Chapter One

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I'd been looking forward to Thursday all week. It wasn't often that I got the house to myself; my parents aren't really the "date-night" type, so I was thrilled when they'd announced they were going to some cheesy classic rock concert in Raleigh. Mom had tried to persuade me to come along, but she and I have very different ideas about what constitutes music. So I planned a night alone while they decided to reclaim their lost youth or something.

School had sucked more than usual the past four days. Things were getting weirder with Justin, if that was possible. I thought we'd hit an all-time low with our breakup, but I'd been wrong. As if that wasn't enough, it seemed like the teachers were trying to torture us; in one week, I'd had two essays due and three major tests.

All things considered, I decided that I deserved a bit of pampering. Once I waved Mom and Dad off, I popped myself a big bowl of popcorn, grabbed an orange soda, and parked myself on the couch. I'd been recording my favorite show for weeks, hoarding the episodes like Halloween candy until the perfect opportunity presented itself. I don't know why, but I love watching the cake show on the home and garden channel. It wouldn't surprise me if they had a Witch or two in that kitchen; they do way more with frosting than Nons should be able to do.

Thinking I had hours of sugary entertainment in store, I settled in with the remote. I only made it about ten minutes into the first episode before the power surged and the DVR reset itself. Annoyed, I scrolled through the menu to get back to my show just as a crash of thunder rocked the house. I jumped, spilling popcorn all over the couch. The lights flickered, and then the power went out.

I leaned forward with a sigh, groping around the coffee table for matches. The house was full of candles, and my mother left the big boxes of kitchen matches scattered around for easy access. My fingers closed around the thick rectangle just as my skin prickled in warning.

Someone was in the living room with me. My eyes swung around, trying to spot the intruder, and my gaze stopped on a hunched figure standing in front of the window. Sucking in my breath, I opened the box and struck a match along the side. The smell of sulfur filled the room, and my eyes widened with fear as I stared at the figure before me.

She was a funny-looking old woman, and if I didn't know exactly who she was, I might have laughed at her. As it was, the sight of Hecate standing in my living room made me incredibly uncomfortable. Although I knew that the gods played a role in magic, this was the first time I had ever met one of them face-to-face. I'd never expected in a million years that I would meet a god as powerful and frightening as Hecate.

The Queen of Witches was not given to traipsing through time and space on a whim; in fact, we'd learned in school that historically, Hecate only appeared for one of two reasons: to punish someone who broke the laws of Witchcraft, or to reward an unusually talented Witch. The last time the latter had happened was about five hundred years ago, and I don't think I have much in common with Will Shakespeare, so I figured her presence must be due to my mounting transgressions.

For the first time, I wished I were with my parents. A few hours ago, I couldn't imagine anything worse than being stuck in a stadium with a bunch of old hippies trying to recreate Woodstock. Now I could.

Bowing my head before the goddess, I tensed, wondering if I could talk my way out of the punishment that was inevitably coming. Surely a few little hexes weren't enough to have me chastised for breaking the Rede?

The Rede is the cardinal rule of magic, and it had been drummed into my head by my parents and teachers for years. According to the Rede, Witches are free to act as we choose as long as our actions don't bring harm. I tried hard to follow it, but sometimes I couldn't resist using my magic for a little well-deserved payback. From what I knew of Hecate, she was no stranger to small acts of revenge. Maybe, I thought hopefully, maybe she would go easy on me.

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