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Darkly sweet, p.1

Darkly Sweet, page 1

 

Darkly Sweet
 


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Darkly Sweet


  Darkly Sweet

  Juliann Whicker

  Hi! Thanks for downloading Darkly Sweet! If you would like to subscribe to my newsletter, go HERE. If you like this story and would like a free copy of the sequel, email me (julianncrowtheratyahoodotcom) or message me on FB (I have a weird group,

  Juliann Whicker’s Secret Society of Witches, Mages, and Pretzels) a link to a review of this paperback book on AMAZON. As soon as I get a hundred reviews, I’ll publish the whole 5 book series, otherwise, it’ll come out in the spring. Happy reading!

  Chapter 1

  In the dim interior of my cavernous attic, I mixed ten ounces of helichrysum oil with four ounces of frankincense. I stirred rapidly with the glass mixer then divided it into the golden bottles labeled ‘Darkly Sweet’ before topping them off with the various other potions and lotions I carried in my shop.

  As I worked, the best thing happened: time went by without me thinking or worse, feeling. I didn’t notice that the candles had burned down or that my stomach rumbled until a solid, ‘thunk, thunk’ reverberated through my drafty attic. I sighed and capped the last bottles of my current batch and stood up, stretching. I shoved my hip-length black braids behind my shoulders and smoothed down the black dress with white collar, sharp points framing the mouse-skull brooch at my throat.

  I took my time walking away from the quarter of the attic where I kept my lab. I straightened a stack of boxes, the dark background and poppy print with green vines my signature packaging. I’d have to order more in the small size this afternoon. With every step away from my lab, it grew darker until I could barely see the enormous fieldstone fireplace to my right or the body dangling on my left. I ran my fingers over the stone, the sloping shape and smooth texture soothing. My stomach tangled into knots the closer I got to the door.

  I stood on the far end of the wide expanse of floor between the fireplace and the door, nothing besides the ropes tied to the rafter above me and dust. Lots of dust.

  “Come in,” I said in a low voice he shouldn’t have been able to hear.

  The door swung in slowly, revealing the dark silhouette of Revere, my step-father, backlit from the light on the landing.

  He hesitated, flicking his fingers slightly, probably checking for booby traps before he entered in his black suit.

  “Penny, this is your last chance.”

  I looked away from him towards the picture on the mantel. No, to where the picture used to be on the mantel. “What does that mean, chance? It’s such a strange word, like dance or prance or glance, all kind of flirting. That’s what I would be doing, flirting with the ultimate danger, the ultimate end.”

  He sighed and his fingers slipped into his suit pocket. “When is the last time you’ve eaten? You’ve been avoiding me. It doesn’t matter. If you don’t do what you must, everything you know will be torn apart whether you pretend it isn’t happening or not.”

  He took two steps into the room, his step soft and muted.

  “I don’t care. I’ve tried to care, but I don’t. When she falls her screams will only echo the agony in my heart.”

  He sighed a dry sigh. “So melodramatic.” He flipped the switch and I was left blinking in the sudden, horribly garish brightness. “How can you see through the haze of dust?

  You’re acting like a child. You know perfectly well that the will explicitly states—”

  “That I must marry a peer before my eighteenth birthday, but has it occurred to you that I am a child? Seventeen and to be fattened and sent to the seething hordes of the

  soulless elite with nothing to protect me from their diabolical devices.” My lips curled as I glared at him, anger waking up inside my chest.

  He stared me down, his black eyes and blacker hair gleaming in the light from the electric sconces that lined the walls. “You’re hardly fat,” he said drily. “You haven’t eaten anything other than your emergency protein bars in days. You’ve been avoiding me, making me climb these stairs and enter your sanctum of dust. Penny, I know that you’ve wrapped yourself up like a spider in your own web, sucking the life out of yourself as you feed on nothing but memories, but it’s going to end. You can’t live like this anymore. You have to accept reality. Either you die and your mother with you, or you put your best foot forward and win the hand of a mage.”

