A Witch’s Beating Heart

Book 1, A Witch’s Beating Heart, available from Amazon Kindle and Kindle Unlimited on June 22, 2019. You can pre-order now. Don’t miss the start of this exciting new academy urban fantasy series that is inspired by–but not a direct retelling–of Snow White!

My twin Misty and I may have been brought up poor witch trash in the Gloaming’s only trailer park, but our magic is strong as hell and we plan to take this shadow realm by storm now that we’ve graduated high school. We think our dreams have come true the day an engraved invitation to Eternal Academy arrives. The truth is that we’ve never been in more danger…

We knew we were adopted but are in for a shock when our parents reveal the handwritten note they confiscated just before we got our invitation. It’s addressed to two witches who are supposed to be dead. Someone knows the deadly truth our adoptive parents thought they’d kept hidden. The Witch Queen tried to have us killed when we were toddlers, and our adoptive aunt sacrificed her life to convince the evil queen that the pig hearts the assassin delivers are ours.

Nobody says no to an Eternal Academy education, and nobody’s ever crossed the Witch Queen and lived to tell the tale. If the truth reaches our royal adversary, academy bullies and impossible finals will be the least of our worries. We could lose our hearts for real–and not to classmate crushes.

Read on for Chapter One:

Chapter 1

The best part about being born (okay, adopted into) poor witch trash was just how little everyone expected from you. I freaking rocked my teachers’ worlds during four years at Gloaming Public High. Imagine, someone from our shadow realm’s trailer park actually making valedictorian? The fact it shocked them both thrilled me and pissed me off enough to eat nails.

Not that I would. Witches were allergic to iron.

My fraternal twin Misty, on the other hand, didn’t choose to exceed expectations so much as stomp them into itty bitty pieces beneath her high-heeled boots. As if my slightly older, much taller twin needed the extra height. Although she was currently using her superior height to great advantage as she danced around our tiny shared bedroom, holding out my first of several college acceptance letters as she mocked me soundly.

“The University of Gloaming? Really? That’s the first acceptance letter you’re gonna open? Everyone knows that place is for party girls like me and not…”

I made one last futile jump for the acceptance letter. Jumping was so not my forte. Well, not without magic to boost me, and my personal energizer bunny (okay, cat) was currently in the Eternal soaking up magical rays.

“And not what, Misty?” I asked with a deliberate tremble in my voice.

Teasing was like her fave pastime, but my sister had a heart of gold. The mere thought she might have truly hurt me acted like her personal kryptonite. She lowered her guard and, more important, her long-ass arms; allowing me to snag my acceptance letter and rip open the envelope. And yeah, we were both so sure this was an acceptance letter (hello, class valedictorian who busted her magical ass here) that it took a few moments for reality to set in.

We regret to inform you that we are unable to extend an invitation to attend our university. Please note our decision is final for this year, but you may reapply next year should that prove necessary.

“They don’t want me.”

The unexpected sting of rejection had tears pricking my eyes and my lips wobbling for real this time. Dammit. No matter that we’d been raised by the best, most loving adoptive parents ever. Being deemed unworthy still hurt like hell. Usually, though, where Misty would crack a smartass joke and I would use it as fuel to fire my overachieving ways, today it just sucked the fight right out of me.

UoG was my fallback option, the one I’d choose only if Misty failed to get in somewhere more to my tastes. What the hell did they mean I wasn’t good enough for them?

Misty crossed her arms and scowled. “That can’t be right. Are you sure that letter’s not meant for me?”

My annoyance at the suggestion I couldn’t read my own damned name was tempered by the display of utter faith. Most mortal sisters had each other’s backs through thick or thin, and that went double, double for witches.

“It clearly says Crystal Gibbs.” Somehow I managed to keep the daggers out of my voice.

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t screw something up in their system. Two sisters, same surname, same high school and graduation date. Mixups happen.”

That lifted my spirits somewhat, but then they crashed again. There was like zero point in my getting into UoG if Misty didn’t. She was definitely a good enough candidate for them. She’d been a solid A and B student who participated in a ton of extracurricular activities. Just not Little Miss Academic Overachiever like me. It made even less sense that they might deem me unworthy.

She waved at the other envelopes piled on my lumpy twin mattress on the floor; those  she hadn’t managed to snag before I could sort them. “Screw UoG either way. You and I are like the strongest witches to grace Gloaming High’s halls in decades. No way some other school isn’t gonna snap us up. Whether here or in one of the other shadow realms.”

“True, and true again!” I forced a tone of optimism I didn’t usually have to fake before plopping down on my mattress to finish sorting. Misty sank down on the mattress to my left.

When finished, there were nine letters addressed to Misty and nine letters addressed to me. We’d applied to all the same magical institutions, knowing we’d either choose the same school or at least two located in close proximity. It’d been a little embarrassing to accept the application fee waivers our guidance counselor arranged for us, but swallow our pride we had. This was our one shot to get our family out of the trailer park, and we were damned well going to take it.

All the schools offered work-study options or excellent scholarship packages to witches like us. Poor as dirt but strong as hell: every rich college donor’s dream come true.

