ALAYSHA is a witch who has more power than she can control and her father uses that gift to decimate his enemies. Over her seventeen years, her power has enabled him to become the Emir of a large land, where even as the conqueror’s daughter, she suffers the prejudice and fear of those around her. When she is asked to annihilate an entire peaceful village, she doesn’t realize it is the last of her own mother’s tribe, and only discovers too late that the battle she has won for her father may cost her the only connection she has to her past, and with it the secrets to managing her gift.
She needs to find the one person who managed to escape her power, the charismatic Yenic, a youth who seems to know more than he wants to tell and who has become the target of her father’s next campaign. With orders to kill, she sets out on a mission of her own very much in contrast to the one her father wishes her to fulfill. The trouble is, there is someone else out there who would use the water witch for his own gain, and unless she can find a way to consolidate who is the real enemy from supposed ones, her entire homeland of Sarum, the only three people she loves, and countless other innocent people will die.
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Yenic stepped closer, as though he were testing the temperature of water. As he came around the fire pit, he lifted his arm and with the fingers of his other hand traced the tattau’s path from tricep to hip. When he got close enough that Alaysha could touch him, he took her hand and placed it in the middle of his markings – near the first rib. She felt his skin pimple and laid her palm flat against it.
“I got the first mark when I was four,” he told her.
“I was young too,” she said.
“The Arms of the Witch are tattaued like this because we are her reach. Her protection. Our arms are in service to her.” He met her eyes and held them with his own so intensely, she could barely swallow.
“One for each witch.”
“And my Nohma?”
“She shoulders the burden of caring for the witch.”
Alaysha nodded. The symbolism made sense. She let her hands search the markings while he stood, silently letting her trace one to the next. They were quite beautiful up close, the way the skin showed through against the black band surrounding them. It must have taken hours to craft such a long line with such intricate detail and symbols. Her fingers reached the base of his armpit and she felt him shudder.
“I’m sorry. That spot tickles, doesn’t it?”
His voice sounded as though it came from a dark pit when he answered. “No. Not ticklish at all.” He let his arm fall and reached to touch the corner of her mouth, then his fingers trailed the length of her tattau, stopping at her ear. He cupped the back of her head and she thought for a second that the clump of air that had somehow lodged in her chest would keep her from speaking.
“Why are mine on my chin?”
He smiled and leaned forward. The feel of his lips against her forehead made her chest tight.
“Because yours is the burden of swallowing our sins.” His hand left her nape and traveled down her back. She felt herself begin to mold against him almost as though she were made of oil and was finding the curves of his body like she was meant to. When his palm pulled her hips closer to his, she let herself step into the embrace and enjoy the warmth of his body against hers.
“It’s a difficult burden, Alaysha,” he said into her hair. “But you don’t have to suffer it alone.”
She felt the tension leave at his words and hadn’t realized her muscles had been coiled and ready to run. If they’d ever felt relaxed, she was sure it had been during childhood, before her first battle, and it felt good to let them ease into each other, one fiber connecting to the next without worry that they’d need to fight or run. Without thinking, she put her arms around his waist and rested her cheek against his bare chest. She could hear his heart beating within like a happy fire sending flames roaring over thick logs.
“I’ve been alone for so long,” she said. “Ever since Nohma…” She didn’t want to say it. She couldn’t.
He pulled away just enough that he could peer down at her and searched her eyes with his own. “What about your nohma?”
“I killed her.”
He looked truly perplexed. “But you couldn’t.”
She stepped back and leaned to pick up a stick to poke the fire. She’d admitted it, finally, but she didn’t think she could take the admonishment. She hadn’t meant to, after all. She stirred the ashes and lifted a charred blocks to allow it air so the fire could catch beneath it.
She would answer, but she wouldn’t look at him. “I did. I killed her.”
“You couldn’t.” He grasped her by the shoulder and twisted her away from the fire. “Her tattaus, her blood, would have protected her.”
Now it was her turn to be confused. “Her blood?”
“Yes. Alaysha. Didn’t you know she was your mother’s sister? She was your blood witch.”
Alaysha ran her memory back as many paths as she could as she stood there. It didn’t make sense. She’d killed her, she knew it. She remembered it.
“I don’t understand,” she said.
“You are young,” he said and took the stick from her. In his hands the fire leapt to ready flame.
“How do you do that so easily?”
He grinned at her. “I can’t tell you all my secrets.”
“It seems you are keeping a good many.” She held her hands out to the flame.
“I have a few, yes,” he agreed.
There were so many questions already roiling around in her head, she barely knew what to ask, how would she ever find a way to sort them all out. Yet something was bothering her more than anything else. Something he’d said kept trying to creep back into her consciousness.
“Your sister had tattaus across her chin.”
He nodded but he wouldn’t look into her eyes. “She was being tattaued. We thought she had plenty of time to get them finished.”
“I got to her before she could have the black filled in?”
“You said the symbols and their placement were relevant.”
Again he nodded.
“So your sister was a witch.”
He sighed as though he’d been holding his breath. “Yes. She would have been. But not nearly as powerful as you.”
He looked at her so strangely, she thought she must have said something wrong. He reached for her and she went to him without thinking and stepped into his embrace.
“You have more power than you can know. I don’t blame you, Alaysha.”
She thought she heard herself sob but knew it couldn’t be true; she’d never once cried over all the lives she had taken. Not once. A warrior did not feel. A warrior did not allow emotion to keep her from her task.
She felt the warmth of his breath on her cheek before she felt his touch. He kissed her just at the rise of each cheek, where she knew tears had pooled, and then he brushed her eyes with his lips, capturing the fluid as it leaked out.
“You’re so beautiful,” he murmured.
His mouth claimed hers tentatively at first, then took it with such force he could have been a man below the waterline too long, thirsting for air, gulping it in as though his life depended on it. She responded so similarly, she felt herself losing the will to stand and even as she thought she would let go, she felt his arms beneath her knees and around her waist and she was lain on down, against the fur. His hand roamed her hips and legs, stroked her back. She couldn’t stop herself from pressing against him and feeling every inch of his body against hers, and yet it wasn’t close enough still.
Barruch made a sound somewhere between a whinny and a snort, and it was enough to remind Alaysha that they were not truly alone; the girl could have returned. She pulled away and scrabbled to her feet, breathless and feeling as though she’d narrowly escaped some danger. Yenic lay on his back with a short grin playing at the corners of his mouth. He put his hands behind his head and for a second, she wanted to strike him for his arrogance but remembered how badly she wanted to feel his mouth on hers again, and ended up scurrying away to hide the blush she knew had taken her cheeks.
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What Amazon readers are saying about Water Witch:
MysteryReader: “Though the stories and the heroines are different in many ways, I found myself repeatedly comparing Thea’s Alaysha in Water Witch to Jean Auel’s Ayla in the the Earth’s Children book series…and that, by the way, is a compliment….”
Gordon Bonnet: “… All I can say is that if you are new to Thea Atkinson’s work, start with this one. You won’t be disappointed. “
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