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Time's Hostage: Highland Time-Travel Paranormal Romance (Elemental Witch Book 3) by Ann Gimpel (1)

Prologue

Part witch, part demon, I was born in Hell.

Most demons get their start in Hell’s halls. Not true of witches, but I’m one of the unusual ones. Notice I said unusual, not lucky. My mother is a Roskelly witch. Because evil was hardwired into her, she fell hard for dark enchantments, sucked them down like nectar. I have no idea if she knew she’d be trapped behind Hell’s gates forever when she sashayed through them, but even if she’d entered the Dark Realm with full knowledge, she’d like as not have made the same choice.

I’m getting ahead of things, though.

This isn’t about Yanna, my mother, but about me.

The thing about being born somewhere is it’s all you know. I don’t exactly remember playing like little kids I’ve run into since I found a way out of Hell, but nor do I remember being miserable.

Not as a youngster.

No. That part came later when my demon father—a handsome fellow if you discounted his amber eyes and horn stumps—told me the time had come for me to earn my keep. I might have been five then, or as much as six or even seven.

Everyone’s childhood ends somewhere, but mine crashed off a million-meter cliff when I ended up siphoning blood from things that weren’t quite dead yet. In a backhanded way, it was perfect since I wasn’t very tall, and my victims lay on the ground. Easy enough to reach, but I felt their pain—and their horror. Like I said, if my youth held anything in the way of innocence, it departed damned fast.

Mom was no help at all. She loved Black Witchcraft more than she loved anything or anyone, including me. Like as not, she never even noticed I wasn’t around much. Hell’s not all that clean, but it has kitchens just like everywhere else. And a laundry. Eventually, I was assigned to both. An improvement from harvesting lifeblood from the dying.

I’ve never minded hard work, and I put in my time cooking and washing robes and capes. I was lonely, but no one else in Hell saw things that way, so I didn’t have words for what was missing. Elements like friendship or simple conversation weren’t valued. Mom stewed in her own demented world, only occasionally surfacing to glance at what went on around her.

Time passed, long enough for my body to take on a woman’s shape. There’s a lot of sex in Hell. Not much to do there besides eating and fucking, but demons don’t appeal to me. Don’t get me wrong, some of them, like griffons and satyrs, are beautiful, but I ran the other way when they tried to herd me into a corner, cocks swollen and sexual heat blasting from every pore.

I think I’d decided even then that I needed to leave. It was just a matter of how and when. Lots of reluctant recruits get stuck in Hell. Most of them don’t take to it like my mother did. Of course, she’d signed on of her own free will. I suppose it made a difference.

Regardless, punishment for attempted escapes was swift and sure.

Not death. No, that would have been far too easy. Hell’s punishments were sophisticated, like reliving your worst fears over and over until you lost what little mind you had left. My strongest asset was blended magic. Something about witchy power mingled with my demon blood gave me an edge. The demons and sprites and monsters thought twice about messing with me after I surrounded myself with magic.

Once I figured out they were afraid of me, I grew bolder. Daring enough to watch from the sidelines while demons came and went. The first time I saw a demon open Hell’s gates, I got ridiculously excited, so much so my warding failed and my hiding place was discovered.

I paid for that.

A hundred lashes that flayed skin from my back. Good thing for magic. It heals and heals fast, but I’ll carry scars forever. They’re not a bad thing, though. The slight tightness across my shoulder blades is a reminder, one that’s stood me in good stead.

It took a long time, years, until I succeeded in leaving Hell. No one counts time in the Dark Realm. It’s one of many differences between it and Earth. I planned and planned, holding back until I was certain I could pull things off. If I tried—and failed—the demons would have made certain I’d never get close enough to the gates for a second attempt.

Demons.

My blood, but not who I am.

Not sure quite what that makes me since Mother’s Black Magic gives me the creeps and makes my skin crawl with disgust. I grew to hate her, and the demons too, but Hell was the only place I’d ever known. Homes are weird like that. No matter how awful, they’re a macabre comfort zone.

Once I understood I’d become complacent, that my scheming and planning to escape were a hedge against boredom, I made my move. I was terrified if I didn’t do something, I’d never gather the moxie to leave at all.

I’ll spare you the details, but one dark day, a day like any other in Hell, I put my plan into action. It went off without a hitch. After shaking off shock I wasn’t being wrapped in chains and dragged to one of Hell’s fiery pits as punishment for insubordination, I ran through those high gates into rain and cold.

I was surprised I had the presence of mind to shut them behind me.

Barefoot, shivering, without so much as a cloak to drag over my head, I pressed forward, and the next part of my life began. It’s when I met my bird. My familiar in witchy terms. I’d been free for all of maybe an hour. Soaked and chilled, I diverted magic to protect my feet from the cold, rocky ground, when an enormous black raven flew in front of me. Wings spread, it blocked my path.

I may have left Hell behind, but I recognized magic when it slapped me front and center. For a long, hideous moment, I was certain one of Hell’s denizens had tracked me and was intent on dragging me back.

“Look deeper,” it cawed and showed no sign of moving.

I could have feinted to one side, could have run away, but something about the raven drew me. With a deeply sinking feeling, certain I was making a mistake, I looked right into its amber eyes.

“You are mine, witch,” the bird said. “I have waited long for you.”

“I don’t understand.” My words sounded thin, hollow, scared.

“No, you wouldn’t. Follow me, Sorcha Roskelly, and I will explain everything.”

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