. But that was for defense. He was not in danger now. A beautiful and seemingly desperate woman was.

Mostly a woman. She was a familiar. Which meant she could shift to feline shape at will. So half cat, half woman. Maybe? He wasn’t sure how it all worked. He had little firsthand knowledge of familiars beyond what he’d just witnessed.

No matter, he would not kick her out into the rain if a witch were after her.

And yet…

He was a scholar, for Heaven’s sake.

He glanced at the table stacked with volumes he’d checked out from the Cadre library months earlier. An incident had occurred that day that had seen his banishment from the St. Yve manor where the library was located. Something to do with sulfur and smoke. He felt quite sure the lab was still intact. The people in that place were stick-in-the-muds. Anyway, next to the books lay his project, hundreds of pages of hand-written notes and text for the book he was writing: Night Hounds 101. He didn’t use a computer. Modern technology was finicky at best.

To set all that aside and protect a woman who could shift into cat-form from a witch? Certainly, he had been trained and knew how to protect himself and others against evil. And the prospect of such a task did tempt his alpha nature, which simmered as if a supportive structure just beneath his need for knowledge. A man couldn’t keep his nose in a book all the time. He knew how to use most weapons, and was actually a sharpshooter. His knife throwing skills were remarkable. And he feared no paranormal creature so long as the correct confrontational tactics were employed, either for conversation or be it a forced defense if necessary.

And yet…

The woman on the sofa had wrapped herself up snuggly in the patchwork quilt. Sleek black hair topped her head, framing her face. Her big eyes were greener than the grass after the rain. And her skin gleamed like a pearl. Gorgeous.

And naked.

He swallowed uncomfortably. If he allowed her to remain there was the question of him avoiding a very strong attraction toward her. Because he must avoid that. For reasons—

Did he have a reason to avoid a beautiful woman? Not really.

Oh, but he had work to do! That was his reason. A beautiful woman would only prove a distraction.

Another glance at the woman found her eagerly staring at him in wait of a response. She’d asked him to kill the witch. And then what? She was homeless. Likely without friends or family. He could see to her relocation through the Cadre. They did things like that. They could take care of her personal needs. Like clothing and food and…touch.

“Touch,” he whispered. His fingers curled and he clasped his hands behind his back. The fire warmed them.

“What was that? Was that a yes?” She crawled to the end of the sofa and the blanket fell from a shoulder to reveal firelight shimmering on her pale skin.

Oh, yes, he did want to touch that skin. And her hair. And wrap his arms around her and make her feel safe and—

“Of course, it’s a yes,” he stammered out. “You are welcome in my home, uh…what was your name?”

“Mirabelle,” she offered. “Thank you, Caratacus. That’s a very unusual name.”

“A family moniker. It is a tongue twister.”

“That it is. I’m going to call you Bane. Now, would you possibly have some clothing I could put on? Unless you prefer me wandering about naked?”

Caratacus forced himself to drag his gaze from the beauty on the sofa and strolled back to his bedroom. “I must have something!” he called out as he sorted through his neatly stacked pants and shirts. Drawing out a long tee-shirt he decided that should work until he could find something more suitable.

When he turned in the low light to go back toward the main room, he walked right into a wide-eyed familiar wearing nothing but a bright smile and a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. His hand grazed her stomach, which was not covered by the blanket. He retracted at the warm heat. “Sorry.”

“It’s just my skin,” she said as she took the shirt from him. “You humans are hung up on propriety. Don’t worry, I’m not a prude. Nor should you be.” She dropped the blanket right there by her bare feet and pulled on the shirt.

Though it was dark, he saw the shape of her, small breasts and a narrow, sleek waist and…he looked aside. But then he looked back as the shirt settled to below her thighs. “You are beautiful,” he said.

“And you are handsome.”

She tilted forward and her lips met his in the most surprising connection. At once, Caratacus felt it was wrong and scandalous, and then he did not. The delicious heat of her immersed his system in a shiver of pleasure. He pulled her closer to deepen the kiss.

He’d kissed many women. Yet never had one so immediately consumed him as this one did. Almost wrapped about him like a long tail and tugged him in. Falling, surrendering, wanting to hold her forever. She felt right in his arms. And he suddenly knew he had discovered something he’d never known he needed.

With a nuzzle of her nose to his, Mirabelle said, “I’m tired. Can I sleep in your bed?”

“Er, uh…?”

“The kiss was wondrous. I want to learn more about you, Bane. But I never sleep with a man after only knowing him an hour. You can sleep on the sofa, yes?”

So many things to consider about her closeness, and the kiss, as well. The sudden request to take over his bed— “Of course. I wouldn’t suggest otherwise. I’ll grab another blanket for you. The heat from the fire never quite makes it to the bedroom.”

