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Serena believes herself to be pretty ordinary. She’s a size 14, wears glasses, and has a geeky streak. The only thing that isn’t ordinary about Serena is that she’s an OtherKin witch.
Cole is anything but ordinary. He’s the physical vessel for an ancient pagan god called Cernunnos. When a coven of witches call that old, powerful energy forth to inhabit Cole’s body, chaos ensues. Cole discovers he’s an OtherKin mage with powerful magicks at his command. He also loses his memory. But even though he can’t remember his family, what he does for a living, or his last name, he knows one thing—Serena, the witch tasked with keeping him, is his. He wants to declare that possession in every way.
Serena can’t believe this gorgeous piece of male magehood wants her. Yet Cole stalks her, seduces her, and generally upsets her previously safe little world. She vows to enjoy every last second of their erotic interlude while she can. But there’s another force upsetting the world. His name is Ashmodai and he’s a playful, sadistic demon. That’s not an especially good combination.
Ashmodai is the reason Cernunnos has been called forth. And Ashmodai is planning to take Cole and Serena through hell and back before he’s through.
“Anya Bast’s Ordinary Charm is an outstanding book that held me enthralled from beginning to end. … To say that the sex between Serena and Cole is hot is a gross understatement…it was ATOMIC.” —Fallen Angel Reviews
“With a generous measure of steamy romance and a heroine of realistic proportions Ordinary Charm is a compelling and wonderfully paced story of timeless and tireless love.” —Historical Romance Club
Serena fought back a hard twinge of loneliness as she pushed aside a branch and stepped into the grove of oak trees that grew in the exact center of her thousand-acre property. The trees had been planted in clusters of three over 150 years ago—when her family had first purchased the land. The natural power within the very earth here, augmented and reinforced by the magick of her own bloodline, thrummed beneath her feet. It made her stop for a moment and close her eyes before continuing to the flat rock in the center of the clearing that was polished smooth from over a century of use, from over a century of her ancestors kneeling on it to perform rituals or connect with the ones who had passed on before them.
The oaks were symbols of strength and wisdom and Serena could feel that heavy, old knowledge within them, as well as the Dyads, the small OtherKin who lived within each tree, protecting them.
Sometimes Serena came here because she had some specific question to ask, some help she needed. A kind of energetic record of her entire maternal line, all the witches who’d come before her, resided here. It was like accessing an infinite Encyclopedia Mystica.
But today she was here only because she was feeling alone.
Her jeans protected her knees as she knelt on the stone and closed her eyes. The energy in the place swirled around her for a moment, nearly knocking her over, then settled down. Her consciousness expanded and deepened into the Otherworld, the space superimposed over waking reality. The Otherworld was only accessible through deep commitment, raised awareness and intense concentration.
She murmured the words needed to open the energetic doorway, “By oaken pillars, three by three. Reveal to me my family tree.”
First came the most powerful memories of her maternal line, the ones that had caused the deepest grooves in her family’s time and space. They were the energies closest to the surface of the Elder’s memories of their lives, the ones that had made the most profound impact. Absolute terror tended to make deep grooves in a person’s psyche.
Serena winced as the voices pounded into her mind.
Are you a witch?
Why do you torment these God-fearing people?
Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. We will not suffer you to live.
How long have you been in the snare of the devil?
How can you expect to have a clear conscience without a clear confession?
Most of the women accused of witchcraft over centuries had not been witches at all. They’d just been women who’d been caught up in climate of paranoid hysteria, or they’d been strong women that someone had wanted to get rid of. Some had been women who had owned property that another had coveted.
But some of the women who had been accused really had been OtherKin witches…and many of those women had been her ancestors.
People that weren’t OtherKin could feel the ones that were without true understanding of what it was they felt. Perhaps they couldn’t figure out exactly what was “off” about an individual who was OtherKin, but they knew somehow that they were different. It frightened them into reacting, into destroying That Which Was Not Like Them. That’s how it had been since the beginning of time. That’s how things remained to this day.
She fidgeted, causing her glasses to slip down the bridge of her nose. With a forceful mental thrust, she pushed as quickly as she could through that layer of pain and despair. There was beauty past it—beauty, knowledge, sisterhood, hope and, most of all, love.
