Tanglewood Magic (The Three Sisters Book 2) -eBook
Tanglewood Magic (The Three Sisters Book 2) -eBook
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Her magical strength is transformation, but is she powerful enough to change his heart?Rhys and Circe must work together to save Queen Medea from a poisoning attempt, which shatters the walls between them and drives them into the mounting political turmoil between Darnuith and Paragon. When friends become lovers, there’s nothing like the magical high, but the perils of finding Medea’s would-be assassin could destroy them before they have a chance to begin.
Her magical strength is transformation, but is she powerful enough to change his heart?
A witch in the crosshairs
Circe Tanglewood has tried to fit in with the other witches of Darnuith, but since the day her sister became queen, she’s been the target of painful rumors and vicious threats. Aside from her sisters, her only friend is the owner of the apothecary where she works. Her heart wants more from the taciturn and commanding Rhys, but she’s hesitant to risk losing her sole ally.
A wizard with a past
Rhys Bloodgood has suffered loss and never plans to open himself up to it again. No matter how attracted he is to Circe, allowing himself to love her is a gamble he’s not ready to take. Besides, a failed relationship might lose him a talented apprentice.
A war that will either bring them together or tear them apart
Rhys and Circe must work together to save Queen Medea from a poisoning attempt, which shatters the walls between them and drives them into the mounting political turmoil between Darnuith and Paragon. When friends become lovers, there’s nothing like the magical high, but the perils of finding Medea’s would-be assassin could destroy them before they have a chance to begin.
“Go back where you came from!” The hateful words traveled through the walls of the apothecary where Circe worked and hit her right in the heart.
Reflexively, she raised her wand and cast a defensive spell toward the front window, just as the assailant’s blast shattered the glass. Fates’ blessing, her magic successfully halted the explosion. She grunted with the effort of holding the window together, the tip of her wand glowing purple. But while she’d saved herself from a face full of glass, mending the spider-web crack proved problematic. If she lowered her wand for even a moment in order to throw the next spell, the shards would surely fall apart.
“Synchónefsi!” Rhys Bloodgood stormed from his laboratory, his wand flashing emerald before his spell plowed into the glass. The pieces fused themselves, brilliantly. Circe lowered her wand, relieved the window looked new again.
“Thank you,” she offered, but Rhys wasn’t listening. Without even pausing his stride, he thrust through the front door, looking both ways for the vandal.
“They’re long gone,” Circe called. “Flew by on their broom faster than a falcon. It was a man, but I didn’t get a good look. Had the hood of his cloak pulled over his face.”
“Fates’ fury.” Rhys marched inside and slammed the door. Circe braced herself, hoping the reverberation wouldn’t shatter the front window again. She was relieved when the glass held.
She sighed and shook her head. “Listen, Rhys…”
“You have to let me go. I’m not good for business.” Circe certainly wouldn’t blame him for firing her. Guilt plagued her over the position she’d put him in.
There was no question that the attack and the message that came with it were meant for her. Since her sister Medea had been named queen of Darnuith, the violence and threats against Circe and her sisters had gradually increased in intensity. Never mind that Medea had been magically chosen for the role by the Fates during the ritual of the Sacred Lots and named by her predecessor, Ferula Northstar, with her last breath. Never mind that Medea wouldn’t have ever chosen the role for herself.
The people of Darnuith had thrust the title upon Medea and then immediately criticized her for taking it. All because Circe, Medea, and Isis Tanglewood had grown up in the Garden of the Hesperides. They had come to Darnuith as strangers. Medea’s selection was highly unusual. Not only was it the first time a chosen queen hadn’t been born on Darnuith soil, it was the first time the prior queen’s adviser was not chosen for the role.
Zelaria, the previous queen’s adviser, had trained at Ferula’s side for decades and had offered sacrifices to the Fates. It was only natural for the people here to assume history would repeat itself. When Medea’s stone glowed and Ferula whispered her name, the crowd initially acknowledged the results. Zelaria accepted Medea as queen and agreed to continue as her adviser.