“Thank you, Bane.” She quickly kissed him again. And this time, he slid a hand across her back. She briefly melded against him. “I know I’m safe with you.”

She was safe. And she was a stray.

Strays tended to move in without a man noticing, taking over home and heart with smooth simplicity.

Was his heart ready for this?

Chapter 4

Waking to the smell of cooked eggs and fresh-squeezed orange juice was certainly a new and pleasant experience. Mirabelle jumped out of bed and scampered to the main room to find her host standing over the table with a frying pan in hand. He slid fluffy yellow eggs onto a plate and nodded for her to sit.

“I hope familiars like eggs,” he said as he joined her across the table and picked up a fork.

“In human form I like everything.” She dove into the warm meal. It was difficult to recall when she’d last earned a decent meal from her witch. And something that hadn’t been tainted with meat from a questionable source. “And no meat! I love this.”

“I avoid animal flesh, but I do have a chicken—not a pet; just a frequent visitor—who insists I eat an egg now and again. She lays them on the back door stoop. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve inadvertently stepped on them. I’ve learned to always perform a morning egg check.”

“That chicken really likes you. Where do you get fresh oranges?”

“The tree in my backyard. I’ve oranges, lemons, strawberries, mangoes, bananas, and I think there are kiwis as well. Anything you can imagine grows in this forest.”

“I do know that. It is magical when a cat goes prowling under the moonlight. So much to see. And the fairies!”

Bane poured another serving of orange juice into their glasses. “I’m not partial to the fairies. They are spiteful. Some are downright malicious.”

“You just have to swat them around a bit. A swift paw to the wing. That’ll teach them who’s boss.”

The man’s smile was tastier than the food before her, and Mirabelle lost herself in his twinkling blue irises.

“What do you do when you are not rescuing rain-soaked felines, Bane?” she asked. “You said you’re researching night hounds?”

“Yes, I’m writing a book: Night Hounds 101. They are the least studied of all the Dark Realm creatures. I’ve yet to see one, but I’ve scoured up pages of documentation written over the centuries on them. I do like to discover and teach. I travel the world studying various species and documenting their lifestyles.”

“Has anyone ever written a book about familiars?”

“I’m sure they have. Familiars are quite common.” He cleared his throat. “I mean, not that you are in any way common. You’re quite…”

Mirabelle paused behind a sip of orange juice, waiting for him to figure her out. If he knew her truth, that she needed him in oh, so many ways, he might blush.

“Well…remarkable,” he decided. Then he touched his mouth, as if remembering their kiss last night.

She remembered it well. And she wanted another. Because that kiss had stoked a desire that pulsed and grew stronger within her. But she wouldn’t pounce on him until after they’d eaten. She did have manners.

“I thought I’d look up warding spells against witches today,” he said. “Might come in handy, eh?”

“Have you weapons to defend against a witch?”

“I’m not sure what those weapons are, though I will learn. And I assure you, I am well trained in combat and tactical defense.”

“Then I’ll be safe.” She wiggled on the chair. He may not be a warrior human who was comfortable with slaying evil and rescuing the distraught, but he was willing. And so cute when he explained his passion, which seemed to involve his nose in a research book. “I knew you were kind when I saw you in the rain last night. Oh, let me get that.” She grabbed his empty plate and took it to the sink. “I like to wash dishes. Makes me feel helpful. You go ahead and do your studying. I won’t bother you.”

“That is today’s goal. First, I’ll head outside to check and reinforce my wards. Feel free to look around and settle in. I’ve some interesting books on demons and dragons on the shelf.”

Mirabelle thanked him as she filled the sink. She wasn’t much for reading. Unless it was a glossy magazine splashed with celebrities and their glittery fashions. She wanted that for herself. Pretty clothes and a home. And a husband who loved kissing her. And a family! She wanted so much. Maybe now that she’d escaped her witch, that could happen.

Hours later, Bane still hadn’t come back inside. Mirabelle had peered out all the windows, non-visible tail twitching. Twice. And just when she stood at the door, summoning the courage to step outside and risk the witch smelling her, the portal opened and in walked a huge bouquet of colorful flowers.

The bouquet asked her, “Do you like?”

“Very much.”

“The lilacs have a heady perfume.” Bane peered around the flowers and smiled at her.
“I thought you were checking the wards?”

“The wards are strong. Now I must do some book work. But I thought the lilacs in this bunch would make the cabin smell good.” He wandered in, and a few minutes later the bouquet—as big and wide as her arms held in a circle before her—sat in a vase on the kitchen table.

Mirabelle decided the scents emanating from all the flowers outside the cottage should prove an effective ward, whether or not Bane knew as much. And that relieved her even more.

