A fever ravages New London, but with the Brotherhood sending suspected witches straight to the gallows, the Sisters are powerless against the disease. They can’t help without revealing their powers—as Cate learns when a potent display of magic turns her into the most wanted witch in all of New England.
To make matters worse, Cate has been erased from the memory of her beloved Finn. While she’s torn between protecting him from further attacks and encouraging him to fall for her all over again, she’s certain she can never forgive Maura’s betrayal. And now that Tess’s visions have taken a deadly turn, the prophecy that one Cahill sister will murder another looms ever closer to its fulfillment.
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Jessica Spotswood lives in Washington, D.C., with her playwright husband and a cuddly cat named Monkey. She’s never happier than when she’s immersed in a good story, and swoony kissing scenes are her favorite.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
FIVE MINUTES AGO
BRENNA IS DANCING UP THE MARBLE steps to the front door, and I’m following her when there’s a sound—flesh smacking against wet pavement—and I turn. Finn’s on his hands and knees; he’s tripped over the curb. He picks himself up, pokes his glasses into place, and walks back toward his carriage, but his gait lacks its usual gangly grace. He pauses, examining the carriage, looking as though he’s puzzled by it.
“Are you all right?” I call down.
He looks up at me, then ducks his head. His ears are red with embarrassment. “I’m sorry, miss—is this my carriage?”
His voice is awkward, formal. As though he’s speaking to a stranger.
His words echo in my head: I’m sorry, miss.
I thought I was numb before. This is worse. I don’t understand. I glance around the empty street. It’s only Brenna and me and Maura here—
My sister stands on the sidewalk, eyes narrowed at Finn. My Finn.
She wouldn’t do this.
Not my own sister.
I LEAVE MAURA IN THE SWIRLING SNOW and ice. I cannot look at her scheming face one moment longer, or I will not be responsible for my actions.
Inside the convent, I lean against the heavy wooden door. My black cloak is dripping, but my eyes are dry. It all feels—impossible. Harwood is empty and Zara is dead and Finn won’t remember any of it, nor anything about us. Our future has been the touchstone guiding me through this war; the promise that at the end of it we’d be together has driven me forward, even when the odds against us felt insurmountable.
How can I go on without that? Without him?
Tess runs down the hall, flinging herself at me. She must have been listening for the door. “You’re back! How did things go at Harwood? I’ve been so worried, I—” But I’m stiff in her arms, and she draws back, eyes fastened on my face. “What is it?”
“Maura knows you’re the oracle.” I wrap my arms around myself as if it will prevent me from flying into a thousand pieces. I can’t help noticing the streak of scarlet on my right palm.
Tess bites her lip. “How could Maura know that?”
My shoulders hunch. “I told her.”
“But—” My sister looks stunned. “You promised.”
It’s not like me to break a promise to my sisters. To anyone, really. I don’t give my word lightly.
That’s Maura’s fault, too. She’s made a liar of me.
Tess’s blond brows draw together over eyes that have gone as stormy as thunderclouds. “Why would you tell her, after we agreed to wait?”
That truth comes out easily enough. “I wanted to hurt her. I couldn’t think of anything else.” Maura wanted to be the oracle—the prophesied witch who would save New England—so badly. Badly enough to betray me.
What else did she erase, besides me? For the last few months, Finn’s life and mine have been intertwined. He won’t understand why his mother closed the bookshop. He’ll hate himself for joining the Brotherhood, especially now, with the Brothers subjecting innocent girls to their dungeons, to torture and starvation.
I clench my hands into fists, carving half-moons into my palms. It’s either that or scream, and if I start, I don’t know when I might stop.
“You wanted to hurt her,” Tess repeats, as if it’s incomprehensible. She stares at me as though I went away to free the Harwood girls and came back a stranger. “And you used me to do it. You shouldn’t—”
“Zara’s dead,” I interrupt, angry. I am so angry suddenly. “You saw that coming. You could have had the grace to tell me!”
Tears spring into Tess’s eyes. “I’m sorry. She asked me not to and I—I was afraid it would distract you. There was nothing you could do to stop it.” Her shoulders bow, and she looks much older than twelve. Her sigh pricks at my heart. “Is that why you told Maura? To get back at me?”
“No.” Everything is awful but it’s not Tess’s fault.
“The little one!” Brenna Elliott pops out of the parlor like a spooky jack-in-the-box. “You’re safe. I didn’t tell. They wanted me to, but I wouldn’t, not even when they hit me.”
Tess freezes as the mad oracle reaches out and pets her, stroking her blond curls. “Thank you?”
“They broke my fingers.” Brenna waggles them in Tess’s face. “But the nice crow healed me.”
Sister Sophia, she means. Sophia taught me to heal, too. It’s the only magic I’ve ever excelled at. I found satisfaction in nursing—and in proving the Brothers wrong, that not all magic is selfish and wicked.
Tonight I used my gift to stop Zara’s heart.
She asked me to help her die with dignity, and I did. But her staring brown eyes and the coppery scent of her breath already haunt me.