But over time, Darnuith’s outward agreement with the results became overshadowed by growing rumors the three sisters couldn’t contain. People had barely trusted them before. It was too easy for the citizens of Darnuith to believe that their otherness was cause for concern. Perhaps the Sacred Lots didn’t work with someone like them in the mix. Perhaps their magic altered the proper results. Suspicions about the validity of the selection had grown to a fever pitch recently and, with it, the violence.
Go back where you came from.
“You’re not going anywhere,” Rhys said firmly. “I won’t let a few small-minded imbeciles bully me out of a trained employee.”
“Rhys… It’s not just a few. Business has dropped off this season. It’s because of me. I don’t feel right costing you income.”
He leveled a dark stare on her that sent a shiver along her spine. Rhys Bloodgood did not suffer fools. The intensity of being the center of his attention made her knees weak. His mind was razor-sharp, and when he focused on her, she could feel it cut right through her like his surgeon’s blade.
“I wish you to stay.” His voice was eerily quiet. “Now, unless you plan to walk out on me, I need your assistance with something in my laboratory.”
Without another word, he strode toward the back room from where he’d come, his command lingering in the air around her, expecting to be obeyed.
Circe released a deep, relieved breath and followed him. The truth was that if he’d told her to stand on her head, she would have obeyed—or tried to anyway. Rhys had that effect on her. There was something about his voice that made her want to please him. Plus, she was grateful he wanted her to stay. This job was her favorite thing about living in Darnuith. If Rhys still wanted her here, she wasn’t going anywhere.
The attacks on her and her sisters were testing her in the most personal way. For most of her life, Circe Tanglewood had thought of herself as a conformist. While her sisters Medea and Isis acted as if every rule was meant to be broken, she preferred to keep her feet firmly on the ground and her steps safely on a well-worn path. Although she’d gone along with her sisters’ risky schemes in the past, it was only after much cajoling and voicing her fears about their antics. It wasn’t so much that she feared punishment or injury as she thought things simply worked better when there was order.
Now, she had people breaking windows to try to scare her from her job. Worse had happened at the home she shared with Isis. Dead animals left on their lawn. Ill wishes thrown through their windows. Neither of them had stepped a hair out of line to invite such behavior. In fact, Circe’s accommodating personality led her to have goods from the marketplace delivered to her cottage so that her presence would not cause discomfort to the vendors or her fellow shoppers.
Which was why, she supposed, she’d become enthralled with Rhys Bloodgood. Not only did he accept her, he seemed to genuinely appreciate her help. As she watched the stern and stoic healer at work in his apothecary, she couldn’t help but admire his methodical nature. The wizard adored order and cleanliness. Everything in his apothecary and the attached infirmary had its place. His stringent attention to detail ensured that his patients enjoyed the finest of care in the five kingdoms.
Her respect for his practice was why she’d taken a job working for him at Bloodgood’s Apothecary. Once her sister Medea had become queen of Darnuith, they’d sold the fruit farm they’d once managed. Tavyss and Medea had moved in to Maelhaven Palace, as was tradition, and Circe and Isis had moved to a small cottage in Mistcraven, nestled in the Dark Mountains. The apothecary had been a welcome distraction, where her natural inclination for potion making had come in increasingly handy.
It was a safe, prudent, and perfectly acceptable job.
And if her mind sometimes sent her a delicious and perfectly unacceptable fantasy about grabbing her aloof and taciturn boss by the lapels of his laboratory coat and pressing her lips to his, well, there were worse problems to have as a witch.
“Bring me the container marked Mystic Snail Shell,” he commanded once she’d arrived at his side in his laboratory. The cauldron he hunched over smelled of something sweet and vegetative.
Without hesitation, she jogged into the storage room and searched for what he’d requested. She wasn’t exactly sure when she’d become enchanted by Rhys. The waves of his shoulder-length black hair weren’t exceptionally silky, and the short beard that muted the hard edge of his jaw looked more rugged than handsome. But she found herself spending more and more time imagining what it would feel like to run a hand down his body, toned from hours of hiking and gathering herbs and roots in the woods. Would Rhys Bloodgood’s flesh feel as hard as his personality?
To be sure, the man had done nothing to invite her attentions. He barked orders at her throughout the day. Sweep the floor. Disinfect the counters. Bring me the forage beetle powder. There was no softness in his tone or his eyes, and the two of them rarely spoke of personal things. But she sensed that if that icy veneer ever cracked, underneath would be a steaming passion as wild as his waves and as potent as his deep blue stare.