Bane pulled down a book from a shelf and began to page through it as he paced before the simmering hearth.

Mirabelle drew in the scent of the lilacs, plucked off a silken poppy petal, and touched it to her lips. She knew something much better than flower petals to rub against her mouth. And if that man were any sort of host he’d attempt to entertain her.

In the one way she most wanted to be entertained.

Sneaking up behind him, she tapped the studious human on the shoulder, which startled him enough that he dropped the book. It hit his bare toe hard. He yelped and started jumping about.

And Mirabelle’s plan to make out had to be abandoned. Sadly.

Chapter 5

Sitting on the sofa, Caratacus had propped his foot up on a padded stool. His toe pounded and stung. The heavy tome had broken the skin, but it hadn’t bled for long. He never would have thought a book could hurt more than a blade.

“Sorry, I wasn’t trying to hurt you.” Mirabelle snuggled next to him and tilted her head against his shoulder. Then, all of a sudden, she turned onto her knees and faced him, her head bowing against his. “I have…desires, Bane. They burn inside me like a fire. I just wanted another kiss.”

“I’ve never had to give blood to receive a kiss before,” he said. But really? A smooch would take his mind off the pounding pain in his little toe. “Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘kiss it and make it better?’”

She frowned. “You want me to kiss your toe?”

He chuckled. “No.” He smoothed his thumb over her pale, soft lips. Burning desires, indeed. “But is there anywhere else you’d like to kiss me?” He pouted for effect.

“I can think of a place. Or two. Or three.”
She bent to kiss his pout away. Caratacus slid his hand up her back. She still wore only his tee shirt, which functioned as a dress on her. He had to find her some decent clothes. But no one was going to see her. Except him. And he liked that the thin shirt allowed him to feel her heat so easily.

Her mouth tasted like a dream. Whispers of orange and mint. Had she gotten into the catmint growing in the pot on the windowsill? Wicked kitty. She kissed him boldly, teasing him to match her needy motions as he danced his tongue along hers. A pleasurable moan escaped. His body relaxed and he forgot about the pain. But only so much as his hardening erection would allow. If she crawled any closer she would feel his want.

This was strange luck, her happening into his life. He was rather lonely. Another travel adventure was due; to get out into the world, experience it and breathe it in. Yet his studies had been focused in the enchanted forest where he knew night hounds had been known to roam. Perhaps a familiar could sniff one out for him? Was she capable of such a thing?

He had so many questions about her. Where did she live when not with the witch? Did she have her own home? Didn’t seem like it. Then, if homeless, what kind of life did she lead? Did she have friends elsewhere? Beyond or within the forest? What about a boyfriend. Lover? What sort of life did a cat-shifting being live?

He shouldn’t be curious. His direction was focused on night hounds and their lifestyles. He’d spent a good part of the past year searching for evidence of them. Yet, of strong interest to him right now was the species familiaris felinius. Surely, someone had written a volume or two on familiars?
“You taste like orange juice,” she said, then kissed down his chin and to his neck, where the firm pressure of her tongue giddied his system and hardened his cock. “I could drink you all morning.”

“Your boyfriend,” Caratacus stammered out.

Mirabelle paused and flashed her big green gaze at him. “What boyfriend?”

“Oh. Ah. No boyfriend?”

She shook her head, then smiled widely. “You think I need one?”

“No woman ever needs a man. I’m quite sure of that. I’m also quite sure that any man is much better off with the right woman in his life.”

“You’re right on the mark about the female species. I must add that no familiar ever needs a witch in his or her life. And screw the witch who thinks she can own one.”

“Interesting. I always assumed familiars lived to serve witches.”

“Me too. Until a fairy set me straight. We are freelancers. Or should be.”

“There’s so much I don’t know about familiars. I’m making mental notes about you as I learn. I hope you don’t mind. I’ve a voracious desire to learn.”

“I’ve a voracious desire, too.” She licked her lips and he knew exactly what she implied. “I’ll teach you whatever I can. Would another kiss help you to process the information?”

“You do know the longer we make out the less time I have to look for a good warding spell against your witch?”

“I think the flowers will keep her at bay.”

“The flowers?”

“She navigates by scent. Those flowers you brought in have a strong perfume.”

“The yard is filled with them. A floral magic?”

“Yes, I think so. Now…” She teased a fingertip along his lower lip. “I enjoy kissing you. And you enjoy kissing me. I can tell.” She nudged his erection with her knee.

He shrugged. “It’s what happens when I’m excited by a beautiful woman. It seems you…have experience with humans?”

“Of course. You can consider me human when I’m in this shape. I have no magical powers in this form.”

“But you do as a cat?”

