Caroline’s Heart is out today! It’s a queer southern historical fantasy novella about a witch, a resurrection spell, and a cowboy caught in the middle of supernatural forces beyond his understanding. You can snag it for $1.99 pretty much anywhere ebooks are sold (links below) or read on for an excerpt!
Cecily lost her soulmate years ago, leaving her with nothing but the clockwork heart that once beat in Caroline’s chest. They say it’s impossible to bring back the dead, yet Cecily’s resurrection spell is nearly complete and grows more powerful by the day.
But when a cowboy she barely knows is fatally injured, the only way to save him is by sacrificing an essential piece of the resurrection spell—along with all possibility of seeing her lover again.
The morning air has a peppery bite, seeping into the bunkhouse while the cowboys sleep. Roy is the first to notice the smell. It’s smoky and bitter and makes his throat prickle as he rolls out of bed. He pulls on his boots with his nose running and sweat creeping down his back.
Roy has the dubious honor of being the earliest riser among Mr. Weber’s ranch hands. He sleeps uneasily at best, and these simmering Texas summers only make him more restless; he sweats into his bindings all night long. These days, the earth doesn’t ever seem to let go of the heat in the soil, so dawn comes sticky and stale. The river is parched to half its usual size, and Roy trudges over the dusty, cracked streambed to pull up a pail of water. The other men would strip without a thought to wash, but he retreats behind a couple of trees before he undresses and scrubs off.
He’s grateful for this time of day. It’s just about the only time he doesn’t feel such a pressing need to watch his back. He even takes a few extra moments to breathe with his bindings off, his ribs aching as they expand, before wrapping himself up again and buttoning his shirt. Some days he feels like he has an old man’s spine, squeezed out of shape to keep his body flat and hidden.
In the back of his mind, he counts his coin every time he takes a breath that hurts, measuring how close he is to a different life. To a job in town, a house of his own, or maybe—if he’s really dreaming—his own ranch.
Some mornings taste like hope. This one tastes bitter.
Cook knows to expect him early in the kitchen. She’s a busy woman with greasy skin and nails blunted from scrubbing pans. Roy likes her better than anyone else at the ranch.
She gives him a cup of coffee when he leans in the door. “Thanks.” His voice comes out little better than a rasp. He has a swallow of coffee, clears his throat, and tries again. “Dusty as hell today.”
“You know you wouldn’t lose your voice if you used it.”
“Nothing to say.” His voice does seem to get coarser with disuse, but that comes with the advantage of making him sound more like the other men. “Funny smell in the air, too. You making chili?”
Cook laughs, sharp as the oil snapping in her pan. “They don’t have witch candles where you’re from?”
“Look up at the house.” She jerks her thumb toward the window. Through the grimy glass, Roy sees a ring of candles set out on tall stakes around the Webers’s house. White smoke drifts up from the candles like tendrils of fog.
“Witch candles, huh?”
“Makes the Devil feel unwelcome,” Cook says. “Lest he try to move in while the witch is visiting.”
Roy perks up. Mr. Weber’s witch is a favorite topic among the ranch hands, few of whom have actually seen her. Roy never has, but he’s only been on the ranch since the last cattle drive. According to the men, the witch keeps the animals healthy. Or she’s got Weber in a devil’s bargain and he’s fighting her for his eternal soul. Or else she’s his mistress—the stories vary.
“Will we see her when she comes?” Roy asks, pretending nonchalance. “Never saw a witch before.”
The closest he’s ever been to meeting one was Oklahoma City, where he saw a shop promising miracle cures. At the time, Roy was in need of money more than a miracle—hell, he still is—so he passed it by. The idea of it stuck with him, though. What would it be like to make miracles for a living? And he looks at what his life has been for the last five years, how he’s stayed poor as dirt despite common sense and hard work, and thinks he should have tried the magic.
“You’ll see her,” Cook says grimly. “But don’t let her look you in the eye. Not even for a second!”
“What happens if I do?”
“She’ll take your soul and have you for her thrall.”
Roy smiles behind his coffee cup. “Shit. How many ranch hands has Mr. Weber lost that way?”
“Quit smirking. You think Weber cares if a couple cowboys lose their souls?”
“Not one bit.”
He wonders if being a witch’s thrall would be particularly worse than his current employment.