“She is a horrible mother. Is. Not was. She’s still alive.”

“She might as well be dead.”

I hit Raphael’s shoulder. “You don’t mean that.”

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“Yes.” His voice held a level of finality that chilled me. “Yes, I do.”

The door swung open, cutting off my response. Not that I had a good one. We’d had this fight a million times before.

A little lady stood in the doorway. A pair of glasses hung around her neck, dangling from a beaded necklace. Her curly gray hair was cut short, and her back was hunched a little. She smiled at me, and I smiled back automatically.

“Not all mothers are strong. And when placed in a tough spot, not all mothers choose the right thing for their children,” she said, her voice rasping. “That doesn’t mean you can’t love her or wish for things to be different.”

I sighed. “Hi, Tia Rosa.”

“I wondered how long it would take you to come visit me.” She opened the door wide. “Come in, everyone. It’s past time for a chat.”

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After a few days at St. Ailbe’s, being at Tia Rosa’s was a shock of scent and color. The smoke of the incense burning on her side table made me feel at home. Holy candles burned. Embroidered pillows nearly covered the couch.

My other cousin, Axel, Teresa’s older brother, sat on one of the other chairs. “Hola, primo,” I said.

“Hey,” he said, standing to greet us all.

Rosa bustled toward the kitchen and brought in a pot of tea before hurrying back and forth with a tray full of cups and saucers.

She made sure everyone was settled with a full cup before sitting in a well-worn chair beside the couch. She waved me over to sit down next to her. “So, you’ve finally broken ties with Luciana?”

I carefully set my teacup on the coffee table. “That’s the problem. We’re all bound by our oaths to her.”

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“Leaving the coven did not break your oath?” Rosa frowned, forming a deep line in her already wrinkled brow.

“No, ma’am,” Shane said. “Only mine was broken that way.”

Tia Rosa turned to Yvonne. “What’s happened?”

Yvonne wrung her hands together. “It’s worse than what you predicted. So much worse.”

Tia Rosa seemed to crumple. Her wrinkles looked a little deeper than they had a moment ago. “I had hoped I was wrong.”

“I should’ve listened to you,” Yvonne said. “I wanted to stay and help the younger ones, but all except these few chose to follow her way of thinking.”

Tia Rosa took my hand in hers. Her skin was so thin that it felt soft and papery. If I wasn’t careful, I worried I might hurt her. She patted my hand. “I’m sorry I have no good news for you. If Luciana bound your oath by blood, then there is little you can do. Barring extreme circumstances, it will only be broken when she chooses to release you.”

I swallowed. I couldn’t accept that. Not and live. “No. That can’t be the answer. I just—”

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“Maybe we should let the wolves bite us,” Beth said.

“What?!” Teresa said. “No. That’s a horrible idea.” Dastien muttered something I couldn’t make out. “Sorry, but it’s a horrible idea. I’m okay with being a wolf now, but it wasn’t an easy transition and I almost didn’t survive it. I was out of it for a week. And it didn’t get easier after I finally stabilized. Honestly, sometimes I still struggle with it. It’s not something to jump into.”

“But if that’s the only choice?” Meredith said. “Why not give it try if they’re volunteering?”

“No,” Donovan said. “Tessa’s right on this one. Tisn’t something to jump into lightly. I’ve seen even born wolves go mad because they couldn’t handle the first transition. That’s why we have places like St. Ailbe’s to help normalize the transition. It would be too dangerous for one who’s unprepared, especially with no mate to serve as anchor.”

“But it worked for Teresa,” Beth said.

“Yeah, because I had Dastien. Right?”

“Right, cherie.” He cleared his throat. “I held her for days while she slipped between human and wolf, unable to hold either shape. It nearly killed her.” He gave a Gallic shrug. “And it’s worth noting that biting Teresa is what set off this whole chain of evens. Biting more witches could add fuel to the fire that Luciana’s trying to start.”

“I don’t know. Hopefully the other covens can see through Luciana’s crap, and I’d rather have a chance than the alternative.” Beth cracked her knuckles. “And trying would be taking a step to fixing this. Staying like we are isn’t working for anyone.”

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