  I rolled my eyes at him. He wasn’t the only one who could be disgusted. “Someone like you, I suppose, someone clean and tidy, someone who knows how to do everything right.”

  “Someone who can cast a proper spell, hopefully, someone who knows the basics of defense. But most importantly, a peer, someone who knows that magic is only worth as much as the mind behind it.”

  “Mind? You mean money.”

  “Yes, Penny. You’re going to Rosewood to find the most eligible male you can get to marry you. Either that, or this world, your world will be gone. Your mother, she’ll be gone and so will every memory you ever made with…”

  I held up a hand, a sharp move that silenced him. My heart pounded and darkness crept into the edges of my vision. I swallowed hard while I blinked it away. “Never. I’d rather die. I’d rather be burned alive and ripped limb from limb than talk to a stupid boy.

  You think I can make a man my slave, like mother did to you, but I don’t have allurement. No. I’ll find another house. I have my business even if it’s not like the soulless beauty corporation great grandma founded, it’s mine and it’s enough.”

  He frowned at me. “Your mother didn’t… You don’t need allurement. You’re a…” He stared at me with a consternated expression while he tried to think of something positive to say. “You’re a special girl. You may not have all of your mother’s talents, but you’re clever. You have other gifts that are more rare and valuable than you know. I understand that you’re afraid, but you can look at this as a business proposition.”

  “I’m not afraid.”

  He glanced at me skeptically and I shifted under that gaze. I hadn’t left the house in months. Maybe I was getting as bad as my mother, the shut-in who could not leave without having a complete breakdown. The last time she’d left the house, I’d had to

  drag her back inside by her hair after I found her convulsing in the gravel road thirty feet from the front door.

  I shook my head and wrapped the end of one of my braids around my wrist. “It’s a waste of time. You don’t seriously think that I can trick a mage into marrying me, do you?”

  He smiled slightly. “Mages are still half human. You can appeal to their humanity.”

  “Lust?”

  He curled his lip. “The Darkness is full of lust, Penny. Be very cautious when wielding such a dangerous weapon.”

  I wound the braid higher up my wrist. “Charm?”

  He hesitated as he looked at me. “Charm is what one makes others see rather than what one is. No, what you are…” He shook his head and stepped away from me towards the door. “Rosewood is full of vain, self-absorbed, bored children who have never wanted anything. All you need to be is what they want. Shall I take it that you’re going?”

  He edged towards the door, his inner dust devil stirring. He hated mess but that didn’t keep him away from my mother whose mind was a chaotic blur of madness mixed with insanity.

  That’s what this was about. Did I save my mother and sacrifice myself? She would stay here as the house was demolished around her. Would she mind dying very much?

  Probably not. Would I or would I rather leave here, find a place to live, deal with people, get on with my life? What life? I had my business and Senor Mort, but I wasn’t happy.

  Had I ever been happy? Maybe a long time ago, before grandmama died, before Poppy…

  “I’ll go. For mother.”

  I stared at him and he stared back, bo
th of us shocked at the words that had just come out of my mouth.

  He smiled slightly. “If you had known her before…” His smile faded as he turned, heading down the stairs. “You need to have your trunks packed by tomorrow with whatever you want to take with you to the dormitory. I know that it’s going to be a difficult transition for you, but I am certain you will find others who share your love of black and the skeletons of rodents.”

  I fingered the bleached skull at my throat and the others wound in my braids.

  “You’re going to miss me, Revere. You’re going to miss having a sane person in the old lady.” I raised my voice as he disappeared from view down the curving stairs.

  “Pushy, cantankerous old care taker.” I slammed the door and turned to survey my kingdom. The attic covered most of the house, so for sheer square footage it gave me

  plenty of room for most of my everyday activities. The center was taken up by an enormous hearth and wide chimneys from the fireplaces downstairs. Candles and mirrors were sprinkled throughout the space and ropes hung from the rafters. To my right was a little alcove where a body dangled amidst the myriad dripping strands, Dandy’s purple and black suit stuck through with hat pins. To my left was the bed, the armoire, and the wall that was an actual straight wall instead of the interior curves of the mansard roof. A French door led to a small patio and let in a little bit of natural light.

