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A Witch's Fate: A Reverse Harem Romance (Negre Clan Book 2) by Cheri Winters (1)

Chapter One

Ivy Sparks



I do not like waking to my alarm. Even the sweetest music I can find to download to my phone just seems so harsh as it pulls me from sleep — a very literal rude awakening that just starts my day on a little sour note. It’s so much nicer when Grandma gets me up.

In the years that I’ve lived with her, my sleeping mind has learned to listen for her treading on the one creaky step on the stairway up, coupled with the scent of her coffee brewing wafting up from the kitchen, so I’m already half-aware by the time she gently taps on my door. “The other stars are in bed. Now it’s your time to shine,” she says. So, so corny, I know, but it’s Grandma. It’s how she’s always waken me up, as long as I can remember.

It’s not really that I hate my phone’s alarm. I mean, it’s a lovely song, ‘Good Morning’ from the musical ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ played on the piano, but it’s not Grandma’s voice and her silly little saying. It means that Grandma’s on the road again. She drives a truck – mostly she does little runs between here, Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs, but sometimes the company needs her to run out to the east coast, and she’ll be gone for days.

I’m the only child of two only children, no siblings, no cousins, no aunts and uncles. Since my parents died in a car accident when I was five, she’s the only family I’ve got left. When she’s on the road, the house just seems terribly empty. Even if I have Kate and Nathan come for a sleepover, it’s not the same as having her home. Grandma is more than family to me now, she’s the only thing that connects me with my past.

The other thing about the way Grandma wakes me up, the way my mind can tell she’s coming and wanders gently out of sleep to meet her, is that I don’t remember the dreams. They’re gone by the time I wake.

When my phone intrudes on my sleep the way it does, I always remember what I was dreaming about, and a lot of the time, it’s Mom and Dad. They’re never bad dreams, I don’t dream about how it must have been when they died in the accident, or about the night Grandma was watching me and they never came home, or when they were mad at me, or I was mad at them. I always have happy dreams about them, and that’s the worst part of it all. Because I know that I will never, ever feel that happiness again. Waking up to that feeling, with Grandma being somewhere, hundreds of miles away on empty highways just takes something out of me. It’s the exact same thing my parents were doing when Dad fell asleep at the wheel, and their car crashed through the guardrail and went right off the side of a mountain.

But I can’t dwell on that every time Grandma is gone. I crawl out of bed, shower, put on half a pot of coffee, half as strong as Grandma makes it, and let it brew while I do my morning drills on my piano – the gorgeous Mason & Hamlin Model B that I bought with part of the insurance and inheritance from my parents’ deaths. The piano was Carl’s idea.

“You don’t need to save all of it for college,” he told me. “You’re going to get tons of scholarships. You’ll be fine when the time comes. So buy something — today — that will remind you every day of how much you loved them.”

Carl and I, we get each other. We met at the beginning of high school, and I found out that his parents died about the same time mine did. He’s never told me exactly what had happened to them, just that one died not long after the other. I think his dad, at least, was military or something, but I’ve never been able to figure out what his mom did. In many ways, I know so much about him, about who he is, but I don’t think I’ll ever know exactly what happened to him.

I took some money from the trust fund a few years back. Even buying it used, and having Grandma haul it home from Connecticut for free while on one of her east coast runs, it was a pretty extravagant expense. But it is such an amazing instrument, the big, complex, full sound of a grand piano, while still able to fit into our den. And to be quite honest, it sounds a hundred times better than the beat up old pianos that we have at school, or even the lovely vintage Steinway that my piano teacher has. Ever since I bought the Model B, she’s come to my place for every single lesson.

After finishing my morning practice, I run upstairs to finish getting ready for the day. I put on a bit of makeup to try to put a bit of life in my face. It’s early spring in Stokers Mill. Everybody is pale from not having seen much sun since September or so, but even against that background, I still stand out as lighter than everybody else. It’s not like I’d be mistaken for a corpse or anything if I didn’t put some effort in, but I just feel like I look more present and just more ready to face the day if I add a little bit of color.

Once that’s settled, I pour my coffee into a travel mug, splash in a bit of cream, and grab a couple of bars on my way out the door. We haven’t had a really good rain since the last snow to wash the salt and sand off of the pavement, so I take it slow on the twisty road that leads up from my house in the valley to the school. That’s why I find myself so surprised when some idiot on a loud motorcycle comes up on me from behind. He drifts in way too close to my back bumper as I navigate a long no-passing zone. In my mirror, I see that he’s well bundled up against the cool morning, heavy black stocking cap, big, goggle-like sunglasses, face mask, heavy leather jacket and thick gloves.

