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Celebrate Ostara with Wild and Wicked Things

Ostara Wild and Wicked Things

Ostara, the Wiccan holiday celebrating the Spring Equinox takes place on Sunday 20th March this year and we have the perfect book to sit back with and enjoy.


Wild and Wicked Things by Francesca May is The Great Gatsby meets Practical Magic in a lush, decadent gothic novel where a young woman gets swept into a glittering world filled with illicit magic, romance, blood debts and murder.


Wild and Wicked Things isn’t out until 31st March, however seeing as it is Ostara, we thought we’d give you a sneak peek – dive into chapter three below . . .


Chapter 3




Over the last few years I had learned that the best time to practise magic was not at midnight like my aunt had always said; the true witching hour was the morning after a party, any time after the last straggler passed out in the fountain and before eight o’clock.


I had taken to setting up my altar in the attic long before the others were awake because it was easier when I didn’t have to answer questions. In the beginning I’d shared every story with them, lingering on the details I’d gleaned while Nathan made tea or breakfast. If an appointment had been resolved in one sitting, as they so often were, I’d enjoy explaining the clients’ faces when I’d told them to swallow a spoonful of honeyed wine spiced with verveine for peace or wild garlic for protection. I asked Isobel to help me find the best herbs for my spells, because she always seemed to know not only which worked best, but how to combine and mix for a better result. I always allowed them to examine my recipes, making suggestions or jokes, although I often ignored them.


These days things were different. Two drops of blood and a concoction I could fit into a vial smaller than my thumb or I wouldn’t take it on. I couldn’t.


Nathan and Isobel could never know how bad it had become, how the blood in my veins was growing thick and tired, how my magic sometimes felt cracked and dry like a cursed riverbed. I flexed my hands instinctively, drawing the nails into my palms and measuring the weak throb of my pulse.


For my final of last night’s clients I used an old recipe of my aunt’s, bastardised by years of Cilla’s tutelage. I measured out eight drops of lavender oil, a thimbleful of dried ground yarrow, two big sprigs of fresh rosemary, and wax from a red candle, which I mixed with a single drop of blood pricked from the end of my finger, two pinches of grave dirt, and a healthy sprinkle of salt. The herbs made a faint hissing sound as I stoppered the vial and sealed it with more red wax.


Two drops of blood would have been more effective, three better still, but one would have to do. My aunt would have been disappointed if she could see me relying on such a base kind of magic— but she wasn’t here.


The pull of the magic as the blood dried on my fingertip was familiar. The pain that roared up my arm and into my chest was new. It faded fast so I ignored it, tidying up the last of the cuttings and the fresh herbs. The sun had already been up for a couple of hours and the sky through the attic window was clear and startlingly blue. At the peaked window I peered out to where the gardens joined the ocean.

Beyond, on days like today, you could see the northern point of the island, a hump of houses that sometimes flickered white as the sun caught their bright stone facades. Not for the first time I allowed my thoughts to stray to the light on our porch, purple and distinctive. I wondered if she might be out there on the northern point, if my imagination had not run wild with the scant details she had left me. If she might be able to see the light and know I was still looking for her. My gaze moved to the back lawn, shaded but gold dipped at the edges, where three — no, four — guests were draped under a big old oak whose cover had protected them from the worst of the damp night.


There were three women and a man— I recognised none of them— curled together against the dawn chill, sleeping deeply. They were all young, beautiful strangers dressed in bright party garb, their headdresses sparkling, their peacock and dove feathers wilted and crumpled. One wore a gown crafted from gold scales, shining even in the shade of the tree, and another was barefoot, no shoes in sight. It might be hours before they woke, yet. The kazam had run dry at just gone three, but Isobel’s latest mixture was certainly potent.


I pushed away from the window, rolled up the sleeves of my shirt, and set to my other work. Downstairs, glasses filled with colourful dregs littered every surface, new rings staining Cilla’s antique wooden sideboards, which I marked with indifference. Cigarette ashes overflowed the gilded porcelain trays, and I was certain I’d find spilled tobacco in the creases of the upholstery. I started with the glassware, my thoughts turning to last night, to another success.


Echoes of laughter had filled the hallways, the ballroom, the fullness replaced by a ringing emptiness in the light of day. It had been a party that rivalled all others. There had been a cacophony of noise, the heat of bodies crushed against one another, the light of a thousand twinkling electric stars. The house had flamed; the liquor had flowed: kazam and kyraz; gin and amber whisky; pink champagne with bubbles so soft they were like a thousand tiny kisses on a welcoming tongue. The whole of Crow Island had known about the party.


I hadn’t invited them, but it seemed like the whole of Crow Island had come.


Except for her.


I forced the thoughts away as my mood darkened and scrubbed the bar in the parlour harder. I was still there when Nathan stumbled down the last flight of stairs and through the grand archway, his brown hair mussed and his sleepy face drawn. His presence was like a blanket and my resolve threatened to unravel. I wanted to tell him everything.


“Oh good,” I said before he could speak. My voice was tight but I didn’t care. Nathan would understand if he knew. He would comfort me. I couldn’t face it. “Now that you’re awake you can go and get rid of those stragglers on the lawn. And when Isobel gets up, tell her she needs to go lighter on the poppy petals next time.”


I could smell Nathan’s particular coffee- and- cinnamon scent as he wandered slowly through the parlour, picking up two glasses I’d missed on the mantel and returning them to the bar. “You’re lucky she brews it for you at all,” he said. His tone was light but I knew an admonishment when I heard one. “You know how she feels about all of this. I’m sure she’d much rather us drink the lot.”


I threw down the cloth and marched over to the large bay window that looked out over the front lawn sloping towards our gravel drive. The sun was bright and hot and I leaned against the sill for a moment, my blood settling slowly like silt on the bottom of a river. just that small morning magic had left me drained.