“You’ll be safe now, too. No one will hurt you here.” Tess pats Brenna’s arm.
“Rory will be here soon. With her sister.” Brenna’s eyes flit around like mad blue butterflies. “You and Cate-as-in-fate and the other one. The three sisters.”
“Is that Cate?” Alice Auclair strolls around the corner, smiling like the cat that ate the canary. “The Head Council is destroyed. Eleven of the twelve, anyway, including Covington!”
“I’ve heard.” If she’s waiting for my congratulations, they won’t be forthcoming. Her smile makes my skin crawl. She and Maura and Inez used their mind-magic on the Head Council, ravaging their memories so entirely that they’ll be reduced to mewling babies. The Brothers have already been teetering on the edge of violence. Less than a hundred years ago, witches were hunted almost to extinction—and a good many innocent girls were killed in the process. The Brothers have been wanting an excuse to return to their old ways, and now Inez has given them one.
The women of New England will suffer for Inez’s foolishness. Anyone a bit too educated, too eccentric, or too outspoken may be murdered outright instead of sent to Harwood. And what can I do to stop it? Nothing. There are tens of thousands of Brothers and only a few hundred witches to fight them. Our only hope is winning the public’s favor, and now Inez has mucked that up, too. The Brothers have trained the people to be terrified of mind-magic. After a horrific attack like this, we’ll be the monsters in the dark again, the stories told at bedtime to frighten children into good behavior.
Brenna grasps at my sleeve with her bony fingers, startling me out of my reverie. “It’s her,” she hisses. Her terrified eyes are trained on Alice. “The crow who pecked out all my memories!”
Alice stumbles back, looking from Brenna to me and then back to Brenna. Her porcelain skin flushes patchy and red.
Tess wraps her arm around Brenna, though she only comes up to Brenna’s chin. “She won’t do it again. It was an accident,” she soothes. Brenna whimpers like a child.
Alice turns, ready to retreat. I expect she never thought she’d have to face Brenna again. Her accident.
I step forward, blocking her way. “Look at her. Look at what you did.”
Alice looks. Takes in Brenna’s stained white blouse, her brown sack of a skirt, her tangled chestnut hair. Her emaciated face, one eye still darkened by a bruise where the Brothers hit her for refusing to cooperate. Her skinny scarecrow arms. The livid scars at her wrists from when she tried to kill herself six months ago.
“I’m sorry,” Alice whispers. “I didn’t mean to.”
She tried to make Brenna forget that the Sisters were all witches, but the compulsion went wrong.
Mind-magic is unpredictable that way.
“That’s not enough.” I take her by the shoulders. “You can’t undo it. You can never undo it!”
“Let go of me!” Alice struggles, but I’ve got a good grip. I give her a little shake.
It’s not a small thing to meddle in someone’s memory.
Our first kiss, with the Brothers just outside the door and Finn’s hands on my waist and feathers in the dark.
Our second, in the gazebo on the hill, with the wind whipping at my hair and the smell of sawdust and wet earth all around us.
Our third, on the day I told him I was a witch and he asked me to marry him anyway.
“Cate!” Tess pulls at my arm.
I relinquish Alice, stepping away. My breath is coming fast, my throat choked with tears that I will not—will not—let out. I stare at the wooden floor. At the round green rug wet with snow from my boots.
“Have you gone mad? What’s wrong with you?” Alice demands, skittering back down the hall to the sitting room. She pushes through the group of younger girls peering out the door at the commotion.
“What did Maura do?” There’s dread in Tess’s voice.
I raise my head. “She erased Finn’s memory. He doesn’t remember me.”
Tess raises a hand to her lips. “Why would she do that?”
“She’s jealous of what we have. What we had,” I correct myself. “She wanted me as lonely and bitter as she is. It worked. I’m so angry, I could kill her.”
Tess stares at me with eyes round as saucers. Those aren’t just words. Not since we uncovered the prophecy that one of us will murder another before the turn of the century. I’ve always found it impossible. We’re sisters; we love and protect each other. Nothing is stronger than that.
Brenna peeks out of the sitting room doorway. “That’s not how it goes.”
“Hush!” Tess snaps, whirling on her.
Tess never snaps.
What has she seen?
“No one is going to kill anyone.” Tess grabs my arm again, fingers pinching, trying to tow me toward the steps. There’s a touch of desperation in her voice, and I wonder if it’s me she’s trying to convince, or Brenna, or perhaps herself. “We’ll fix this. Let’s go upstairs, Cate.”
“It can’t be fixed.” Finn’s memories are gone forever; no magic can put them back. Maura betrayed my trust and there’s no way to get that back, either. I spot Tess’s friend Lucy Wheeler pacing at the other end of the hallway. “And I’m not going to run away from her. Besides, I’ve got to tell Lucy and the others how things went at Harwood.”
I wave Lucy forward, and she comes running, her chipmunk cheeks flushed, eyes full of worry. Before I can open my mouth to tell her that her big sister is fine, that we got her out of the asylum, the front door opens again and girls spill in, all dressed in the black cloaks of the Sisterhood.
