Expect the unexpected.
That might as well be the motto of my life after the past two years. It’s a quote that’s supposed to help you accept that whatever will be, simply will be. Even with my powers and the sight bestowed upon me from my family line, I kept finding myself in the wildest situations.
“No, Morana, I won’t be able to make it to Vincent’s party,” I sighed into my phone. “I promise I tried to get out of this, but my mother is being more insistent than she has before.”
“It’s been years since you’ve gone to the annual covens meeting, hasn’t it?” My best friend added. I could hear the soft sound of a toddler playing in the background and sorely wished I was back in New England playing with Morana and her son.
“Yeah, not since I was a young teen. The full moon party is only for adults, so this will be my first time attending it.” From what I knew, the magical energy from so many powerful witch families gathering turns the event into a full-blown orgy. “I think I was fifteen last time and my mother only let me sit in on the daytime meetings.”
“Well, perhaps you will have some fun then. You need some fun since you won’t be here to party with us.”
“You know, I think I’d rather be at a vampire party where half the guests want to eat me than a coven meeting.” Even more than the crowded New Orleans airport I was wandering through now.
“It can’t be that bad,” Morana laughed on the other line. “I know your mother will probably apply more pressure on you, but you could end up having a good time.”
“My mother isn’t the only person I’m not looking forward to seeing.” I stopped in my tracks when I saw a bald man in a suit holding a sign at the gate with my name on it: Alannah Branwenn.
“Who could be so bad that the mighty witch Alannah would go to such length to avoid them?”
“No one important. There was just some incompetent asshole who gave me grief any time our families gathered. Any time we saw each other growing up, I swear he did everything he could to terrorize me.” And their family was hosting this gathering.
“And if anyone gives you grief now, just light their pants on fire.” That earned a genuine laugh from me, and I could imagine Morana, on the other end, smirking.
“That’s actually not a bad idea.”
“Oh, I have to go, Alannah. There’s a council meeting I must attend.” I heard Morana greeting the young prince’s nanny so she could leave. “Please keep me in the loop and try to have some fun.”
“I’ll try.” The line went dead, and I slipped my phone into my back pocket, then approached the driver with the sign baring my name.
“Branwenn?” He asked in a gruff voice. Without answering, I pulled down my sunglasses and flashed him a peek at my eyes. His eyes widened, and he stiffened, followed up by a nod.
The purple eyes of the Branwenn line were renowned in the witch race. Some covens even feared them, and with my family’s history, I couldn’t blame them. It worked well for my mother as the Matriarch of the Branwenn family and California Coven.
I got in the black car while the driver put my luggage in the trunk. All the while, I tried to shut off the world around me. There were too many people here, and their auras were overwhelming. All the colors clinging to them, showing me exactly how each of them was feeling. Every single person.
It made me miss Morana and her little family. Although these days she was a busy mother and a powerful vampire queen, and I was trying to focus on my career as an event planner. When I was with them, their auras didn’t bother me.
Normally I could control that power better, but my mind was scattered these days and my control was slipping. The past two years had been more exciting than they should have been for an event planner, despite being a Branwenn.
I didn’t expect to become friends with a Pureblood vampire princess when I arrived in Italy to help plan her wedding. And I certainly hadn’t expected to help her fight a malicious Alpha wanting to steal her powers and the Necromancer he was working with.
Just when I thought things were calming down, I found myself in New York helping an Alpha I’d worked with in the past back in California and his new former-assassin hybrid mate. After getting the help of the New York Matriarch and members of her coven, we started wiping out the organization that created the hybrid on top of cleaning the city of a magically enhanced drug.
Expect the unexpected. I rolled my eyes.
Was it too much to expect a break? As soon as the thought crossed my mind, I wished I had some wood to knock on. A silly superstition, but the shiver that danced up my spine felt like an omen.
Through the windows, I watched the world pass by as I was taken to the heart of New Orleans. It had been so many years since I was here that I had forgotten how lovely and old it was here. The magical and spiritual presence that washed over me was a strange breath of fresh air.
There were powerful ley lines in this city, and the old family that lived here benefitted from them for decades. Too bad I wasn’t exactly thrilled to see them. Most of the Devereux family that I could remember were powerful and lovely. Their Matriarch was elegant and genuine, but I sorely recalled her having a son slightly older than I was who was an absolute menace.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be so quick to hate someone that I hadn’t seen in about twelve years. But it’s hard to forget the boy who tormented you as a young fifteen-year-old witch. I’d rather go back to the airport and skip the coven gathering just knowing he’d be there.
The car stopped in front of a luxury hotel and it was enough of a distraction to pull me from my thoughts. I got out, listening to the birds chirp and the wind rustle the leaves. A hint of recent rain filled my senses, and I breathed deeply, feeling the magic of this historic place seep into my bones.
