Sacrificial Grounds: The Bell Witch Series Book 2
Sacrificial Grounds: The Bell Witch Series Book 2
Sacrificial Grounds: The Bell Witch Series Book 2

Sacrificial Grounds: The Bell Witch Series Book 2

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They survived the witch’s game. Now they’re fighting back…

The offspring of the four families have barely managed to escape the Bell Witch’s deadly harvest. Exhausted, terrified, and haunted by their families’ twisted secrets, they know that death still awaits in the woods. Unless they can work together, and end the curse once and for all.

Determined to free their families from the witch’s game, the young survivors return to the mist-shrouded forests of Black River, Tennessee. But they soon realize they are not alone. Something is watching, stalking them through the gnarled trees. Something that wants the witch’s secrets to stay hidden.

When a bloody confrontation forces the group to flee even deeper into the woods, they soon find themselves in the witch’s decrepit old house. As the full moon rises over the cursed ruins, they must each confront their darkest fears and doubts. How far are they willing to go to end the witch’s bloody curse?

And who will pay the ultimate price?

211 pages

Chapter 1

Campfire smoke and forest pine lingered in the warm Spring breeze. Only a few months ago, Mina would have found it a pleasant smell. Now, each breath threatened to summon a flood of memories she would sooner forget.

Tales of the Bell Witch had filled her childhood. She had never believed them. Even now, she was sure that superstition and fear had mutated individual ‘facts’ beyond recognition. But she could no longer doubt there was far more truth to it than she had ever suspected. She had lived through the Harvest; those last days of October when the Bell Witch selected a person from each of the four families she had damned, and lured them back to where it had all started. The backwoods of Black River, Tennessee. The Witch Woods.

A screaming child sprinted across her field of vision. Mina jerked, her shoulder slamming against the side of Basheba’s car as the child cut across the campsite. Basheba glared at the kid until it jumped into the nearby lake and disappeared within the turquoise water.

“I hate Spring Break,” Basheba muttered as she returned to prodding the campfire to make the flames grow.

They were the first words Basheba had spoken in the last twenty minutes and Mina was eager to extend it into a full conversation.

“Because of all the kids?”

Basheba arched an eyebrow but went back to tending her fire without a word. Under five feet tall, blonde, and with skin like strawberries and cream, Basheba Bell looked like a porcelain doll, not a woman in her twenties with a violent fear of children. Even the leather patch covering her left eye couldn’t change that.

“How’s your eye?” Mina asked, studying the eyepatch with a mix of awe and guilt.

The Bell Witch hadn’t been the only one to underestimate Basheba and the lengths to which she was willing to go. Mina had thought herself as good as dead when the Witch had manifested the key behind Basheba’s eye. Everyone else had already locked their demon boxes, and the two girls had clashed from the beginning. But Basheba hadn’t hesitated. There, laying in the snow and muck, covered in blood and without anesthetic, she had ordered Cadwyn to cut out her eye.

Over the months, Mina had thought of that moment so often she could recall every second in detail. Cadwyn Winthrop was a career psych nurse in a maximum-security prison. It was kind of a waste. He had the hands of a surgeon. With only a basic medical pack, he had skillfully removed Basheba’s eye, retrieved the key, and returned the orb to its socket without causing any lasting damage. His expertise didn’t end there. Somehow, he had managed to keep infection at bay for the entire two-day hike back to town. If Mina hadn’t been afraid of Basheba before, the fact that she walked the whole way without a word of complaint would have done it.

“Had a check-up this morning,” Basheba answered at last. “I’ve got to wear the patch for a few more weeks. After that, I’ll just have to do the odd exercise to keep the muscle strong.”

“Any visual damage?”

“None.” A small smile curled the edges of her lips. “I knew Cadwyn could do it. I’m not going to lie; I really want to rub it in Katrina’s smug face.”

Mina flinched. When people spoke of the Witch, it was always by her title and with a certain degree of reverent fear, like she was some malicious god. For Basheba, however, the Witch was nothing more than a pathetic hag with delusions of grandeur. She called her by name. Either spitting it out with undiluted contempt or lingering on it with mockery. Mina couldn’t decide if she found it unnerving or comforting. Maybe it’s different for the Bells, Mina thought. They’ve lived with her the longest.

Katrina’s obsession with the Bells had been her destruction. It had exposed her as a witch and brought about her execution. But even death hadn’t been enough to stop her. She hated them with a rage so potent it had bled out to consume four bloodlines for two hundred years. She was The Bell Witch.

“My first year of college has been fun,” Mina blurted out. Basheba might be immune to awkward silences, but she wasn’t. “Busy, but fun.”

“Criminal Justice, right?” Basheba asked absently.

“Yeah. It’s a huge workload, but I was prepared for that. It’s the extracurriculars. Between moot court, volunteering at the hospital, and the soup kitchen, I barely have time to think.”

