It is the winter of 1805 and the only thing sixteen year old Arlen Devlin is thinking of is the ball that will introduce her to high society and that ‘elegant madness’ known as The Season. But when her parents are suddenly killed, Arlen's life takes a decidedly witchy turn, beginning with the discovery of a grandmother she never knew and a book of spells that has been handed down for generations. However, this isn’t just any book of spells. This is a family’s heritage, a compilation of every scrap of magick gathered over the course of history. It’s the family’s grimoire. And someone wants hers.
Soon Arlen learns that the tragedy that took her parents’ lives may not have been an accident and hers isn’t the only heirloom book of spells. Each of the five great witch families has one and whoever holds the book holds the power in this England, where magick has as much influence as money, spells are traded for favors, and witches are courted like queens.
It will take every talent Arlen has – her mastery of the imp, Vathek, her ability to talk to the dead, and her flair for potions – to navigate this new world, and maybe, if she’s very careful and very clever, she’ll survive.
The First Chapter:
Chapter One - February 1805/Providence
It was a fine day for a sale, brisk but sunny; a good day for traveling as evidenced by the crowd in the lane. Most came to buy. Some came out of curiosity. None of them noticed her sitting in the hall, alone, left with nothing but a single trunk.
Arlen watched them, blinking back furious tears, winding her fingers together so tight it hurt. She itched to slap their hands away from whatever they touched, snatch back what they’d bought. How dare they? These were her things!
Her parents, coming home from a dinner party in nearby Saxton Greene, had been killed when their carriage careened into the pond at the entrance to the property. They were found with their driver all frozen and stiff the next morning when one of the kitchen maids walked in from the village. The coroner said it was an accident.
Not long after, Mr. P. T. James Esquire, Solicitor to her father’s estate, arrived to give her worse news, if such a thing was possible. Her father, through a series of bad investments and heavy borrowing, had left nothing in the way of assets behind. In fact, the estate’s debts were such that everything would have to be sold.
Now all the pretty things her parents had collected, the baubles and crystal lamps, the paintings in their gilt frames, the plants in the conservatory – including the lovely gown she was supposed to wear for her coming out ball – were walking out in the hands of strangers.
It was all she could do not to scream.
She looked at the single trunk left to her, stuffed with everything she could manage to get in it. That was all she was allowed per the papers she’d been advised to sign. A single trunk.
She sighed and wished it were over, hoping there might be enough left to buy her way to London to find work – although what she would do there she had no idea. She’d never done anything more strenuous than riding. She wouldn’t know an ash bin from an ash pan and it had occurred to her more than once that her future appeared quite dim indeed – if she even had one.
She untangled her fingers and wiped a stray tear, blinking angrily. She would not cry, she told herself with a sniff. Not now. Later maybe, when she was alone, when she was…wherever she might be…
She took a deep ragged breath and cast her eyes toward the open door where people had been coming and going since dawn. The cold air swirled around her ankles every time someone walked by – as they did now.
Arlen snapped her head up.
A saucy looking boy her own age looked her up and down before asking, “Where’s Mr. James?”
She gazed up at him in surprise. “I haven’t the slightest idea,” she answered shortly. How could she? He could be in any one of the thirty-two rooms. Rooms that used to be hers, she thought bitterly.
He shook his head and muttered something uncomplimentary under his breath, already half way to the double doors that led to the oval gallery.
She was no one now, she realized, not Arlen Calvinia Devlin, who had been named after her great grandfather and a place in Africa she had never seen, but just Arlen Devlin. Or perhaps it would be Miss Devlin. Or…God forbid…perhaps they would call her something else entirely. She had heard of a countess who refused to call servants by their given names, and instead insisted upon calling them all Ted and Mary.
She shuddered, a sense of unreality washing over her, knotting her stomach. Another draft of icy air wound around her ankles, biting through the thin stockings, and she heard whispers…
“…an accident, I understand…”
“Didn’t they have a child?”
“…left with nothing, can you imagine? It will be the workhouse for her…”
The rest was lost as they moved past but an image came to Arlen’s mind, an image of the Devlins – her family – gathered in the library to hear the reading of the will. She hadn’t noticed it then but now she saw how eager they had all been, like dogs at mealtime. Afterwards, when Mr. James had finished telling them there wasn’t a farthing to be had, they had all looked at one another, stunned and silent, until Arlen had asked, “What about me?”
“I expect one of your relatives will have to take you in,” Mr. James said.
And that was when she’d felt the cruelest blow of all. They all began to protest at once, claiming financial difficulty, not enough room, too many mouths to feed, etc. Without further ado or a backward glance they left.
“Well,” Mr. James had said after a long and uncomfortable silence, “I don’t suppose there was someone who did not come, someone on your mother’s side of the family perhaps?”
Arlen had shaken her head; as far as she knew she had no living relatives on her mother’s side of the family. At least, her mother had never spoken of any. And her father’s side of the family had just walked out. Her world, so neat and secure, had collapsed like a house of cards, leaving her behind in the paper wreckage.
“I shall look into it, of course,” Mr. James had said, gathering his papers, “But in the meantime, I’m afraid everything will have to be sold. Your parents were lovely people but neither of them had a head for business.”
Arlen stared at him, wordless. How could this have happened?
He rose then with a sigh. “Are you quite certain there is no one?”
“Well, perhaps there is something I overlooked, something in your father’s papers.” He offered what was meant to be an encouraging smile but Arlen was not encouraged. Instead it seemed everything grew darker and closer about her. She shivered, pulling her cashmere shawl close around her shoulders.
He promised to look into the matter and left Arlen in the study with a fire burning in the hearth that did nothing to warm her. After he had gone, she wandered about the house in a daze, only vaguely aware of the days passing, never noticing the servants slipping away, until she woke up one morning to find the house cold and empty.
It had been weeks before anyone had come. She didn’t remember their names but she remembered the papers they brought for her to sign along with the terms of the sale. Now it was just a matter of seeing the estates debt settled. She knew she would be fortunate to get a pound or two. Sadly, she had no idea what that would buy.
A long sigh escaped her. Outside the sun still lingered, but it would not be long until dusk. She shivered, wondering where she would be, knowing only that it wouldn’t be here. Another sigh was on the verge of escaping when she heard footsteps and saw Mr. James, walking toward her, beaming, waving a piece of paper in the air.
“I have wonderful news!”
Arlen’s heart fluttered in trepidation.
“You have a great-aunt or something on your mother’s side of the family and she has sent 5£ for your journey! She says a carriage should be around this afternoon. Better fetch your things.”
Arlen stared at him a moment longer, the information slow to sink in. She gestured to the trunk. “This is everything,” she said.
“Ah, good then! You’ll be ready when the coach arrives.”
Thankfully she did not have much longer to wait in the frigid entryway of a house that was no longer hers. The mail coach arrived and Arlen soon found herself sandwiched between a brisk looking matron and a portly gentleman in tweed who smelled of pipe tobacco. She turned around for one last glimpse of the house in which she’d grown up.
For a brief moment it looked perfectly ordinary and familiar, just as it always had – until she spotted two figures standing in the shadow of the portico, both of whom bore a strong resemblance to her parents. They waved cheerily at her, as if she were going off on a grand journey.