By nine o’clock on Halloween night, I had decided that something was definitely off with the witches of Boulder.
If I hadn’t been leaning against a wall watching the crowd, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it, or maybe I would have written it off as their discomfort with my presence. Hazel Pellar, the witch leader of all of Colorado, had invited me to her farm to attend her clan’s Samhain festivities—a cocktail party followed by some kind of outdoor ceremony—as a PR move, to prove to the other witches that I wasn’t really as scary as my abilities might imply.
It was a nice thought, I guess, but the night was turning into a minor disaster. The other witches didn’t want anything to do with me, since my magic deals exclusively with the boundary between life and death. In their defense, witches with my bloodline have been accused of some pretty horrific things over the years: child sacrifices, raising armies of the dead, killing people with our minds. Not to mention fairly large chapters of the Inquisition. I wish I could say it was all slander, but really, that list was probably just what boundary witches had gotten caught doing.
As for me, well, I had only found out about all of this a couple of months ago, but that didn’t seem to matter to the women chatting in tight clusters on the other side of Hazel Pellar’s living room. If anything, my ignorance only made me more dangerous in their eyes. I did have a couple of allies in Clan Pellar, but Hazel’s son, Simon, was still at home recovering from injuries he’d sustained while helping me, and his sister Lily had been pressed into service as co-host: putting away coats, checking on refreshments, that kind of thing.
So I stood alone, nursing a glass of white wine and trying to keep my own social anxiety off my face. All the isolation gave me plenty of time to notice a certain uneasiness in the air, a miasma that seemed to spread from person to person like an airborne electric shock. It wasn’t just my presence, because the witches arriving at the party seemed ill at ease before they even spotted me.
I reached out and snagged Lily as she rushed through the room with a stack of napkins. “Hey, Lex!” she said brightly, wheeling around to face me. Lily was dressed like most of the women at the party, in a long skirt and knit top with little holes punched through the sleeves for her thumbs, a modest silver nose ring in one nostril. On everyone else, the look seemed like an amusingly outdated attempt at hippie chic. But with her flawless dark skin and inherent grace, Lily could have just stepped off a bohemian runway. “Sorry I haven’t been by yet. I want to hear all about your trip.” I winced, not really ready to discuss the unfortunate few days I’d spent in Los Angeles. Luckily Lily trailed off, looking around me with annoyance. “No one’s talking to you?” she demanded.
Her pretty face clouded over with irritation. “Goddamned witches,” she spat. “They shouldn’t be ostracizing you; acceptance is supposed to be their whole thing.” She set a fistful of napkins down on a nearby table and turned around to face the room. “Let me just have a word with a few of these nice . . . ladies.”
“Whoa.” I grabbed her elbow as she stepped forward, steering her back to me with her own momentum. “Leave it, Lily. Yelling at them isn’t going to get me anywhere.”
“But they’re treating you like a leper because of your frickin’ blood,” she protested, getting worked up. “This is such archaic bullshit! Not to mention total hypocrisy—”
“Maybe,” I interrupted her, keeping my own voice low. “But the last time these people saw me, I was drunk on magic and about to flick your mother into the next county. Give them some time.” Lily’s face softened a little, and I pressed my advantage. “Time in which I appear to be calm, normal, and harmless. Not like a kid throwing a tantrum because she can’t make friends.”
She held up her hands. “Okay, okay. I’ll play nice.”
“Thank you.” I took a deep breath. “Listen, is something else going on tonight?”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s a weird vibe here. At first I thought it was just . . . you know, me, but everyone seems really antsy.”
Lily frowned and looked around, her gaze taking in the tight body language of the guests. Then she squeezed her eyes shut, a look of fierce concentration on her face. When she opened them again, she surveyed the crowd critically, and I knew she had tuned in to the magical spectrum to check their auras. I couldn’t do that. Nor could I access most of the other magic available to these witches. I could tune in to a magical spectrum of my own, but it was pretty much limited to seeing life essences, the spirits or souls that inhabited living creatures. “You’re right,” she murmured. “Their auras are weird, like they’re churning or something. Well, not yours, of course—”
“Lily,” said a steely voice behind us. I turned and saw Hazel Pellar approaching. She was a Caucasian woman in her midfifties, dressed in simple black slacks and a bronze-colored sweater that set off the silver in her long braid. She looked stern, but to be fair I don’t think I’d ever seen Hazel when she didn’t look stern. “Where are those napkins? That wine spill is starting to set.”
“Mom, are you seeing these auras?” Lily asked. “They’re all shifty tonight.”
I watched Hazel’s reaction carefully. I knew from experience that unlike most witches, Hazel Pellar couldn’t turn off her view of the magical plane. She saw auras all the time, which was why she’d thrown me into the side of my own car the first time we met. Boundary witches have very telling black auras, a fact I’d learned when I regained consciousness.