Basheba paused and turned to her.

Mina shrugged. “I need a free ride to Harvard Med. The competition is intense. You need to stand out.”

Basheba’s brow furrowed but she quickly hid her reaction. “You have a free ride now, right?”

“Full scholarship,” Mina beamed, puffing up a little with pride.

Mina had written down her life plan when she was in kindergarten. From there, no matter how hard she worked, it felt like she was just waiting for her life to begin. Now she was on track. Her Criminal Justice degree was in sight. She’d use it to secure her medical degree. Then it would be straight to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“And that covers dorm room?”

Mina deflated somewhat. “It did, but I’m staying with my cousin.”

“Why?”

“My parents offered to pay for my living expenses if I did. I don’t have time for a part-time job. It only makes sense.”

Basheba opened her mouth as if to speak, but then seemed to decide in the last moment to keep it to herself and went back to tending her fire, waiting for her kettle to boil. Buck, Basheba’s colossal Rottweiler, grumbled as he shuffled closer to Mina’s knees. His slick tongue flopped out to lap at his jaws. There was something in the motion that Mina took as a threat. Buck adored Basheba and rarely ventured more than a few feet from her side. This unwavering attention felt like he was obeying a command. In the woods, she’d seen just how savage he could be for his mistress.

The Witch had preyed on Basheba’s odd fear of children, conjuring demons that looked just like them. Buck hadn’t hesitated to rip through them in a storm of fangs and blood. Even if she had been spared the sight of the horrific aftermath, the sheer size of the Rottweiler was enough to leave people on edge. Mina watched families come and go, pulling up into the camping spaces next to Basheba’s, only to move again after catching sight of the monstrous hound.

Barbeques were lit while Basheba worked on her tea, adding the scents of sizzling sausages to the lingering aroma. People played in the lake, splashing and squealing, while others wandered about, taking photographs of the surrounding mountains.

“This is a gorgeous spot,” Mina said, hoping to reignite the conversation. “Have you been here before?”

“I don’t go to the same place twice,” Basheba dismissed, poking at the charred wood. It split with a pop, spewing embers up around the kettle.

“Nowhere?” Mina asked.

A few distant shrill screams of delight and the crackle of the fire was the only response Mina received. My back is starting to hurt from carrying this conversation, Mina thought with a small measure of bitterness. She had come here with a purpose, and couldn’t broach the subject until she got Basheba into a good mood. Maybe I should have started with Cadwyn.

She frowned as she studied Basheba’s car. A dented, old copper-colored Chevrolet hatchback that should have gone to the scrap heap after the Witch had totaled it. Apparently, Basheba had put a lot of the money Ozzie Sewall had given her into restoring it.

Davis, Mina corrected herself. Up until a few months ago, the poor guy hadn’t even known he was biologically a Sewall, or of the curse he had inherited. His whole life, he had thought that Percival Sewall was his godfather and that he had been born a Davis. It was a lot to deal with, but the fifteen-year-old had held it together in the woods.

“Have you heard from Ozzie lately?” Mina asked.

It might help somewhat. Basheba had warmed up to him a bit.

“Yeah. His arm’s fine.”

“I thought he gave you money for a new car.”

“My car works just fine. I used that for travel, instead,” Basheba shrugged. “I don’t think he’ll mind.”

“As the heir to two of the wealthiest families in the world, nah, I don’t think he will,” Mina giggled.

Basheba’s brow furrowed slightly.

“They both made it onto the Forbes Top 100 list last year.”

“Really?”

“I know, it’s so weird, isn’t it? I always thought people that rich were obligated to be jerks.”

“No, I mean, you read Forbes Magazine?” Basheba shook her head in bafflement. “Weird.”

Mina pressed her lips into a tight smile to keep from sighing. This isn’t going well. She had memorized a few topics of conversation before approaching Basheba. It hadn’t been an easy task. Four days in the woods alone and she still didn’t know that much about the shorter girl. It was easy enough to tell what she hated. She never hid her rage. Against the families, the Witch, her uncle. Her disgust was bearded for all to see. But Mina wanted to put her in a good mood. That was harder. Beyond travel, the only things that brought a smile to her face were Buck, Cadwyn, and fire. She brought up travel. Follow up on it.

“Where did you go? With the extra cash?”

“Florida. I wanted to see the Everglades and go to Disney World.” At last, the blonde smiled with real warmth. Not at Mina, but at Buck.

“Disney World?” Mina pressed, trying to regain the girl’s attention.

Basheba hummed. “I prefer Dollywood.”

“They let you on the rides with your eye in that condition?”

“No.”

“Why didn’t you wait? I mean, if you never go back to a place, it seems a bit of a waste.”

Basheba stared at her like she was slow. “If I waited, my eye wouldn’t have looked so gross.”

“Yes, that’s right,” Mina said, still confused.