Past that barrier was the knowledge of her family line—the Elders.
Finally the energy evened out and colors swirled through her mind’s eye. Mental images of her great-grandmother Margaret and grandmother Mary floated through her consciousness. They smiled at her. She felt an energetic hug around her shoulders and heard her great-aunt Agatha whisper in her ear, “Take heart. We’re never far.” Then her image wavered and Agatha looked to the right. “Someone’s coming!” she whispered. She disappeared. They all disappeared. The level of deep consciousness to which Serena had descended collapsed, pushing her up and up fast and hard.
Jolted from the deep level of concentration she’d had to attain, Serena opened her eyes. She tried to stand, but was so dizzy and light-headed, she lost her balance and fell. She landed right on the tube of banana-flavored lip balm in her pocket and winced at the sudden pain in her hip. Her glasses flew from her face, leaving her seeing only blurry shapes. Blinking in surprise at her abrupt fall from tranquility, she groped in the grass for her glasses.
Hoofbeats on the soft forest ground filled the air and she stilled. Anger flared. Who he hell had dared trespass on her land? This was her place and hers alone.
And where the hell where her glasses?
The hoofbeats grew closer. “Who’s there?” she called to the blurry grove.
No response. The only sound was of hoofbeats slowing and growing closer. Finally, she found her glasses and put them on. The world came into focus once more.
A huge stag stood over her as she lay there sprawled in the grass. She gasped at the rack of antlers this very old beast displayed on his head. His dark brown eyes, flecked oddly with green, blinked. For several moments, they regarded each other in silence. Serena’s heart beat out a frantic tattoo in her chest. His flanks and body were rippled with sleek, strong muscle. He seemed the very essence of power.
Neither of them moved for long moments.
Serena wondered what a stag would do if he felt threatened. Those antlers looked damn sharp. But…was he even a truly a stag? Serena had heard tales of shapeshifting OtherKin. Serena had never really given them much thought. But Agatha had said someone was coming.
Without taking her gaze from his, she reached out with her consciousness and touched him minutely.
Raw strength poured into her, and base sexuality. This was an animal of sensuality, of spirituality, of the forests. This was the Lady’s consort, himself.
Serena breathed heavy and placed a hand carefully to her chest, where heart pattered out a fast rhythm. She’d touched him mentally for only a second and her entire body hummed with sexual awareness. Her breasts felt heavy and her nipples were hard. Her body was excited as though it had been primed by foreplay.
She tipped her head back and whimpered. Her state of arousal was so intense that it almost hurt. A soft whuffle filled her ears and she felt a velvet nose against her shoulder. Teeth gently grazed then bit her shoulder.
She should have been alarmed. By all expectations, she should have screamed or something, but instead all she felt was peaceful. The stag bit with enough pressure to pinch a little, but not to really hurt. Stunned, Serena allowed the contact.
With speed and agility that made her gasp, the creature released her and sprang to the side. Muscles working gracefully and his short brown coat shimmering in the dappled afternoon sunlight, the stag bounded past the line of oaks and into the forest beyond.
She lay panting and sprawled on the grass in shocked wonder. Her mind stuttered and tripped as she took the time she needed to process the event. After a few minutes, she reached up and touched her shoulder where the stag had bitten her. A deep, yet painless, indentation of two rows of teeth remained in her flesh.
* * * * *
Wiggle, the fattest and friendliest of her silky black cats, rubbed against her calf. Serena scooped him up and buried her face in his fur, then walked out onto the front porch and deposited him on the white porch rail of her rambling farmhouse. She supposed it was a bit clichéd for a witch like her to have seven cats…especially since three of those cats were black. But she couldn’t help the fact that they kept showing up and needing homes, and she didn’t have the heart to turn them away.
She leaned against the rail and stared out across the darkening, tree-spotted land. Somewhere in the distance, an owl hooted. It was a beautiful place where she lived, though sometimes lonely. The thought made her think of her ex-husband, and made her stomach twist in a sickening way. Any thought of Brian produced that reaction in her. Even five years afterward, what he’d done still affected her.