“Mostly navigational via leylines, and I do have a swift paw. But no more research for now, Bane.” She took his hand and placed it over one of her breasts, concealed by the shirt. The hard nipple nudged against his palm. “It isn’t every day such a strong, handsome man kisses me. I like kissing. And making out. And all the other things that go along with that.”

“I do, too. But…”

“I said no more research.”

“It’s not that.” He pulled her closer and she adjusted to sit sideways on his lap. “I don’t want to take advantage of a woman in peril.”

“Trust me, I can handle myself very well against any man who would take advantage of me.” She made a clawing motion with her curled fingers. “I shift when I feel uncomfortable, and then run the hell away. I can’t imagine ever wanting to do that with you, Bane.” She kissed his neck again. “You feel right. I’m so comfortable with you. I’ve never felt that way before. I’m always skittish around new people.”
“A cat thing?”

She nodded and snuggled against him, drawing up her legs so he could wrap her body with his arms.

“I feel the same,” he offered. “And that startles me. I’ve always been a loner. Living out here in the forest is my Heaven. Never needed or wanted company. Until you rubbed against my leg. I like you, Mirabelle.”

“Then make me purr, lover.”

She directed his hand under her shirt and Caratacus slid it up to cup her breast as he tilted his head to kiss her again. He would make her purr. And—

A knock at the door startled them both. Mirabelle lifted her head and sniffed the air. “Were you expecting company?”

“Then I’m not sticking around for this.”

She jumped from his lap, and in the space between her feet leaving the sofa and hitting the floor, her body shifted. The tee shirt dropped into a pile. A black cat landed deftly on the hardwood floor and scampered down the hallway and out of view.

“This could make for an interesting relationship,” Caratacus muttered as he walked to the door and opened it.

An elderly woman with bowed shoulders and a red scarf wrapping her white hair stood holding a pie that steamed and smelled like apples.

“Pie?” she asked sweetly.

One sniff of the cinnamon-laced goodness, and Caratacus smiled and gestured for her to come inside.

Chapter 6

The pie smelled like a treat he’d not indulged in since he was a child staying at his grandmother’s house while his parents travelled the world adventuring. Caratacus carried the dessert to the table. He grabbed a knife and fork from the drawer and turned to offer a seat to the old woman, and…

She still stood before the open doorway.

“Come inside and share this with me,” he called. “Yes?”

“Of course.” She stepped over the threshold and waddled into the kitchen area. Rotund and capped with fluffy balls of white hair, she reminded Caratacus of his grandmother. The only thing missing was the support hose rolled around her ankles.

As he cut into the pie, out seeped its delicious, savory-sweet fragrance. Conversation was forgotten as his mouth watered. He could think of nothing but eating the pie.

“You’ve lived in the forest a long time?” the old woman asked.

He nodded. Too intent on his task of placing a piece on a plate to talk.

“Seen anything out of the ordinary lately? Something not where it should be?”

He shrugged. Lifting a fork, he met the woman’s gaze for a moment. At first, he thought he saw no color at all in her irises, just big, black voids. But with a blink, he realized that they were merely gray and rheumy. The scent of apples and cinnamon overwhelmed. As if he were falling into a reverie, he sat and pierced the crisp, flakey crust with his utensil.

“I’ll find her soon enough,” the woman said on a sharp-edged tone.

Caratacus wrinkled a brow at that statement, then lifted the forkful of pie to his mouth.

All of a sudden, a cat’s snarl broke the strange lull he’d fallen into. Mirabelle, in all her feline glory, leaped onto the table, batting the fork out of Caratacus’s fingers. Then she lunged at the old woman, landing on her shoulder with her back legs and swiping a front paw across the woman’s cheek before leaping into the air and scampering across the back of the sofa.

“Mirabelle!” Caratacus yelled.

The old woman howled and slapped a palm to her cheek as she scrambled for the open doorway. Smoke seeped from beneath her hand. Her appearance altered, her hair growing straight, long, and gray, and her skin mottling to a sickly green—until she stepped over the threshold.

The witch, half in the shape of the sweet little old lady, and the other half with green skin and a smoking cheek, hissed at them. “I will have that feline back!”

In a flash of emerald lightning, she was gone, leaving but a crackle of green in the air where she’d stood.

Caratacus, jaw open and heart pounding, only now realized that he’d just been visited by a witch. The witch who had kept Mirabelle imprisoned as her familiar. A child-eating witch.

He looked at the table. Maggots crawled within the pie crust. He raced to grab the waste bin and shoved the entirety, including the plate and fork into it, then tied up the plastic bag.

Meanwhile, on the sofa, Mirabelle shifted back to her female shape, and popped her head out from under the blanket. “Is she gone?”

“Yes.” He hefted the trash bag over a shoulder. “Thank you. I don’t know what came over me.”