It was just after noon, and fluffy white clouds rolled over a brilliant blue sky. Though I could feel the coiling threat of more rain in the air and the tensing in the ground as the roots stretched to prepare for the deluge of the rainy season.
A storm was nothing compared to the woman waiting for me in the master suite. When the door opened, her back was to me in a floor-length black gown, and she looked out the window down on the city below. Her black hair was pulled into a tight bun and the white streak was more vivid than the last time I saw her.
Aradia Branwenn. Matriarch Branwenn, the head of the family. And my mother.
She turned, her glowing purple eyes behind thin framed half-moon glasses assessing me instantly. She fiddles with her necklace, a spread winged raven inside of a circle, a symbol of her power as Matriarch.
“Matriarch,” I placed my palm over my heart and inclined my head in a bow, “I’ve come at your summons.”
Her shoulders dropped, and she rolled her violet eyes. “Alright, we’re not doing that. I know it’s been a few years, but really, Alannah. Your father and I have been trying to see you.”
I grit my teeth and felt my brow furrowing as I stared at her. “You keep trying to get me to come home. I know what it is you want from me. It’s not a visit you want, and I’m not ready to leave my career behind.”
Aradia rubbed her temples and closed her eyes. The tension in the air crackled between us and she huffed with exaggerated annoyance. “Well, now is not the time to talk about these things. I’m just glad you’re here in time for the party tonight.”
“Like I was going to miss a summons from my Matriarch to join her for Beltane and a coven gathering?” Now it was my turn to roll my eyes as I crossed my arms.
“Darling,” my mother crossed the living room of the suite and before I could get away, she clasped my shoulders. “You’ve never celebrated Beltane as an adult in New Orleans, and I promise you it’s wonderful. It’s a time of fire and fertility!”
“Gross. I’ve heard enough about what happens during Beltane here. I think I’d rather just skip it.” I didn’t exactly want to go to a party that would eventually turn into a massive debauched orgy before the sun rose. Knowing my parents would be there made me want to gag.
“Nonsense!” Mother let me go and waved a dismissive hand. Turning to the left, she swayed to a wet bar as she spoke. “It’s not as bad as all that. It gets a bit kinky, but when you get that otherworldly Beltane power and all the inherit magic of dozens of coven leaders being in one place, it just gets really… fun.”
Her hesitation on the last word wasn’t the selling point she thought it was.
“Mom, I don’t even want to be here. Please, why am I really here?” I questioned in a soft tone. Aradia paused at the mini fridge, slowly rising with a miniature bottle of wine in her hand.
“You are my daughter, and as the head of the family and California coven, I need you to be there. Not only tonight, but there are going to be some important meetings this week where your presence in required.” She set the bottle of wine down on the counter and clasped her hands together.
“I haven’t been to any major gatherings like this in years, Mom. You didn’t specifically summon me here to get shit-faced at a Beltane party and sit through some meetings.” As my tone rose, I caught the slight flare in her aura. Of course, at her age and with the practice she had, it was hard to read her. Her aura was well controlled, but I was her daughter, after all. Just a slight flare was enough to tell me that my guess was correct.
Aradia Branwenn didn’t summon her eldest daughter to a Gathering just for the fun of it. But she clearly wasn’t intent on telling me why I was here.
“The party tonight. Did you get my message that it was a masquerade?” She pulled on a smile and ignored my questioning entirely to look my casual traveling outfit up and down. “I hope you packed a mask and a decent dress.”
“Yes, Matriarch,” I answered with her title, knowing it would upset her. Even if her face didn’t react, I could read the change in her.
“Good to know. Your Father is out golfing with Matriarch Devereux’s husband and son, but I expect he’ll want to see you before we head to the party.” Aradia finally reached for the wine bottle, twisting the cap with a snap and downing it like a shot.
“Son?” I paled at hearing that. So, the terror from my last time in New Orleans was here as well. It was foolish of me to think he wouldn’t be. This was his family’s city, and they were hosting the event.
“Oh yes, all the coven leaders with adult children have them here for this Gathering. It’s very important that we keep the bonds strong, and continue to grow ties with the other covens. You know, alliances and all that,” she added at the end with a casual shrug.
“Great. So, a masked party during Beltane with a massive crowd.” Fire and fertility seemed like an apt description for tonight, the more I thought about it.
“Loosen up, darling. It’ll be a great time. Now go on to your room, right down the hall, and start getting ready. Once your father gets back, we can all go together.” Mother’s lips pressed into a thin smile. Once again, she got into my space, but this time, she pulled me into a loose embrace. “This will be a great week for us and the Branwenn family. Just remember that we all have our part to play.”
I wanted to enjoy my first hug from my mother in years, but there was something in her words that made alarms go off in the back of my mind.