The screen door opened on a whine and her sister, Rowan, peeked her head out. “I made rosehip tea. Want some?”
A minute later, Rowan backed through the doorway with two steaming cups in her hands. Serena took one and sank into one of the wicker chairs on the porch. Rowan sat down in another one opposite. A bite of autumn flavored the evening air and the breeze smelled of leaves and wood smoke. Autumn was Serena’s favorite season.
She glanced at Rowan. “When are you leaving?”
Rowan took a careful sip of her tea. “Tonight. Probably right after I finish this.”
“So soon? You just got here.” Serena tried to keep the patheticness out of her voice. She and her sister were like day and night and often didn’t see eye to eye, but Rowan was still her sister and her closest living relative. When their mother had died in a car crash eight years ago, Serena had been twenty and Rowan had been eighteen. They had inherited the large family house and the huge amount of forested land that went with it. But Rowan had wanted to live in Newville, instead of out here in the country. So, using the advance from the sale of her first book along with some of her share of the life insurance money, Serena had purchased Rowan’s half of the property. Rowan had moved into Newville. Serena had stayed out here, with the trees and the ghosts.
Rowan looked at her apologetically. “I have to get back to the city. I have to meet a man.” She looked down and took a quick sip of the tea.
Serena snorted. “What’s so special about a date? You have those all the time.” A twinge of jealousy ran through her despite her flippant tone.
Rowan was tall, slim and beautiful with long black hair and large blue eyes. She was a goddess and men fell at her feet in worship. Serena, on the other hand, was short, overweight, and plain. She had the same blue eyes as Rowan, and the same glossy black hair bequeathed to them through a long line of blue-eyed, black-haired women. But nothing beyond the color of their eyes and the color and texture of their hair marked them as related. Serena had not inherited the body or face Rowan had—not by a long shot. The only other thing they shared was their magick.
All through their lives, Rowan had been more popular, had fit in better with others, had had more dates, and more friends. Serena had been the dumpy older sister that only got to go places because Rowan had insisted she be included. It rankled Serena to this day that it had been that way. Still, Rowan’s heart had been in the right place.
Rowan glanced away and took a minute to answer. “This one is special. I have to go.”
Serena snorted again. “Lots of them are special. I swear, Rowan. You date these men a couple times, and then dump them. How many males have you gone through since you started dating?”
Rowan looked up at her with those big blue eyes that had melted countless hearts weaker than hers. “I haven’t kept count.”
“Lots, Rowan. There have been lots. Who are you looking for, Mr. Right?”
Rowan’s perfect lip curled up and one of her sculpted eyebrows rose. “Nah. Mr. Right-for-Tonight.”
Serena laughed and took a sip of her tea. “You’re hopeless.” And wild. Rowan had grown up wild and rebellious and had never outgrown it. To the unschooled eye, she looked sweet and innocent. A modern-day sleeping beauty with long dark hair, straight from a fairy tale. Serena knew that was just a clever disguise. Rowan was a sexual predator, willing and able to use men for sex…and only for sex. Serena sighed and relented. “Well, if it’s for a really good lay, I suppose I can let you go. Although you get good lays all the time.”
“What about you, sis? When’s the last time you got laid?”
Before she knew she was even doing it, Serena touched her shoulder where the bite marks from her encounter in the forest a few days ago had faintly scarred her. She supposed erotic experiences with the local fauna…or whatever that creature had been, didn’t count. “Uh, it’s been a while,” she said softly. About five years, to be exact.
Rowan winked. “Come in to the city with me. I’m sure we can rustle up a man for you.”
Serena winced. That brought too many memories of growing up together with Rowan and accepting her charity and social castoffs. She shook her head. “No. I’m happy enough here by myself. Men are way too much trouble, even when you can cut them loose in the morning.”
Rowan leaned forward. “I understand that what happened was traumatizing, Serena. But Brian is in jail now and will be for a very, very long time. You can’t allow your life to come to halt because of that asshole. It’s not right. If you do that, he wins.”
Serena shook her head. “It’s not that complicated,” she lied. “It doesn’t have anything to do with him.” It was that complicated and it did have to do with Brian. “I simply don’t want to get involved with another man.” At least the last part wasn’t a lie.