“She’s blind and depends entirely on her sense of smell.”
“But you said the flowers…”

“I had hoped they’d mask my scent, but, apparently, her powers are much stronger than I knew. She uses scent spells. You couldn’t have resisted had you tried.”

“What was in that pie?”

“You don’t want to know.”

He winced at the bag he held. “I’m going to burn this.”

“Use henbane to counteract the spell. It’s a powerful deterrent against witch magic.”

He nodded and quickly made his way out of the cabin. Once outside, he scanned the backyard. No sign of the witch. The flowers had not prevented her from tracking down Mirabelle. But the house wards should have kept her out.

“Ah, bollocks,” he muttered when he realized his mistake. “I invited her in.”

With the proper invitation, any creature warded against entry could easily breach those wards.

“That was some powerful magic.”

He tossed the bag into the fire pit then wandered into the herb garden to pick some henbane.

Mirabelle was not safe here now that the witch knew where she was. But where could she be protected?

“The St. Yve manor,” he said. It was the headquarters for the Cadre and was protected to the nines with every ward in existence, and some probably not even documented yet.

The manor residents were never too pleased about his visits. And with a guest tagging along?

“This will be a challenge.”

Chapter 7

Mirabelle managed to fashion a toga-dress out of the floral bedsheet Bane had given her. Draped across one shoulder and wrapped around her hips, it stopped just above her knees. She cinched it at the waist with some green garden twine.

“I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head as she strolled out of the bedroom to display her project. “I don’t have occasion to keep female clothing here at the cottage.”

“It’ll suit me until I can find something better. My few possessions are at the witch’s house. Oh, Bane.” A shiver crept up her spine and she glanced to the doorway through which the witch had entered earlier. “I don’t want to go out there. She’s lurking. I know she is.”
“I’ve circled the grounds. She’s nowhere in sight.”

“That’s the thing. You will be as blind to her as she is. Her sense of smell is precise. And that gives her a sort of invisibility magic. Others can’t see her unless she’s wearing a mortal disguise as she was with the old woman.”

“I saw her face,” he said. “It began to burn and turn green.”

“That’s her true image. After I clawed her, my magic took hold in her skin and kept her from further repulsing your wards, so she fled. Had you eaten the pie she would have had power over you. That is, if you survived.”

He swallowed. “Not much of an appetite since she’s been here. We’ll get a warm meal at the St. Yve manor. It’s but a jaunt through the forest from here. You ready?”

“No.” Mirabelle took a step back and again glanced at the door.

“Oh, sweetie.” He wrapped her in his arms. “I will protect you.”

“With this?” She tapped the gun he wore in the shoulder holster, which hugged against his ribs. “Salt isn’t effective against witches.”

“But henbane is. I’ve woven it into this braided bracelet.” He showed her the twist of herbs encircling his wrist. “It should, at the very least, keep her at a distance until we can get to safety. And it’s a quick trip. It’ll be nothing more than a dash down the path. So long as the path doesn’t, er, alter.”

Mirabelle winced. The forest did have a mind of its own.

“You’re very kind,” she said. “But I don’t believe you’re fully aware of the danger.”

“Perhaps that’s best, eh?”

His light tone wasn’t giving her the courage she required to venture out and risk the witch picking up her scent and taking her home to again force her into slavery.

“Maybe the St. Ives people can come pick us up?” she suggested.

She knew there was a mansion in the forest that housed a group of humans who studied paranormals. They also exterminated paranormals. The evil ones. The witch had always cursed their presence but had avoided their detection with hexes and wards and even a charm or two. Who was to say those humans wouldn’t label Mirabelle evil for her alliance with the witch?

She stepped out of his embrace. “I can’t do this, Bane.”

His kiss was more than she could ever wish for and the only thing she wanted. To always stand in his arms would be a dream. But she couldn’t do that if she didn’t get away from the witch.

“Maybe I can,” she decided.

“Of course, you can. You are brave. And I am strong. Together we are a force.”

“I like the sound of that. I also like the two of us together.”

“I do too.” He bowed his forehead to hers and Mirabelle didn’t want to have a conversation. She simply wanted to stand in his arms and take him in. “I’m a member of the Cadre, who operates out of the manor.”
“You are? Do you…think I’m evil?”

“No. Why would you ask me that?”

“I was just wondering if those humans who live in the mansion will think that of me.”

“Never. We observe and learn. And if necessary, we, er, contain the violent ones. You are not violent, Mirabelle. As long as you’re with me, you will be safe. But just for your information, I may have to do some fast-talking to gain admittance. The Cadre prefers me to keep my distance from the manor. Something about a lab explosion and a resultant fire.”

“Really? You set the place on fire?”