  Behind the chimney was my lab.

  My little business wasn’t nearly so small and insignificant as Revere seemed to think.

  Darkly Sweet was a serious brand in indie beauty products. I’d seen several knock-offs that didn’t have anything on my brand. Maybe it was small compared to the family business, the soulless beauty corporation Great Grandma had established, but it was mine in a way nothing else was.

  I’d just agreed to go to school and catch a mage, one of those dreadful, monstrous beasties who would eat your heart out and make you love him while he did it. I was going to be sick.

  I dragged two enormous trunks out of the shadows under the eaves, dust puffing off them when I flung back the lids. I packed away my vials and tubes with meticulous care, layers and layers of packing bubbles between until I was certain nothing would destroy

  my lab, my livelihood. That took up most of the trunk and the rest I packed with ingredients, herbs, oils, bottles and boxes.

  The other trunk I stared at before opening the armoire, studying the rows of dresses, skirts, blouses, and the bulky capes made of impermeable rubber interfaced with a thin layer of lead. My fingers lingered on the golden yellow cape, the color Poppy’s hair had been.

  I whirled from the armoire and flung myself across the bed, muffling my scream in the mattress. After I had that out of my system, I didn’t waste any time but reached under the bed and pulled out the laptop, booting up and checking the battery life. A quick search found Rosewood Academy, your generic preppy looking building, all marble pillars and leaded windows. So the insulation wouldn’t be, and neither would the security. Great, that is.

  I went back to the shadows and pulled out two more trunks. I filled them with quilts and tapestries, wooded scenes mostly. Grandmama had collected a wide assortment of tapestries on her travels through Europe. Most of them were quirky and had something odd about them, like the humans had chicken feet, or the trees had faces.

  I flopped back on my bed and was surprised when my laptop chimed and then said,

  “Welcome to Rosewood, Penny Lane,” in a pseudo-aristocratic New England accent. The

  screen had a scrollwork banner along the top, “Meet your peers,” and faces of boys and girls I imagined I’d soon see in person.

  An image slid onto the screen, a guy with dark eyes and a sneer, with red hair artfully messy in sharp contrast to his cravat and diamond stick pin. We had paintings in the gallery overlooking the hall of that kind of ridiculous tie, but they went with wigs and careful coifs, and not the diamond stud in his ear. Too quickly, the screen slid to another face, and I had to watch the whole thing around in a loop before it got back to him. This time, I clicked through to find professional looking shots of him—Drake Huntsman, apparently—in equestrian gear riding horses and hitting a ball with a stick (while creaming two other players) and dressed in a tux. I stared at the tux photo where he stood next to a dazzling brunette in a blue satin gown. Blue wasn’t enough to capture the glamour. Peacock. Yes. Peacock that matched her eyes. He stood beside her looking indifferent, like the shot was taken before the moment of action unlike most of the other photos. He gave the impression of constant movement; even when he didn’t move, his eyes seemed to show the action of his mind.

  I sat back and closed my laptop. “Good-bye, Penny Lane.”

  Creepy. What kind of guy did I want to marry? I couldn’t help but snort out loud. It was the most ridiculous thing in the world to try to seriously contemplate something that insane. Yes, I’d always known that was part of Grandmama’s will, ever since the

  funeral when I was thirteen, but I’d done my best to pretend that it would all go away.

  Poppy…

  I opened the laptop with a jerk and focused on the image of the Drake and … “Witley Penmore” at the “Annual Winter Musical Extravaganza.” I opened a new window and typed Drake Huntsman in the search bar. That revealed whole new dimension to his character. There were videos of him and his friends walking down a hall while girls bounced and squealed like rabbits that had been shot.

  I watched video after video until I saw one titled, “Christmas Tree Suicide.” I thought it would be something like a pathetic school play, but instead there was screaming in the background, dark night, snow, and this enormous Christmas tree in the middle of a courtyard, some kid at the top of it. The video zoomed in and I could see his face, see the way he clutched at his neck while he dangled there, hanging.