We hit a short, straight section, barely long enough to safely pass under the best of circumstances, and there’s a big pickup truck coming toward us. I can feel the tension in the rider behind me, as he keeps revving his engine, like a racehorse chomping at the bit to get out the gate. The second the pickup and I pass each other, the he opens the engine up all the way, and the motorcycle roars past me. I start to panic when I see another car round the curve ahead, coming straight at the bike. I brake hard to give him room to get over, and he takes a quick glance to be sure he’s clear, and swerves into my lane, just a couple dozen feet from decorating the hood of the oncoming car. He looks over his shoulder at me and gives me this funny, two-fingered salute with a little twist in the wrist, and I suddenly realize it’s Ben Wake. He’s the new guy at school. He just moved to town over the winter break, and started classes with the new semester. That little wrist twisty salute is kind of his trademark greeting. As he tears off ahead of me, I can’t believe that the quiet, brooding and mysterious boy that reads stuffy old novels would ride like such a maniac. But then again, maybe his unsettling, dark demeanor and his obsession with things long gone were indicative of some sort of deep rooted death wish that the motorcycle brings blazing to the surface.

I realize that the last time I had a close call like that on the road, I ended up having to pull over to let a panic attack pass before I could finish my drive. I think it’s only the fact that I’m so upset at Ben for being such an idiot that’s keeping me going. I really need to have some words with him when I get to school.

Fortunately, the rest of the drive in goes well, so I’m mostly relaxed by the time I pull into the school’s parking lot. Kate and Nathan are sitting outside on the steps in the sun. I join them, leaning back and unzipping my jacket. It’s not really warm, but for the first time in months, it’s not cold either. Up in the mountains, you take what you can get. I tell them about Ben almost getting himself killed on the way in, and they tell me how he pulled into the lot way too fast, swerving around and showing off. Ben hadn’t really warmed to anybody at all in the few months he’d been going to school with us. He is so quiet and withdrawn, so we can’t really figure out why he was being so out there that morning with his stupid bike.

“Maybe it just makes him feel alive or something,” Carl says, coming up behind us.

“Morning, Graylock,” Kate says.

Carl very visibly winces at the nickname, but doesn’t say anything. He learned long ago to not fight it, but he still runs his hand along his temple, trying to bury the ashy gray streak under the rest of his sleek, black hair.

“Sit!” I tell him, patting the step next to me. “Now tell me, since you’re a dumb boy, too…” I wink at him, to let him know I’m just teasing. He smiles to let he know he’s not offended. “How does smearing yourself all over the front end of a Volvo make you feel more alive?”

“You’re laughing at Death,” Carl says. “Letting him know that someday, you belong to him, but not yet. Not right now.”

“Ugh, Carl! If I hadn’t seen that car and stomped my brakes, he would have died right next to me. Stupid, stupid idiot!”

“Well, what can I say? Some of us boys are more stupid than others.”

“Next time he does that to me, I’m going to kill him myself.”

“No big loss,” Kate says.

Nathan and Carl nod in agreement.

I know they aren’t really serious, but I can’t help but think that maybe if we were warmer to him, he’d be warmer to us. Stokers Mill is the kind of place where everybody sort of knows everybody else. It’s a great place to be from, because you are never far from somebody that can help you out if something goes wrong. But it can also be really hard to move there, because you just don’t have those ties.

When Carl moved here, it took him about a year before people really let him in. Part of that, honestly, is that he eventually learned to put up with the ribbing about his gray streak with good humor. Maybe it’s because Grandma really took to him. Grandma is kind to everybody, but there are very few that ever truly get close, and Carl is one of them. When people realized that Grandma looked at him almost like a second grandchild, that’s when things really started to change for Carl.

Ben. I can’t see Ben finding Grandma’s favor. He reads too much, carries too much of an artful black cloud around, dresses a little too fussily compared to the average jeans-and-flannel Stokers Mill guy. I can’t help but wonder, though, for as much as it’s still making me angry, maybe riding in hard on a Triumph might show the rest of the guys that he can lighten it up a bit and let loose. Maybe. We’ll see.

“Hey!” Kate says, poking me in the ribs. “C’mon. The bell.”

I realize that I had gotten so far into my thoughts about Ben that I never heard it. “Sorry,” I say. I know I can’t admit that I was thinking about Ben, so I spit out the first lie I can think of. “I think I just figured out that crazy bonus problem from last night’s math homework.”

“What?” Kate asks. “Ivy IQ didn’t finish her homework?”

Carl elbows me, grinning. He knows that I hate that nickname almost as much as he hates Graylock.

“It was a tough one!” I protest. “And Grandma got delayed yesterday by that bad flooding on the Mississippi. She had to take a two-hundred mile detour to find a bridge she could get the truck across. It left me kind of distracted.” That is not completely a lie. I was worried sick about her, but I dealt with it by narrowing my focus down to nothing but my homework, and I’d defeated the bonus question.

I’m almost to my locker when I see Ben. He gives me his little salute again, with a sly grin.

“Ben!” I say through gritted teeth. “That was not funny. You scared me to death out there.”

He opens his mouth to say something, and finds Carl right up in his face, flanked by Kate and Nathan.

“Whatever you’re about to say, don’t,” Carl says. “You want to be a jackass in class or at lunch or in the hallway, fine. But never, never, ever mess with Ivy on the road, or we’re going to have some real problems.”