“Only the one room. And it was contained. For the most part.”

His small smile made her laugh. And Mirabelle kissed him quickly. “I like you, Bane. You’re not like most men.”

“That I’m not. And I like you, too.”

“Because I’m not like most women?”

“Because you fascinate me.”
“Right.” Her heart dropped a bit when she remembered his main reason for taking an interest in her. “You’re taking notes.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. Well, yes, I am making mental notes about familiars. It’s unavoidable for a man so hungry for knowledge. But beyond that, I’m learning about a unique and interesting woman. I know one truth about familiars.”

“What is that?”

“They are quite brave. You, especially. Escaping such a foul witch on your own.”

“I did, didn’t I?”

“And you defended me against her wicked pie hex.”

“I did that, too!”

“Maybe I am the one who needs your hand in mine to survive the trip to the manor?”

“Oh! Oh.” Mirabelle dropped her shoulders. She understood what he was doing. Trying to make her feel valiant and proud so that she could forge through the forest and survive.

And maybe she could.

“Together,” she said. “I can do this if you’re by my side.”

He clasped her hand and kissed the knuckles. “Always.”

And knowing that only danger and peril awaited them on the other side of the door, Mirabelle tilted up onto her tiptoes and kissed him properly. It could be their last kiss. She hoped it would not be. But no matter, she intended to dive in deep and enjoy this one as if it were the final.

Bane swept her off her feet and up into his arms. She wrapped her legs around him without breaking their connection. And she took him in as if breathing in strength, for she was. Each kiss, every touch and stroke of his skin against hers increased her bravery and her power. She could do anything when loved by this man.

And that was her new truth.

Chapter 8

Uneventful. That was their trip through the tangled, emerald grasses and fallen mossy logs that decorated the sort-of path through the forest. Not a fairy seen, or a night hound heard. A disappointment, really. On the other hand, Caratacus was thankful for the reprieve. He suspected that the night would not remain so calm. It was a feeling that crept up his spine and tingled the back of his neck. And he couldn’t shake it.

St. Yve manor was nestled in the vast forest in a location that would never show on a map, and its employees, and anyone who had ever visited, lived there, or even heard about the place, could never tell you exactly where it was. That was thanks to the magical wards surrounding the facility as if a bubble.

Caratacus was able to find it because he had been here before and he possessed a sort of ‘weather knee’ in regards to finding the place. Meaning, he just got that weird tingle when he knew it was close.

So many tingles this night. Not the least of which, the one he felt in his core when Mirabelle squeezed his hand and gazed up at him with those wide green eyes.

Now, they walked up the front steps of the massive manor—which, always looked much smaller on the outside than it was inside. It was vast inside, unexplainably so. It was a relief to have made it here without incident. Though he wasn’t going to fool himself. The dis-ease that had crept across his shoulders while wandering over mossy logs and leaf-scattered trails had not left. He would remain vigilant.

The foyer was quiet and hazy from the lack of sunlight. Dusk had fallen as they journeyed here. The manor smelled old but not musty. A hint of sage and lemon lived in the woodwork due to the diligent cleaning performed by the brownies who only ever worked at night. And woe unto those who did not leave a gift of thanks for their work.

Of course, thanking a brownie in person was also a dire faux pas.

Fairies were one species Caratacus would never figure out. And he had no desire to. Yet. It was night hounds that he currently studied. Or would, if he could ever find one.

Someone slipped a hand into his, and he startled, only just remembering the beautiful, lithe familiar who had accompanied him into the manor. “Mirabelle.”

“You forgot about me,” she noted with little annoyance. “Understandable. This place is majestic. Those windows…wow.”

She cast her gaze upward. The cathedral-dome ceiling was crafted from stained glass depicting myriad creatures. All of them real; none fantastical.

The thing was, the mythical didn’t really exist. But it was always a good lie to instill in the heads of those not in the know, such as common humans.

Though human, Caratacus would never consider himself common.

“The lab is down that way,” he said, “but I think we should stop in the library first. Look up a means to killing the witch.”

“Killing her?” Mirabelle spun around to stand in front of him, a hand to her throat in utter horror. “Right, I did sort of ask you to do that. Did I mean that? Bit frightened at the time, you know.”

He exhaled and winced. Surely, she hadn’t changed her mind? “How else will you be free of her? She has committed so many atrocities against children and who knows what and who else.”

“Oh, I know who else.” Mirabelle swallowed loudly. “But, Bane, if you kill the witch…you also end the life of anyone attached to her.”

He shook his head, not understanding.

“Like me, her familiar.”

Caratacus’s heart fell in his chest. Now what to do?

