Title: Curses & Ash (Book Two)
Author: Tiffany Duane
Published: January 2016
Publisher: Jester Ink Press
Book 1: Coral & Bone
The wolf from the shadows flashed through her mind, and her breath caught. Her grip tightened on the handle. Suddenly, the door swept open and a heavyset man with a white bakery box pushed past, wedging between her and the boy. She scooted inside the bakery and slammed the door at once, but when she peered out the window, the boy with the razor-sharp teeth had vanished. She pressed her nose to the glass. Where had he gone? She couldn’t even see the man with the bakery box, either. The entire street was empty.
A cool breeze blew at her back, sending shivers along her skin. She spun around. The cakes and breads were gone and she now stood in a narrow room. If she spread her arms, she was sure she could touch both walls with her fingertips. Cages of birds lined the walls above, spiraling up to the endless ceiling, which seemed high enough to touch the stars. Golden canaries chirped noisily, pastel budgies paced their perches, pigeons cooed, and a raven peered at her through glassy eyes. It cawed, flapping its wings, and she jumped back, pressing her spine against the door.
Candles set in brass sconces flickered dangerously close to the birds’ cages. A putrid odor, a mix of acrid bird crap and heavy patchouli incense, cut the air. Her hand scrabbled with the door handle, but the
knob would not turn. She tugged harder. Her heart thrummed in her ears as the birds competed with chirps and whistles.
As she reached to cover her ears, her elbow knocked the edge of one cage. It swung, and the budgies flapped their wings violently, swaying the cage. The budgerigars’ cage bumped the caged canaries and they too fluttered, so their cage knocked the finch’s cage beside it; and so like dominoes the cages were all set in motion with screeching birds.
“Stop the racket or I’ll eat you all at once!” A bald woman, with skin so dark she could have been born of the night itself, pushed open a door across the room. Halen had not even noticed another entrance or exit amongst all the cages, yet there she stood, her golden eyes wide, scanning the birds, until her gaze settled on Halen. “What’s this we have here?”
Her voice was husky and smoky, curling seductively, like a song to lure prey. It rang with familiarity in Halen’s mind, sending an earie chill in the marrow of her bones.
Halen’s shoulder blades pressed harder against the glass as the woman stepped from the doorway. She wore a robe of purple silk that swept her ankles. Her dewy skin glistened in the dim flickers of light. Why had Asair’s instincts led her to this place? She was mistaken to trust his memories. Had he tricked her once more?
“How did you summon this place?” the woman asked.
Halen’s lips felt stitched, her throat dry. “I didn’t.” She cleared her throat. “I was hungry. I thought I would buy a treat.”
The woman tilted her chin toward the birds. The dolman sleeve of her robe cascaded to her elbow as she stretched for the tarnished lock on one of the cages. Unlocking the latch with the hook of her long black fingernail, she reached inside. The budgerigar hopped onto her finger, pecking the tip of her dark nail. Being careful not to rock the cage, she coaxed the little bird out. Her eyes narrowed as she offered Halen the bird. “Is this your idea of a treat?”
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