She rushed back into the lab, carrying the container he’d asked for.
“Place it here,” he ordered, pointing to the table beside him. “And be careful to wash your hands. Even a bit of this stuff can befuddle your mind.”
Despite knowing she hadn’t touched anything but clean, dry glass, Circe left the container beside him and washed her hands in the sink. Still, her mind skipped right over the bossy comment and sent her a lovely vision of sweeping all the herbs and equipment off Rhys’s worktable and using its hard surface to crawl on top of him. She’d never had a lover, but she was certain that Rhys would be a thorough and attentive one. If he focused on her with a fraction of the intensity that he gave his work, her blood would positively sing.
A funny swooping feeling happened low in her torso. She shook her head. She was being completely ridiculous.
“What are you working on?” she asked tentatively.
Those piercing blue eyes darted to her, his expression initially annoyed but then morphing into something softer as his gaze swept over her. “Developing an antidote for gila vine poisoning.” He gestured toward a potted plant beside the cauldron. “Gila vines are growing out of control along the border of Rogos. Viktor Franwise’s sheep keep eating it.”
Circe didn’t know anything about Rogos, but she remembered Viktor. The elderly man rarely came into the apothecary, preferring to send a falcon to procure Rhys’s services. He’d been friendly and kind the last time she’d run into him, though. That was more than she could say about most people here.
Circe sniffed at the gila vine with its variegated, four-pointed leaves and winced. It smelled of anise and something bitter.
Rhys used tongs to drop a few pieces of snail shell into the cauldron. “This ivy is native to the Mystic Wood in Rogos. It’s not meant to flourish at higher elevations and hasn’t spread into Darnuith in the past. Franwise has been doing his best to keep his sheep away from the stuff. He’s moved the herd inland, but the vine is encroaching on his property faster than he can adjust.”
“What happens to the sheep when they eat it?”
“The first signs of illness occur about an hour after ingestion. The animals die within twenty-four hours.”
“No treatments help?” Circe narrowed her eyes on the vine. “What about inducing vomiting?”
“Doesn’t work. Nothing works. Franwise says he’s been lucky so far to weed out infected sheep from his herd. Of course, we are both concerned that the poison could make it into the meat supply. No witches or wizards have been harmed by tainted meat thus far, but with the vines coming closer and closer to town, we’d both feel better having a cure on hand.”
“Is there no way to contain the vines themselves?”
“Not one with any lasting effectiveness. Rogos is struggling with overgrowth as well this season. I’ve been working with a scribe there named Daluk on a containment potion, but neither of us has found a permanent solution.”
He turned his attention back to his work, and she had to swallow her disappointment. The room seemed to grow colder without the intensity of that gaze on her. Rhys gave his potion three counterclockwise stirs and then nodded as it turned a lighter shade of gray.
“Bring me a narwit,” he demanded, without even a glance in her direction.
She retrieved one of the small pink creatures from the cage in the corner. It wiggled its four pink ears at her. With their high metabolism, narwits made the perfect test subjects. Their fast reproduction and short life-span allowed Rhys to collect vast amounts of data quickly. Still, Circe was reluctant to hand the creature over. She did not want to watch it die.
Rhys used the tongs to pluck a leaf from the vine and feed it to the creature, whose tiny nose wrinkled as it chewed. No sooner had the animal swallowed than it fell on its side, its muscles clenching in involuntary spasms.
“Now the antidote.” Rhys drew up a dropper of the light-gray elixir and dribbled it into the narwit’s mouth. The animal stopped seizing, but its breathing slowed almost to a stop. Rhys put on his work glasses, the ones he’d enchanted to see inside his patients, and examined the creature inside and out. “Fates’ fury,” he cursed. “It didn’t work. It’s dying. Heartbeat is barely detectable.”
No. Circe couldn’t bear to stand by while the creature suffered. She reached out and stroked the leaves of the gila vine, running her fingers along the plant from the base, where the roots disappeared under the soil, over the branches, and along the leaves.
“What are you doing?” Rhys snapped.