Chapter 9

Mirabelle followed Bane into the library because he held a firm grip on her hand. And while he had rushed her out of the foyer and she wasn’t sure if he was angry with her, she also knew she never wanted him to let go of her. His hand was strong and wide and she felt protected.

Once inside the dimly lit library lined with shelves of books that rose three stories high and which stretched far beyond Mirabelle’s eyesight, Bane turned and whispered, “Now what’s this about you dying if I kill the witch?”

Thank goodness he’d paid attention to that important detail. “That’s how it works. The familiar is bonded to the witch. At least with me. You kill the witch, you kill the familiar.”

He opened his mouth to reply, but instead stroked his fingers through his hair and sighed. “There’s so much I don’t know about familiars. I need to do research!”

“I don’t think there’s time for that.” She cast a look over her shoulder, toward the closed doors through which they’d entered. “She’s coming for me.”

“What?” He gaped at her.

“I felt her when we were in the forest, but she wasn’t within sight. It won’t be long.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that before? Has she followed us here?”

“I just started feeling it at the forest’s edge. I can’t know what to tell you because I don’t know what is important and what is not.”

“Everything and anything is important,” he said sharply. Then he took her by the shoulders and his expression softened. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be so short with you.”

“I understand. You’ve been forced into a position you would not have chosen had you never stumbled across me out in the rainy forest.”

“I choose to protect you, Mirabelle. I want to. It’s what any man would do. You’re very…you’re special. I don’t want harm to come to you because...”

“Because we’ve got that together thing going on?”

“Exactly.” He kissed her forehead then hugged her tightly before spearing her with a fierce gaze. “Is there a way to unbind yourself from the witch?”

“I’m sure there is. It would require a reversal of the original spell that was put into place when I arrived in her lair as a kitten.”
He peered about the space, which was surely fashioned from more books than actual wood architecture. The very room might be supported by paper and cloth hard covers, for all Mirabelle knew.

“There should be something in here,” he said. “A book of spells. The witchcraft section is in the back on the east side. And while we’re browsing for a reversal spell, I will find a means to destroy the witch.”

He kissed her then. A surprise kiss. Mirabelle fluttered her lashes as she took in the exciting heat of his touch. And then it was gone too quickly.

“I do like you,” he said to her. “You make me…not think so much about night hounds and avoiding others. I want to be near you. Always.”

“I hope we survive this day so we can continue to like one another.”

“We’ll survive,” he said. And then he brushed a softer kiss to her mouth. One that felt like a life-giving breath. “Tell me everything while we sort through the books.”
“Everything?” she asked as he tugged her down an aisle of shelves.

“Everything about familiars! I want to know all about you, Mirabelle.”
Smiling at his enthusiasm, she started to detail the ease with which she could shift from animal form to human with a mere thought. And as they started to sort through the myriad spell books, she taught him all she could about familiars. All but the most important—how she gained more power. That was something he could only learn when the two of them were alone and naked.

Chapter 10

“Caratacus Bane!”

At the booming voice echoing down from the library entrance, Caratacus stopped what he was doing—gazing fondly at Mirabelle as she paged through a spell book—and slipped to the end of the aisle. He peeked around the corner.

“It’s him.”
“Who him?” Mirabelle touched his arm as she peeked over his shoulder. The warmth of her next to him almost redirected his intentions to turning and kissing her, but he held firm and resisted that surrender to pleasure.

“The Earl of St. Yve. He doesn’t like me very much. Because of the fire. I’m going to speak with him. You stay here.”

“You mean hide?”

He took in her toga-dress. “That would be best.”

“I think I’ve found a reversal spell for the bonding. I just have to read through it to verify. I’ll tuck myself in a corner.”

“Good girl.”

Caratacus stepped out into the aisle and saw that the earl stood stoically at the library entrance. Waiting for him to approach? The man did like to employ intimidation tactics. But he was not intimidated by a boisterous old professor.

“Your Grace.” Caratacus stepped up and noted that the man wore a crystal pendant that stopped midway down his black silk tie, inside which a crystallized demon was contained. Family possession. Kept him safe from other demons. It wasn’t something the man could unleash against him. As far as Caratacus knew. “Nice to see you again.”

“You must not recall our conversation the last time you were in the St. Yve manor.”

“Oh, I do. It went something along the lines of, ‘you crazy, assuming bastard, how dare you, and don’t cross this threshold again.’ Is that about right?”

The earl crossed his arms and leveled a deadly gaze on him. “Then why are you here?”

“Believe me, I wouldn’t enter this facility unless it was life or death.”

The earl’s thick gray eyebrow lifted.

“I’m protecting someone and that requires finding a means to destroy the witch who is after her.”

“Out,” the earl said succinctly.

