Chapter 1

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Blood and Ashes

Author's Note: This is the first chapter of a Paranormal Romance novel about a witch and the enchanting faerie that comes into her life. There is some adult content later in this novel.

CHAPTER 1

The minute I sliced my finger, Devin moved into the apartment across the hall. That was an omen.

I had spent the morning scouring our neighborhood for edible wild plants. The city had been crumbling ever since the factories had shut down. Buildings looked like they'd been hit with bombs. People lived in the shadows, as though trying to survive the aftermath of war.

There were no jobs. The adults were mostly broken. Once there had been work; now there was nothing but desperation. Addiction and self-destruction took over. Human beings could become addicted to almost anything: liquor, drugs, religion. A few whipped together self-starter jobs. Those were the stubborn and creative types.

Mavis, a lady down the street who had once been a secretary for one of the factory managers, dragged her barbecue grill out of the backyard of her apartment building up at the corner every Friday and Saturday night. She grilled stacks of chicken parts—mostly thighs and wings—slathered in her own homemade barbecue sauce, and corn on the cob. The heavenly aroma wafted down the street and made everyone hungry. She set reasonable prices and started making a small income. After a few months, some celebrity chef sampled her food as he was driving through our neighborhood. He mentioned it on TV and that brought in the crowds. Those were people with enough money to try new things, but not the guts to hang around our section any longer than they needed to.

I tried to be like Mavis. The eldest of five children, I tried to make creative meals while my mom busied herself at our local church and the soup kitchen they ran. Before he drank himself to death, my dad had busied himself in the bars. He'd been no help at all after he'd lost his job.

I tossed a pile of dandelions into a colander and stuck it under the faucet. When I turned the handle, water split the beams of sunlight that poured through our kitchen window into separate colors. Tiny rainbow sprites danced around our chipped porcelain sink.

As I shook the flowers, droplets of water clung to their soft yellow petals. I removed the stems, chopped them up and added everything to a bowl of lettuce leaves. Lettuce was plentiful. If I foraged blocks away, I always found piles of lettuce heads in the dumpsters behind the upscale restaurants. Health codes required food establishments to throw out produce before it had a chance to brown. Restaurants in our own neighborhood didn't abide by the same rules. Where health inspectors didn't come around that often, wilted lettuce could always be stuffed into a taco or under a hamburger bun and smothered with spicy sauce.

After I made the salad and stuck it in the refrigerator, I started preparing ingredients for the stew. This was going to be chicken stew with lots of foraged vegetables and dumplings steamed on top. I started to debone the chicken. I knew the knife wasn't quite sharp enough, but my three-year-old sister Naomi had started whining and complaining like she was on the verge of a temper tantrum. I didn't think I had time to sharpen the knife and make dinner before she went full-on ballistic.

While I rinsed the chicken, I sang one of Naomi's favorite songs, a silly jingle from a kids' TV show. I plunked the whole chicken, breast side down, on the cutting board. Poor naked thing. It looked like it was praying. I plunged the knife to the left side of its spine and sawed back and forth. It was tough going with a lot of resistance from the slippery carcass wriggling in my hands.

Naomi threw a block at four-year-old Annabelle. In the blink of an eye, Naomi hushed and it was Annabelle who went into complete meltdown. The block barely grazed her arm, but she started screaming and crying. As soon as she started stomping across the room toward Naomi with fiery rage in her eyes, I yelled for Raleigh to help me out. He was nine, old enough to handle the situation. I had babysat even the neighbors' kids when I was ten.

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