She drew her wand and, with a flick of her wrist, sent an analyzing spell over the plant. “This is how I came to understand plants in the Garden of the Hesperides,” she said. “Through touch and magical analysis.”
Rhys studied her, scowling.
“Of my three sisters, I always had the strongest inclination toward herbs and potions,” she explained. “It’s inherent in my magic. Transformation is my forte, but in order to transform something, you have to take it apart and put it back together. That’s what I’m doing now.”
Rhys ran his hands through his hair. “I need that sample, Circe—”
“Oh, I’m not going to take your sample apart. I’m just shining my magic through it to understand it better. For example, the poison does not bleed through the surface of the leaves. One would have to ingest this to be poisoned by it. Touching it is harmless.” She glanced at him and smiled.
His brow furrowed. “How do you know that?”
With a swish of her wrist, the light faded. She stowed her wand inside the special pocket built into the sleeve of her tunic. “The same way I know that the reason your potion isn’t working is because you need something to warm the blood. You have an analgesic for the pain, an astringent to keep the venom from spreading, and an antidote to neutralize the poison, but this plant kills by dropping its victim’s temperature. So, your narwit is suffering from hypothermia while your tonic works to take effect. But the lower temperature has slowed its circulation, making it impossible for its body to make use of the cure.”
His mouth worked, but no sound came out.
She left him to rummage in the storeroom. “Aha!” She returned with a jar labeled Pepper of the Valley. Fishing a dark orange pepper from under its lid, she diced it and added it to the brew, stirring the cauldron with six sharp strokes.
Rhys’s face was grim, and it occurred to her that it was a good thing she’d moved quickly because if the man hadn’t been shocked into inaction, she was sure he’d have kept her from touching his brew. Instantly, the color of the potion changed to a muddy orange and started to bubble. She seized the dropper from Rhys’s hand, drew up a dose of the new elixir, and administered it to the narwit.
For a few moments, nothing changed. Rhys’s scowl grew darker.
The narwit rocked, then scrambled to its feet, blinking and wiggling its nose. Circe grinned.
Rhys’s eyebrows climbed in increments to his hairline. He donned his enchanted glasses again and examined the narwit’s internal happenings. “Remarkable. Circe, you’ve done it!”
Circe flourished her hand and took a bow. “Glad I could help.”
He removed his glasses and locked eyes with her. Again, the intensity of his stare made her knees wobble, but this time she saw more in his expression. The corner of his mouth turned up in a hint of a smile that made his eyes crinkle at the corners. Rhys never smiled. That twist of lip made her feel important. Vital. Like her heart had never beat before he’d gazed in her direction. She had to remember to breathe.
“You truly are a brilliant and gifted witch, Circe.”
“Th-thank you,” she stammered.
He stepped closer to her, until mere inches remained between them, and the slightly herbal scent of his skin filled her nose. She doubted he was the type to wear cologne and thought it must be his soap or the remnants of the herbs he gathered every morning. Ugh, he was so handsome. That curl that persistently teased his forehead no matter how many times he tucked the rest of his hair behind his ears drove her mad, and the deep blue of his eyes was worthy of drowning in.
“I’m very lucky to have you here,” he said softly, his attention drifting to her lips. “I meant what I said before about wanting you to stay. I need you here, no matter how many windows those bastards break.”
She allowed the intense connection between them to draw her forward another fraction of an inch. His lips were full, and he looked at her from under impossibly long lashes. He leaned forward. Circe’s heart thudded in her chest. Was he going to kiss her?
The front door chimed, and Rhys started as if waking from a dream. He blinked rapidly. “You should get that.”
“Oh, uh, of course.” She slid past him and hurried to the front desk, where she was surprised to find a man in a royal tunic. It was not unheard of for Darnuith’s soldiers to seek treatment there, but this man did not appear ill.
“Circe Tanglewood?” he asked her.
He held out an ornate purple envelope with a red wax seal pressed with an insignia in the shape of the Tanglewood tree—her sister’s seal. She accepted the envelope from the soldier.
“What is this?” she asked.
“An invitation to a royal banquet. The queen sends her love.” He bowed and headed for the door.
“Wait!” Circe raised a hand and smiled when the soldier looked her way. “Please tell Medea I love her too, and I wouldn’t miss it.”
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