“You’re right, love. I didn’t mean anything by it.”


“Of course you didn’t. I know you’re always beastly after a party, so I won’t hold it against you.” Nathan grinned, clinking the two glasses together, miming celebration, but the sound was empty. Then he sighed, suddenly serious. “Look at us, darling, we’re working ourselves to the bone. We should get more help than just the waiters. Or maybe we should take Isobel’s advice and reconsider the parties altog—”


“We’ve had this conversation, Nathan,” I said, not turning from the window. “Isobel has her clients and I have mine. If I choose to charge them, and how I choose to invite them to the house in the first place, is up to me. Besides, it’s not as if the parties are just for attention.”


Nathan laughed incredulously. “Aren’t they entirely about attention?”


I gripped the sill, forcing my knuckles to whiten, watching the blood drain from them and thinking of last night, of all those people, all that magic in this house. A success. And yet still, a failure.


“You know it’s not that simple. We don’t want the attention of everybody.


We want — her.”


Nathan said nothing to that. He was partly to blame. If he’d kept an eye on her— if he’d only done as I’d asked — we wouldn’t be in this position. Never mind if I hadn’t done the unthinkable in the first place.


The sound of a door slamming somewhere outside startled me Nathan heard it too, abandoning the dirty glasses to come and see. The trees between our house and the annexed cottage next door were thin and spindly and we peered for a better view.


“That cottage has been empty for months. I wonder which misguided soul has taken it on this time. Haven’t they heard about the raging heathens who live here?” Nathan smirked. “I hope they like noise.”


A woman left the cottage and walked towards a cream-coloured motorcar. She was young and fine boned, her golden hair wrapped up in a loose knot. She moved cautiously, with a measured kind of grace, like a cat weighing her surroundings. Nathan kept speaking, but I couldn’t hear him over the sudden, foreign roaring sound in my ears and a wrenching feeling deep in my chest. I recalled a similar moment last night, when I’d been standing on the porch and watching for signs of life in the grand houses on the northern point. It had felt, for a moment, like being stung by a bee. Sharp, painful. After a moment it grew dull, the ache moving towards my heart, the faint sound of the ocean ringing in my head. I’d assumed it was the debt, and ignored it.


I clenched my fingers tight as a new sensation washed over me; it was akin to being swept by a wild gust of ocean wind, bitter and raw. It was fear mingled with a strange kind of longing. When I blinked I saw darkness and ruby flowers, three pairs of crows’ wings, flapping madly, damp earth under my fingernails, my veins tinged black by the sluggish slip of my blood. Without thinking I bit down hard on my tongue and threw up my mental barriers, grabbing the slippery feeling and hauling it down into the recesses of my chest, where it hid, cowed by the iron tang of my blood. Distantly I recognised the normal sounds of life as Nathan spoke again about the cottage, the woman, about the guests still sleeping on our back lawn, and eventually another voice joined
his, thick with sleep.


“Here you two are.” Isobel, her dark ringlets still bundled in an old silk scarf of Cilla’s, headed for the window. She wore a pair of shorts under a nightshirt, the collar slipping off one shoulder. In her hands she held two steaming cups of coffee, one of which she immediately thrust at Nathan. I forced myself to look away as the blond woman next door climbed into the cream car.


“What are you two gawking at this time of day? Did somebody do something foolish on the lawn last night? Is it a big horrible mess? If it is, I absolutely will say I told you so.”


I took my coffee from Isobel, grateful I didn’t have to reply. It was weaker than the kind Nathan made, which was always dosed with cinnamon and strong enough to stand a stick up in. As the car pulled away the feeling in my chest dulled, a faint roar of surf in my ears as my heartbeat returned to normal.


“Em’s mooning over the new neighbour.” Nathan sipped his coffee, his face the picture of innocence. “Probably about time she got a new hobby.” I didn’t say anything.


“Who?” Isobel asked, craning her neck.


“Gone now, darling. You slept too late and missed all the fun. She’s some pretty young thing.”


“It’s a pity it’s not some strapping man for me to flirt with,” Isobel teased. Nathan’s cheeks coloured and he slapped away the long finger Isobel wagged as she continued. “An extra pair of strong, sturdy hands certainly wouldn’t go amiss around here.”


“I wish you two would make yourselves useful instead of teasing each other,” I said churlishly. “Or teasing me. I’m too tired for this.” I turned fully away from the window, planting my feet firmly.


“You”— I pointed at Nathan— “ need to get those hangers‑on off the back lawn or so help me I’ll lock the greenhouse and overwater all your plants. And you”— I turned to Isobel, who raised an eyebrow in challeng —


“what on earth did you put poppy petals in the kazam for?”


Isobel looked surprised, letting out a bark of laughter. “You mean why did you use the syrup I specifically told you not to use, which was labelled For Isobel, when you made the wine? The wine I told you not to brew yourself? I told you that syrup was for my work, not yours. Serves you right for thinking the world revolves around you. And now you owe me, dearest, because that batch took me two weeks to make. So I suppose I shall have to ask you kindly to spend some time helping me brew another one.”


I rolled my eyes at her smile, but I was glad for Isobel, who always felt like a tall tree to shelter beside— even when she was bawling me out. Perhaps especially when she was bawling me out. I was always grateful for Nathan’s gentle warmth, but Isobel’s love felt like a firm pair of guiding hands. I wondered, just for a second, whether they would simply be grateful when I was gone.


I followed Nathan and Isobel farther into the house as they carried on bickering, about the booze, about the parties, about me and my clients. I followed them away from the cottage and the woman. Away, too, from that tugging feeling, still there, deep down inside me, which felt like a warning.



If you’re keen to read on, get your copy of Wild and Wicked Things from the links below.