Only one of those envelopes belonged to the wildcard option we’d either never both get into or be unable to afford, no matter how many work-study hours were available. That would wait for last. I really needed an ego-boost of acceptances before tearing into that one.

Except that’s not what happened. One by one we ripped open our letters. One by one they opened with the same, “We regret to inform you…”

Instead of bitter rejection, all I felt by the seventh letter was numb. It became clear that this was no coincidence. There was no way we could have been legitimately rejected by every single school we applied to. The odds just didn’t add up. We should have gotten into at least a couple of the less prestigious options. That was the whole point of applying to them.

Misty appeared as shell-shocked as me when our glances met. “What in the Infernal Blazes is going on?”

No witch, not even my rule-bending sister, swore upon the Infernal realm lightly. That showed just how shocking this impossible situation felt.

My lips twisted into a grim line. “Obviously someone has blackballed us.”

She shook her head in denial. “No way I buy that. Me maybe. Hella unlikely that all the schools would reject me, although I’ve pissed off enough people over the years to make that just barely possible. But you? No freaking way.”

She reached down to grab all her letters angrily and made as if to rip them, but I snatched her arm back. “No! We have to at least check the last one.”

Her arm fell, but she rolled her striking magenta eyes, colored the same vibrant shade as her hair from the flavor of her magic. The same way mine were a brilliant teal that a mortal could only gain from a bottle. The color disparity marked us as fraternal rather than identical. Well, that and the six-inch height difference.

“What’s the point? Either only you got in or no way in hell we can afford it. And I know you’ll just refuse to go if I didn’t get in, too.”

“Oh ye of little faith,” I managed to joke. “Miracles do happen to little witches every day.”

“Yeah, when their rich-witch parents bribe the right people,” she muttered.

I just sighed, since I couldn’t argue the cold, hard truth, and snagged her envelope to rip into it. “Jeez, they sure go all out on the expensive-ass vellum for rejections,” I joked, only to widen my eyes as my heart started to pound. Misty’s eyes sharpened, but she remained silent as I started to read out loud.

“We are extremely pleased to extend our most heartfelt invitation to you and your sister, Crystal, as part of the next class to enter the hallowed halls of the witch world’s most prestigious university. It pleases us even more to announce you have both been awarded full-ride scholarships covering everything from tuition and books to room and board, thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor.”

Silence reigned as we sat there in a mix of shock and joy for a good minute before breaking into squeals. “Oh my goddess, Crystal! We both got into Eternal Academy!”

We embraced and then jumped up and down in giddiness. “And they’re going to pay for everything!”

Our mouths dropped open as the enormity of that statement sank in. Assuming we made it through the next four years of hard work and rich-witch backstabbing, we would be set for life. Never mind our trailer park roots. We would have our choice of career paths and cushy job offers after graduation. This was a dream come true.

The extreme decibel level of our impromptu celebration had our mother shuffling into the room to check on us. She may have been slow on her feet ever since a tragic accident on her old job, but her mind remained as sharp as ever. Which was both blessing and curse, since she remembered the loss of both her familiars and magic keenly. She resented the loss of all but the most basic of spellcasting far more than the decreased physical mobility.

“What in tarnation has got you two so fired up in here?” Her maternal eagle eyes locked on the pile of envelopes and lit up. “Why didn’t you girls wake me so I could go through those with you?”

We couldn’t admit the truth out loud–that we hadn’t wanted to wake her since sleep came so hard for her these days–so Misty went for her usual sarcasm.

“Can’t a girl open her own mail in private, Mom? Some of us have more academic stage fright than others.”

Mom rolled her eyes and leaned against the doorway to ease the strain on her back and legs. There was nowhere to sit in our tiny bedroom other than the two mattresses on the floor.

“I’m sure both you girls got into plenty of good schools. There will be work-study options and scholarships, and your father and big brother are already planning to take extra shifts to help buy books and such.”

Misty’s eyes twinkled as she drawled, “Only got into one, Mom.”

Our mother blinked as her brain tried to shift gears. “Well, honey, it only takes one to change your whole future. And I’m sure one of Crystal’s options will be close to yours. Unless you both got into the same school?”

“Oh, we did alright,” I was the one to drawl. “In fact, it’s the only school either of us got into.”

Disbelief and unease flashed across her face. “What? How the hell did you only get into one school?” Her lips twitched, and she shot Misty an apologetic look. “No offense.”

“Remember: You said it only takes one to change our whole future.” Boy, was that an understatement. “And my new theory is that the one school we both got into scared off all the others. I’ve heard they do that sometimes.”

Unease blossomed into outright terror. Something that seemed out of character and completely unnecessary. I rushed to reassure her with the amazing news that our parents would never again need fear for our future.

“Mom, we both got full-ride scholarships to none other than Eternal Academy!”

Misty opened her arms wide and flashed jazz hands, proclaiming, “Ta da!” at the top of her lungs; only to then have to shift course and grab for our mother when she did something neither of us expected. Fainted.