“You don’t understand. An innocent familiar—“

“I don’t have time for your games, Bane. You will always be a member of the Cadre, but I will only tolerate your presence off St. Yve grounds. You’ve destroyed so much, and the demon storage room is still trying to sort through all the random demons you mixed up.”

He’d forgotten about that mishap. Well, really, the labeling system had only improved since then. So, in essence, he’d actually forced useful change to the Cadre’s filing system.

Caratacus put up his hands placatingly before him. “I swear, I will be on my best behavior. I’ve already found what I need.” He tugged out the page he’d torn from a book on how to extinguish a witch.

“Did you tear that from a— Out!” the earl ordered, with a point of his finger toward the doorway.

At that moment, the earl’s phone rang, and he answered, turning his shoulder to Caratacus. Caratacus spun around and spied Mirabelle, who waved yet another torn page at him and mouthed, “Found it!”

He gestured for her to hide again, and turned in time to see the earl marching away from him.

“We’ve had a perimeter breach!” he called. “I have to handle this. Get out now, Bane! If you are here when I return—“
“You won’t see me again,” he called after him, but the door slammed on the last word.

Caratacus ran down the aisle and grabbed Mirabelle’s hand. “Is it the right spell?”
“I believe it is. He certainly was not a nice man.”

“He’s just trying to keep order. And I do have a tendency—well, I have a tendency.”

Mirabelle grinned. “I like your tendencies.”

“You’d be the first. Come on. I need to get something from the lab that I can use as a witch weapon. Did you recite the reversal spell for the attachment?”

“I will.”

“Save it for when we’re in the lab.” He grabbed her hand and led her out of the library.

“What was that about a perimeter breach?”

“Not sure.” Caratacus glanced down the hallway in the direction the earl had gone, then turned in the opposite direction. “But we may just have a cavalry at our backs for protection, whether or not they like it. Onward!”

Chapter 11

They entered the lab, which looked very nineteenth century meets the future with ancient alembics and glass tubing and even steam and smoke billowing above vials of mysterious contents. Juxtaposed with that, a wall of blue LEDs flashed various lights here and there, and fluorescent lighting beamed over stainless steel lab tables. It was bright but cozy, if that were possible.

“She’s close,” Mirabelle said as Bane instructed her to sit in a leather armchair beneath a sleek silver lamp.

“In the building?” he asked. “The earl has it under control. We better hurry. You work on the reversal spell. I have to locate the ingredients I need…”

“Hey, Caratacus!”

“Linly Slade.” Mirabelle watched Caratacus shake hands with a lanky young man who held a pink cardboard baker’s box. “Long time, no see. Just here for some stilbite and dragon’s blood. Can you help me with that?”

“Sure thing. It’s in a locked cabinet, of which, I have the code. Er, how did you get past the wards? I thought they adjusted those to detect you…?”

“I have a talent,” Caratacus said, and led the man onward.

“A talent and a tendency,” Mirabelle said quietly. With a secret smile, she settled onto the chair and looked over the page with the spell on it. Yes, she did favor that man and his tendencies. Very much.

But she needed to survive this day if she wanted to spend more time with him.

The words on the page were few but complicated, so she slowly pronounced each one. And with each one spoken, she felt the subtle pull at her musculature, as if she were being tugged and pushed at the same time.

“This is going to hurt,” she muttered and then recited the final word.

With a gut-wrenching scream, Mirabelle fell out of the easy chair and onto the concrete floor where she writhed as the shift came upon her in the most terrible manner ever.

Chapter 12

Caratacus heard Mirabelle’s scream at the same time he began to wonder where Linly had gotten the pie. The lab tech took a slice out of the box and, holding it pizza-style, drew in the aroma. An aroma that carried over to the spell supply cabinet where Caratacus was currently wiping dragon’s blood over a stilbite athame. The sweet treat smelled…familiar. And not in a good she’s-a-pretty-familiar sort of familiar way, but rather in an, I-nearly-died familiar way.

Instincts kicked into gear and Caratacus raced across the room. Slapping the slice out of Linly’s hand produced a grumble. Until Linly clutched his throat and started to choke.

The steel lab room doors flew open in a spectacular blaze of green light. In marched the witch, blind, rheumy eyes unseeing but nose scenting like a hound dog.

“What have you done to the earl and the others?” Caratacus called.

“They do like their pie,” the witch said with a cackle.

Caratacus grabbed the vial of dragon’s blood from the supply cabinet and smashed it onto the floor before him. Sulfur filled the room. It reminded him of the worst night hound that he’d yet to see. His eyes began to sting.

The witch clawed at the air, screaming.

A black cat brushed Caratacus’s leg. Linly fell to the floor, convulsing. The witch’s pie would kill the man—and the others—if Caratacus weren’t able to intervene. And that required the witch’s death.

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