The crunch of gravel under tires met their ears. Headlights flashed through the trees that lined the two-mile long driveway leading to the house. Serena stood. “Who could that be?”
Rowan set her teacup down and stood beside her. “Feels like—”
“Morgan,” Serena finished for her. Morgan was their first cousin who lived several states over. “What the hell is she doing here?” Morgan’s green sedan pulled into the small parking area beside the house and she climbed out. The middle-aged, dark-haired woman waved a cheery hello at them both, then hurried over to the passenger side and opened the door.
Out climbed a god of a man.
Beside her, Rowan took in a sharp breath of appreciation. That’s when Serena knew she’d been right in her initial reaction. After all, Rowan was a discerning expert in the man area.
He was about six-foot-four, muscled nicely pretty much everywhere the eye could see. His hair was longish and tangled, a dark brown streaked with shades of blond. He wore a pair of tight blue jeans that showed off a fine ass as they rounded the car and walked toward the porch. A dark blue T-shirt that allowed his defined muscles to show covered his torso. Serena cocked her head to the side, letting her gaze slide down his strong-looking arms. That’s when she realized something very important.
The man was handcuffed.
“Looks like you may be getting a man whether you want one or not, Serena,” said Rowan softly.
Morgan prodded and poked the man up the stairs until they stood at the top. “Hi Serena, Rowan. Nice to see you,” she greeted as though nothing were amiss.
“Uh, nice to see you, too, Morgan,” answered Serena.
Morgan gestured toward the man. “This is Cole. Say hi, Cole.”
Cole grunted out a hello.
Serena tipped her head to the side and examined the man’s hewn-from-stone visage. He seemed sort of familiar to her in a way, but that had to be just her mind playing tricks on her. She’d never met him before. There’d be no way she’d have forgotten him if she ever had.
“Serena, I really need to talk to you. Got a minute?” Morgan asked.
“Since you drove all the way from Massachusetts and didn’t tell us you’d be bringing a…uh…friend, I guess I do,” Serena answered with a tight smile.
Morgan shook her head. “I didn’t come here from home. We were in the area. Sarah and I were in the state visiting a coven. We were going to stop over and say hi. Anyway, maybe Cole and Rowan could chat in the living room, and you and I could discuss something in private?”
Serena stared at Cole, who stared back at her from the fall of hair across his face. He didn’t really look like the chatting type. “Is he safe?”
Morgan waved her hand. “Completely. He’s a kitten.”
Cole gave a disturbing caveman-like growl.
Apparently she meant a feral kitten. “Uh, and the handcuffs would be because…?”
“That’s one of the things I wanted to talk to you about.”
“What do you think, Rowan?” Serena asked uncertainly.
“I think I’m curious as hell.” She walked toward the door, turned, winked and crooked a finger. “Come on, big boy. Let’s see if you have a working vocabulary.”
That was so like fearless Rowan.
Cole hesitated for only a moment before following Rowan through the door. Serena picked up her teacup and followed, keeping a careful eye on the man. One false move toward Rowan and she’d call up a spell and zap him one between the eyes.
She entered the living room, which was decorated comfortably in shades of blues and greens and scattered throughout with old overstuffed chairs and sofas. A merry fire burned in the fireplace and candles lit the mantel. Morgan grabbed her arm and yanked her toward the kitchen, nearly causing Serena to slosh tea over the rim of her cup.
Once in the kitchen, Serena whirled on Morgan. “What’s with you? You’re acting even battier than usual and you’re scaring the daylights out of me.”
“Lower your voice,” Morgan said.
Serena glanced at the doorway and spoke softer. “Where’s Sarah, anyway? You two are never apart.” Sarah was Morgan’s live-in love. Serena set an arm akimbo. “Tell me what the hell is going on!”
“Fine,” said Morgan, drawing a breath. “Here it goes.” Then she fell silent.
Serena sipped her tea and stared at her as though she had all the time in the world. “So…anytime, dear.”
“Okay! Okay!” Morgan turned, walked and then paced back. Her long green skirt swirled around her legs with her movements. “He called himself Cole when we picked him up, but his real name is Cernunnos.”