“We’re home!” My roommate, Rilla, announces the obvious. “The other carriage will be along shortly. They’re going in the back.”
She’s beaming, delighted by our victory. We freed hundreds of girls who were falsely imprisoned in Harwood Asylum. Some of them fled on their own; some are being transported to safe houses in the country; six girls with important talents or ties to the Sisterhood are coming here. They’re safe—or safer than they were at Harwood with the Brothers out for blood, at any rate. Zara was the only casualty; our mission was an unqualified success—and yet I can’t find any joy in it.
“Grace!” Lucy shrieks.
“Lucy?” Grace Wheeler is a taller, skinnier version of Lucy, with snarled caramel hair and brown eyes too big for her gaunt face.
Lucy hurls herself at her sister, tears streaming down her face. “I thought I’d never see you again!”
“I thought I’d never get out of that place. I thought I’d be there until I died.” Grace looks around with trepidation. “You’re a—a witch, they said?”
Lucy nods. “All of us. But we’re not like the Brothers preach, Grace, we’re not bad—”
“I don’t care if you dance with the devil every night,” says another stranger—an older girl with vivid orange hair and a smattering of freckles. “You’re angels as far as I’m concerned, for saving us from that hellhole.”
“Caroline,” Maud chides. The redhead must be her cousin, then.
Caroline rolls her blue eyes expressively. “I believe in calling a spade a spade. That place was full of rats, and the meat they gave us was crawling often as not, and the Brothers who visited weren’t above giving us pretty ones a pinch or two. If we fought back, they gave us extra laudanum.”
My eyes flit to the third newcomer, a pretty Indo girl around my age leaning against the hall table, fiddling with the lyre-shaped letter holder. According to the nurses, Parvati was the Brothers’ favorite target.
“You’re safe now,” I assure her. “No one will—”
My words die in my throat as Maura steps out from behind the others. “Welcome to the Sisterhood, girls. I’m Maura Cahill. You’re safe here—so long as we can expect your loyalty.”
My body goes taut as a bowstring just before the arrow sails home. “Oh, you’re a fine one to talk about loyalty!”
“This isn’t the time, Cate.” Her sapphire skirts rustle as she positions herself in the middle of the hall, a bluebird surrounded by crows. “We’d all be executed if the Brothers discovered what we are. The secrets of the Sisterhood are not shared lightly. Particularly not with outsiders.”
“Grace is my sister,” Lucy protests.
“But she’s not a witch.” Maura waves a dismissive hand at Grace. “The Sisterhood comes first, Lucy.”
Lucy shakes her head, braids dancing. “Not before my own flesh and blood it doesn’t.”
I give a strangled laugh. “Oh, not according to Maura.”
Rilla wrinkles her freckled nose. “I don’t see how Maura gets any say in this. She didn’t lift a finger to help these girls.”
“It was all Cate. Elena and Cate and that marvelous beau of hers.” Violet van Buren gives me an arch look, and my stomach twists. “Now I see why you wouldn’t give Finn up. My Lord, the way he looks at you!”
“Vi—” Tess begins, her fingers fluttering like trapped moths.
“I’d give my eyeteeth to have someone look at me like that.” Vi clasps her hands to her bosom, sighing. “It’s so romantic. You’ll marry him, won’t you? When all this is over?”
That’s what I wanted. More than anything.
I’ve kept Finn a secret for weeks. I was afraid that the more people who knew he was spying for the Sisterhood, the more danger he’d be in. But all the girls at Harwood tonight saw him. Now they’ll ask me about him and—
I don’t know if I can bear that.
“I don’t think so,” I choke out.
“Why not?” Vi’s plummy eyes are puzzled.
“Ask Maura.” I jerk my head at her. “Tell them what you did.”
Maura won’t meet my eyes. “Don’t make this about us. There are more important things to discuss.” She turns her back on me, and her condescension makes me want to yank her red curls out by the roots. I wish we could settle this as easily as one of our old childhood brawls.
“I’ll tell them, then.” I step into the center of the hall, the center of attention—a place I’ve never relished. The words spill out of me, jumbled and passionate. “Finn joined the Brotherhood for me. He hated every minute of it, everything they stand for. He knew I was a witch, and he loved me anyway—no, not anyway. He was proud of me. He risked his life to spy for the Sisterhood and to help free you all. If they’d caught him, he would have been executed.” I feel as though I’m giving a eulogy, and perhaps I am. “But Sister Inez wanted Maura to prove just how ruthless she could be. She didn’t approve of a Brother knowing our secrets. And Maura—she’s always been jealous that I had Finn, so she went into his mind and erased me. That’s the kind of girl she is—the kind of sister. She would betray any one of us in a heartbeat.”
Maura stares at me, wordless, cheeks flaming. The other girls draw away from her as if the brush of her skirts contains some contagion.
“Go, Maura. Go to your room,” Tess says finally...
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