  After a flurry of evergreen limbs, the camera refocused on Drake wading through the greenery of the now fallen tree. He hauled the guy out and then with this snarling smile punched him hard and fast in the face. Drake hit him until he staggered over, then Drake kneed him so that he jerked and sprawled onto the ground. Drake stopped for a second, staring at the other boy with his wild, crazy look in his eyes before he drew back his big black boot and started kicking.

  That’s when he started yelling, expletives that I wasn’t very familiar with—being homeschooled and all—on and on until I closed my laptop with shaky fingers then pulled my knees up to my chest and started rocking.

  Poppy. Cruel boys who ruined lives carelessly. It took me a long time before I could open the laptop and go back to Rosewood to find the boy who had been the tree ornament. When Drake’s image passed, I pressed my thumb to his face.

  “You’re dead!”

  Before much longer I found the other guy, Zachary Stoneburrow, brown-haired, nice looking enough, but not in sports or music, or anything else as far as I could find.

  I searched the school photos and found him in the periphery: sitting in bleachers by himself, sitting at a table in the dining room by himself, a loner in a sea of guppies. He was a peer, though. He was eligible as my spouse. I hissed at the preposterous notion and leapt off the bed to open the armoire and dig through to the back, the lacy, frilly dress-up dresses I hadn’t worn since Poppy… We’d had elaborate tea parties that lasted for days, combining drama, music and sparring with the consumption of tea and finger sandwiches.

  If I wanted a nice guy, I had to be a nice girl. When I went somewhere where there were other people I felt less and less comfortable until I was snarling like Señor Mort.

  Who could snarl when they were cute and happy? I would be like those French candy

  sandwiches dyed unnatural colors. Macaroons. I used to love the macaroons Grandmama brought back after one of her long trips.

  Remembering her, I left every single black thing in my closet and filled up the trunk with lace, pink, and florals. I went to close the trunk, hesitated then threw in the lead-lined black cloak. I coul
d survive a nuclear blast in that thing.

  After that was my sewing machine and fabrics in the school colors. I’d have to come up with my own elaborate uniform that somehow broke all barriers between myself and Zachary Stoneburrow, because I was going to marry him. Hopefully he liked legs more than breasts, although I could always buy a bigger pair if it came down to it.

  I closed the lid of the last trunk with finality then shoved them to the door where they’d be taken in a very few hours.

  Standing in front of the mirror propped above the mantel, I held up my two plaits before letting them slap down against my neck. I’d had “pitch” in my hair since Poppy tried to light it on fire when I was ten. The name ‘pitch’ was for irony. It wouldn’t catch fire like actual pitch. It would take ages to get it all out. I pushed up my long black sleeves and got to work.

  Chapter 2

  I stood at the airport, hip length strawberry blond hair curling like crazy, as I waved goodbye to Revere, driving away in the nondescript gray sedan. I sucked on my lollipop, specially packed with caffeine and sugar so I’d be the bubbly macaroon I needed to be.

  It was either that or kill everyone.

  I stood there beside Señor Mort’s pink floral fabric covered cage and my pink carry-on, facing the road, waiting for the limo. I didn’t look at the kids coming towards me, pretending not to hear the guy’s, ‘the driver’s late,’ or the girl’s muttered response.

  The white limo pulled up and the driver came around, took off his white cap at us and opened the back door. I stepped forward and bumped into the guy who happened to be Zachary Stoneburrow. Ha! Like that kind of accident happens. I’d gotten in contact with one of my few friends, friend is too strong a term, one of my clients who exchanges certain services for my less marketable goods in my Darkly Sweet shop. In other words, she wanted hurters, and I wanted hacking. It was an extremely satisfying relationship.

  I pulled out my lollipop and gave him what I hoped was a sweet and shy smile.

  “Excuse me?”

  “This is my limo,” he said, his dark brows lowering over his troubled blue eyes, but he sounded uncertain.

 
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