I feel a chill descend on the hallway. People stop and stare at Carl, all up in Ben’s business, looking ready to deck the guy. I read the mood of the crowd, and easily half of them just want him to do it.

“Carl,” I say. “He doesn’t know. Let it be.”

Carl puffs himself up a bit, leans in at Ben. Not for the first time, I get this sense that there’s a lot more to Carl than anybody suspects. Like he contains something larger than himself. Somehow, he seems strikingly more masculine, I swear he grows a couple of inches so he almost looms over Ben, and his hair gets fuller.

Ben backs away. “Ok,” he says. “Never again.” He takes another step away.

I put a hand on Carl’s shoulder. “Let it be,” I whisper.

He exhales, and seems to soften up and shrink back to the usual Carl, my orphaned brother from another dead mother.

“Ms. Sparks,” Ben says, with a slight bow and a decently contrite look on his face. “My most sincere apology for my behavior earlier today. I let the spirit of the day infect me without regard for the safety of others on the road. It was inexcusable.”

I turn and walk away. By not accepting his apology, I’ve just put a big black mark on his name. One more hurdle he’ll have to leap to gain acceptance in the school and in the town. I’m so mad at him! But at the same time, he deserved the chance to make it right, and I didn’t give it to him. That one’s going to be on me.

“I hope after graduation he goes far, far away,” Nathan whispers as we continue on our way.

“Forever,” Kate says.

“Yeah,” I say, but my heart isn’t in it.

By the time I get my locker open, the second bell is ringing. I have just enough time to throw my jacket and hat in, and not enough to sort out the books I need, so I just grab a handful and hope the right ones for the next two periods are in the stack. Just as I’m slamming the locker door, I see a folded piece of parchment-colored paper inside. I don’t have time to deal with it, so it’ll have to wait.

It isn’t until lunch that I am near my locker alone, and have a chance to retrieve the mysterious piece of paper. It immediately feels expensive — heavy and just a little bit rough, almost like the handmade paper that my cousin picked out for her wedding invitations, but more refined. It’s very carefully and precisely folded, tied with a crimson ribbon, with a dab of red wax sealing the knot.

I look around and see there’s no way I’ll be able to open it up without attracting attention. I’m tempted to step into the restroom, but I feel that would be too irreverent for something presented in such a carefully composed package.

Then I remember the little hallway behind the band room that leads to the changing rooms and uniform storage. Nobody ever goes back there in the middle of the day. In fact, it’s where I first made out with a boy, back when I was a sophomore. That seems like the right place for reading this mysterious note. As always during the lunch hour, a handful of students are in the band room practicing. One of them is playing Liszt’s ‘Liebenstraum’. Perfect song, even if it’s on the ancient practice piano that is never quite in tune, and they keep tripping over one particularly difficult bar.

It just somehow seems to set the mood just right. I take the note out of the book I’d tucked it into and break the wax seal. Gently I pull one of the free ends of the ribbon and the knot comes undone. I unfold the paper and see immediately that it’s a Villanelle. We’d just studied those in English class the week before, reading Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’.

The poem is handwritten in a neat and very precise cursive. It’s different than the one Grandma uses, more elegant despite its precision, with subdued little flourishes. If I had to guess, I’d say it was written with a fountain pen, because the line width varies. I look at the title, ‘Beautiful Ivy Climbing Up the Wall’, and start to read.


Beautiful ivy climbing up the wall

To reach the cold and distant stars

From the dark soil, you hear the call


From deep roots you ever sprawl

Soft green hiding cracks and scars

Beautiful ivy climbing up the wall


Each careful step so sure, so small

Yet the distance covered great

From the dark soil, you hear the call


Bringing life to cold and sterile halls

Your verdant shroud warms cold slate

Beautiful ivy climbing up the wall


Ever onward cruel time crawls

Whispering quiet hints of fate

From the dark soil, you hear the call


From modest earth to towers tall

Such brilliant life your touch creates

Beautiful ivy climbing up the wall

From the dark soil, you hear the call



B. Wake


I let myself sink down against the wall. I read it again, comparing it mentally to the one other time a boy with a crush on me had written me a poem. It was a clumsy, sugary thing with cliché rhymes and a repetitive, sing-song meter. This poem is different. The images don’t stand still for me. I have to go back and read it a second time to start absorbing it. A third to finally fix it in my mind. This is no simple schoolboy poem, but something trying to communicate a feeling coming from a different place than mere infatuation or lust. It’s somebody telling me that they see me as a force of nature, and that they are willing to face it.

I have to chuckle a little bit as I read that. Me, as a force of nature, the desire of life itself to always grow and spread! I think back to morning, looking in the mirror as I put color to my pale skin, so my black hair and green eyes didn’t overpower my face.

Of course! My green eyes. The finest thing my mother left me, according to Grandma. Her son, my father, apparently could not resist them. Bright green leaves against white slate… I know exactly where Ben got that image. Ben, the only person I’ve ever met with skin paler than mine…



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