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Christina's eyes slowly opened. The picture before her was, at first, a blur. Within a few seconds, her eyes adjusted. Before her, a magnificent fire blazed in a seven-foot fireplace. Christina shifted back to withstand the overpowering heat searing from the fire. She looked down. She was lying on a crimson couch with no recollection of how she came to be there. Then she remembered she fainted in front of a castle. A castle that she never knew existed. A castle belonging to a great warlock, apparently.

Christina sat up as fast as she could without the pounding pain of her head becoming worse. She looked around the unfamiliar room. Her eyes were drawn first to the grand oak door that dominated the back wall of the room. A smaller wooden door sat close to the fireplace. The walls were made of stone, clean and strong, and befitted the minimalistic décor of the room as the firelight radiated a sombre air. Tapestries, paintings and natural sculptures were scattered around the room, their presence giving character to what would otherwise have been a very dull space. Christina recognised parts of the town in some portraits, albeit from a completely different time period. Her eyes became transfixed on a painting of a witch burning in the town square. The flames blazed green.

Uneasy about the new information she was yet to process, and worried she would meet a similar fate, Christina turned her attention away from the walls and to a small but prestigious collection of books. Huddled in the far corner of the room, protected from the ferocious heat of the fire, the splintering oak bookshelves housed several weathered volumes. It was clear the owner was someone of high literary tastes. Dusty, with splitting leather or disintegrating fabric, the books had been well loved but had not been touched for years. Homer, Chaucer, Dickens, Shakespeare, Hardy, Poe, Radcliffe...

Dragging her eyes away from the books, Christina turned to take in more of the room. A table stood in the centre of the room. It extended from one side of the room to the other with chairs covering every inch of the outside. On the top, a delicate selection of food lay, welcoming Christina toward it.

When Christina arrived at the table, she stopped behind an ornate chair, its dark mahogany frame and solid armrests demanding attention. She placed her hands on the smooth upholstery, admired the ornately carved wood and wondered whether she should delve into the feast laid before her.

Her rule of never eating food made by a complete stranger escaped her mind. She was ravenous. She picked up a leg of chicken. She thought it looked very medieval but also very delicious. Christina thought back to the insult Shenae made about her love of food. Christina looked down at her stomach. She sighed. She was a little overweight. What made her sad was that she was letting Shenae's insult mess with her head. Ever since she was a child, Christina had always been a little bigger than all of the girls at school. No matter what size, Christina always thought she was beautiful.

Now she was faced with food, Christina hesitated. She hadn't eaten all day; the opening of the café and other developments removed her appetite. Christina knew she had to eat something but at the same time she didn't want to. The sting of confusion entered her brain and Christina dropped the chicken leg back onto its plate.

Just as Christina let out a sigh, a deep voice sounded behind her. "You may have anything you see that you may like."

Christina spun around. A tall man stood before her. He sounded wise. Christina assumed he was the great warlock that Annabeth mentioned. His hair was long and sleek, black as ebony. He wasn't old like she expected him to be. He had a youthful glow; his skin was probably smoother than hers. Clearer, too. His choice of robes gave away the years his face managed to conceal. They draped to the floor – one side a light blue that blended into white on the other side. The sleeves were short, allowing Christina to see his bare arms. A brown belt kept the ensemble from looking like a dress. He was extremely attractive, but Christina added him to her mental list of people who would never find her attractive back.

Ashes of the Innocent (Abyssal Sanctuary #2)Read this story for FREE!