Home > Witches of East End (The Beauchamp Family #1)(6)

Witches of East End (The Beauchamp Family #1)(6)
Author: Melissa de la Cruz

She finished with the far wall and assessed her work. She had chosen a pale daffodil yellow, a very Bouguereau shade: the color of a nymph’s smile. Satisfied, she moved on to the other side. As she carefully painted around the window trim, she looked through the glass panels across the sea, to Gardiners Island and Fair Haven. The whirlwind around Freya’s engagement had been exhausting, all that bowing and scraping to that Madame Grobadan, Bran’s stepmother, who made it clear she thought her boy was too good for Freya. She was happy for her daughter, but apprehensive as well. Would her wild girl truly settle down this time? Joanna hoped Freya was right about Bran, that he was the one for her, the one she had been waiting for all these long years.

Not that anyone needed a husband. She should know. Been there, done that. And if some days she felt like a shriveled-up old hag whose insides were are dry as dust, whose skin had not touched that of a man for so long, those were the days when she was just feeling sorry for herself. It wasn’t as if she had to be alone; there were many older gentlemen in town who had made it quite clear they would welcome the chance to make her nights less lonely. Yet she was not quite a widow, and she was not quite divorced, which meant she was not quite single or as free as she would like to be. She was separated. That was a good word. They lived separate lives now, and that was how she wanted it.

Her husband had been a good man, a good provider, her rock, when it all came down to it. But he had not been able to help them during the crisis and for that she would never forgive him. Of course it was not his fault, all that hysteria and bloodshed, but he had not been able to stop the Council from passing down their judgment either, when the dust finally settled and the evil had passed. Her poor girls: she could still see them, their lifeless bodies silhouetted in the dusk. She would never forget it, and even though they had come back relatively unscathed (if one considered being declawed, powerless, and domesticized unscathed) she could not quite find it in her heart to make room for him in her life once again.

“Right, Gilly?” she asked, turning to her pet raven, Gillbereth, who was privy to her thoughts and was currently perched on top of the grandfather clock.

Gilly fluffed her wings and craned her long black neck toward the window, and Joanna followed her gaze. When she saw what the raven wanted her to see she dropped her roller, splashing a few drops of paint on the stone floor. She rubbed it with her boot and made it worse.

The raven cawed.

“Okay, okay, I’ll go down and check it out,” she said, leaving the house through the back door and walking straight down to the dunes. Sure enough, there they were: three dead birds. They had drowned—their feathers were mottled and wet, and the skin around their talons looked burned. Their bodies formed an ugly cross on the pristine stretch of sand.

Joanna looked down at the small, stiff bodies. What a pity. What a waste. They were beautiful birds. Large raptors with pure white breasts and ebony beaks. Ospreys. The birds were native to the area, and a large colony lived on Gardiners Island, where they built their nests right on the beach. The birds were dangerous creatures, natural predators, but vulnerable as all wild creatures were vulnerable to the march of progress and development.

Like her girls, Joanna struggled to conform to the bounds of the restriction. They had agreed to abide it in exchange for their immortal lives. The Council had taken their wands and most of their books, burned their broomsticks and confiscated their cauldrons. But more than that, the Council had taken away their understanding of themselves. They had decreed there was no place for their kind in this world with magic, and yet the reality was that there was no place for them without it either.

With her fingers, Joanna began to dig at the wet sand, and gently buried the dead birds. It would have taken only a few words, the right incantation, to bring them back to life, but if she even attempted to wield an ounce of her remarkable abilities, who knew what the Council would take away next.

When she returned to the house, she shook her head at the sight of the kitchen. There were dirty pots everywhere, and the girls had taken to using every piece of china and silverware they could get their hands on rather than run the dishwasher, so the sink and the counter were overflowing with a messy jumble of expensive antique porcelain plates. The china closet in the hall was almost empty. If this went on any longer, they would be eating from serving trays next. It would not do. One expected this of Freya, of course, who was used to chaos. Ingrid always looked impeccable and that library of hers was spotless, but the same could not be said for her housekeeping skills. Joanna had raised her girls to be lovely, interesting, as strong in character as in their former talent for witchcraft, and as a consequence they were completely useless in domestic matters.

Of course, as their mother she was not completely blameless in this field. After all, she could have spent the morning cleaning up rather than painting the living room again. But while she enjoyed refurbishing and renovating, she detested the daily household chores that kept life on an even keel. Or at least kept it sanitary. She saw Siegfried, Freya’s black cat and familiar, slink in through the pet door.

“The girls have invited lots of little mice here for you, haven’t they?” She smiled, picking him up and cuddling his soft fur. “Sorry to tell you it’s not going to last, liebchen.”

For want of a wand, a house was lost, Joanna thought. If she could use magic to clean her house, she would not need a dishwasher. The doorbell rang. She wiped her hands on her jeans and ran to answer it. She opened the door slowly and smiled. “Gracella Alvarez?”

“Si,” smiled a small, dark-haired woman standing at the doorway with a little boy.

“Bueno! Come in, come in,” Joanna said, sweeping them into the half-painted living room. “Thank you for coming so early. As you can see we really need some help around here,” she said, looking at the house as if for the first time. Dust bunnies sprouted in the corners, large sacks of laundry bloomed in the stairway, the mirrors were so cloudy it had become impossible to see one’s reflection.

The agency had recommended the Alvarezes highly. Gracella kept house while her husband, Hector, took care of the grounds, which included the pool, the landscaping, the gardens, and the roof. Gracella explained that her husband was finishing a job out of town but would meet them that afternoon. The family was to stay in the cottage out back, and they had brought their things in the car.

Joanna nodded. “And who’s this cherub?” she asked, leaning down to tickle the boy’s belly. The boy jumped away and flapped his arms, giggling.

“This is Tyler.”

At his mother’s prompting the boy spoke. “I’m four,” he said deliberately, rocking his heels up and down. “Four. Four. Four. Four Four.”

“Wonderful.” Joanna remembered her own boy, so long ago. She wondered if she would ever see him again.

Tyler’s Mickey Mouse T-shirt was stained and his eyes were bright and merry. When Joanna moved to shake his hand he shied away from her but allowed her to pat his head. “Good to meet you, Tyler Alvarez. I’m Joanna Beauchamp. Now, while your mother gets settled, would you like to take a walk down to the beach with me?”

Tyler spent the afternoon running around in circles. Joanna looked at him affectionately. Every once in a while he would look over his shoulder to make sure she was still there. He seemed to take to her immediately, which his mother remarked upon before letting him accompany her to the beach. When he got tired of running, they picked seashells together. Joanna found a perfectly formed cockleshell that the boy immediately brought up to his ear. He laughed at the sound and she smiled to see it. Still, she could not help but feel apprehensive, even in her delight at her new young friend. It throbbed right underneath the idyllic moment, just below the surface.

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