Merged Series: Book 2
She’s undead. Town magic protections gone awry. Can she uncover the truth before it kills them all?
Thorns of the Rose is a standalone second book in the Merged Series.
Excerpt: Unproofed / Unedited
Dawn, Primum second, 295 years post-Merge
Rose Callahand opened her eyes. The shield protecting the town of Hope glimmered like a soap bubble. She’d made it through. Relief filled her chest with warmth. Her mission still had a chance.
She didn’t remember actually crossing the shield. Her last memory was touching the shield at high sun, but now the dew on the grass and the first hint of light made everything seem gray. Had it taken all afternoon and night to cross? She shivered. The trees loomed above her. Nothing moved. The silence weighed her down.
Mistress Yaneli had determined that the shield was corrupted and was the reason for the sicknesses running rampant through Hope. Rose’s mission seemed simple: take the stone necklace with the fire symbol to the man who would be waiting for her outside of the shield. Giving him the stone would allow him to break the shield around Hope.
Rose got to her knees and touched her neck where the stone should be.
There was no necklace.
Panic added a beat to her heart. Had she lost it? She slapped at her pockets. Nothing. Without it, her mission was a failure and her girls were in danger. Fear and failure crept up her back. The panic doubled.
No, she couldn’t have failed.
The silver stone had been on a piece of twine. Perhaps the twine had broken in the crossing. She scanned the ground near her and saw a glimmer of gold. A different necklace with a thin gold chain and a locket sat in the grass. It wasn’t what she was looking for, but she picked it up anyway.
The necklace stung her finger. Pain radiated up her hand, making it clench on the chain. The pain passed after a moment, leaving her dizzy. Someone else must have lost this necklace; she could try to return it.
Rose put on the chain. A strong urge to open the locket tightened her fingers. She ran her fingertip along the seam. The urge she felt was unnatural in its strength. The mission was more important than what was inside the locket. She would look inside later after looking for the stone necklace.
She dropped the locket, and when it hit her chest, a sudden foreboding struck her along with the sense that once she opened the locket, she would never be able to put back what she released into the world. This was her Pandora’s Box. She shook her head to dispel the feeling. The mission and her girls were more important.
As she searched more ground around her, she resisted the urge to look inside the locket. But the necklace warmed against her chest and pulled at her imagination. What would be within it? Could it help her find the stone and salvage her mission? Could it help her protect her girls from Mistress Yaneli?
The last thought brought her up short. There was much she would risk, including this mission for Mistress Yaneli, to protect her daughters.
Finally, she opened the locket, revealing a photo of her two daughters grinning at the camera with their brown hair curling around their faces. She didn’t remember taking such a picture. On the other side was engraved, “So we can see those we have lost”. The dizziness returned, her chest burned, and she leaned heavily on one arm.
Suddenly, the knowledge that her daughters were dead hit her in the heart. My girls are dead. Loss, sadness, and regret throttled her heart, squeezing it until she couldn’t breathe.
Hope had killed her girls. She was sure of that. The thought echoed in her head and fear rose from her burning chest. Overwhelming, crushing fear brought tears to her eyes and blurred the world. She had to get away from Hope and never go back.
Rose stumbled to her feet, gasping for breath. The smell of the loam with its hint of decayed leaves filled her nose.
Hope was behind her, so she scrambled forward.
She stumbled, landing hard against a tree. The bark was rough against her fingers. Her breath caught in her lungs, producing short, choppy sobs in her throat. She pushed forward blindly, tripping over something, then she toppled. The ground rushed up to meet her. Dirt dusted her mouth and pain lanced her hands and knees. She had to keep moving. The desperate urge to distance herself from Hope spurred her forward.
The sound of her own breathing echoed in her ears. She crawled until the ground gave way in front of her, and she tumbled forward and landed hard. The fear loosened its hold on her chest, but it still stalked too close.
She took a pull of cool air and worked to calm herself.
A crunch sounded next to her. She opened her eyes to a pair of boots. Crouched next to her was a young man with scars covering his face. The man tilted his head, evaluating her with eyes that seemed far older than his young appearance. “Are you okay?”
She nodded even though she wasn’t sure if it was true. The fear was still there in the back of her mind. It was smaller and more manageable. But the sense of grief from losing her girls still weighed her down. She tucked the necklace under her shirt and tried to focus on survival. She couldn’t go back to Hope. Even thinking the town’s name brought the fear closer.
“Need help standing?” His gaze traveled from her skinned knees to her nose and eyes. His scarred face twisted with sympathy. He had the look of a man who was distressed by a crying woman.
“At some point.” She lifted her chin even as the tears fell down her cheeks. She didn’t feel threatened by him, but the wretched sadness that crawled up her back made her glad she wasn’t alone.
He handed her a handkerchief and looked away, giving her some privacy. She blotted her face and then blew her nose, taking her time to evaluate him. Everything said that this man could be trusted. She took a breath and worked to lock down her feelings. It had been a long time since she’d been this out of control.
“I’m Joshua Lighthouse,” he said as he sat next to her on the ground.