Basheba sighed heavily and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Well, they wouldn’t let me bring in my service animal if I looked okay, right?”

Mina stammered as the kettle whistled. She studied Basheba carefully as the blonde poured out two cups of tea and came to sit beside her.

“You managed to convince them Buck was a service dog?”

It was a level of bravado Mina hadn’t thought anyone was capable of reaching. The trunk of the hatchback car had been converted into a bed and, once she was seated upon the mattress, Basheba’s legs were too short to reach the ground. She swung them absentmindedly as she handed Mina a mug.

“We’ve got under seven months until the next Harvest, and I wasn’t about to go out without getting a pic of Buck and me with Cinderella.”

Blindsided by another unexpected statement, Mina numbly took the mug. “Cinderella?”

“She’s my favorite.”

You have a favorite princess?”

“Yeah.”

“And it’s Cinderella?”

“The girl was willing to walk on broken glass just to give the middle finger to her lifelong emotional abusers,” Basheba sighed wistfully. “If only I could be that badass.”

The memory of Basheba using a lighter and a can of antiseptic spray as a makeshift flamethrower flashed across Mina’s mind.

“Personally, I find you terrifying.” Mina hadn’t meant for the words to slip out but was glad to see Basheba’s growing smile.

“Aw, that’s sweet. Drink your tea.”

Warmth beamed from her smile even while her eyes remained as cold as a grave. It made Mina’s skin crawl. She’s up to something. Forcing a matching smile, Mina cupped the hot mug with both hands and nodded her thanks.

“Blow on it first. Don’t want to burn yourself,” Basheba chirped.

Mina took a tentative sip. It took a moment for the heat to fade and leave a sweet, lingering taste.

“This is nice,” Mina said.

“Oh, good. I was worried I wouldn’t brew it right,” Basheba said. “I had to do your favorite blend justice, right?”

“Favorite blend?” Mina raised her mug to sniff at the steam. Sweet berries. But she couldn’t place which kind.

“I just assumed it was,” Basheba continued pleasantly, adding when Mina took another exploratory sip. “Why else would you bring the leaves into the woods with you?”

Mina lurched forward, spraying the contents out over her hand and lap. Belladonna. I just drank Belladonna.

“Too hot?” Basheba asked.

She glanced up at the blonde, absently wiping at her mouth. Basheba smiled.

“Drink your tea, Willimina.”

“Basheba, that was Belladonna.”

“I know.”

“Deadly Nightshade,” Mina pressed. “It’s toxic. Have you been drinking this?”

“Of course not,” Basheba chuckled. The sound came and went in a second, replaced by an icy glare. “Drink your tea.”

What? “It’s poison.”

“Well, yeah. I’m murdering you. Honestly, how is it taking you this long to catch on? You’re supposed to be smart.”

For a long moment, Mina could only stare at her, brow furrowed and jaw hanging open. A thousand thoughts raced through her head, but she could only manage to stammer.

“You can’t do that.”

“Who’s going to stop me?” Basheba said with clear amusement.

“I won’t drink it.”

“That’s your choice,” Basheba shrugged. “It’s what I would do. But then, I always take the hard way.”

“What?”

She got her answer when she stretched out her arm, ready to tip the contents on the grass. Buck’s lips curled back as he released a low, rumbling growl. Long, pristine fangs glistened in the noonday light. Mina froze. She didn’t expect the sharp lurch he took toward her. Forgetting about the cup, she threw herself back to escape his snapping jaws, making the steaming liquid slosh over her hand.

“Hey, don’t wet my bed,” Basheba protested.

Gathering her wits, Mina chuckled nervously. “You almost had me there. I honestly thought you were going to kill me.”

“I am,” Basheba replied. “Well, me or Buck. But there’s no ‘I’ in team. A kill for one of us is a kill for both.”

“You can’t do this!”

“You keep saying that,” Basheba dismissed.

Mina grappled for understanding, her heart racing and Bucks growling ringing in her ears.

“We’re in public.”

“So?”

“Dog attacks draw attention. People are concerned by that sort of thing.”

“Yeah. And when people are concerned, they make sure their loved ones are safe first. Keys are in the ignition. It won’t take long for him to rip out your throat. I think we can get away while they’re trying to help you.”

“You’ll have to leave everything behind,” Mina blurted.

“They’re just things. All replaceable.”

“We’re not in Black River. Crimes have consequences here. You’ll go to prison, and Buck will be put down.”

Basheba tilted her head, seeming to consider that. At last, she shrugged. “We’re five minutes from the state border. You’d be surprised what you can get away with just by crossing jurisdiction lines. Drink. Or stand. Your call.”

The reality struck Mina like a wall of ice. Basheba Bell was completely willing to kill her. Here and now. After they had been chatting idly for at least twenty minutes. Think, she commanded herself as sweat beaded along her hairline. Stay calm and think.

“I never used it,” Mina said, trying to buy some time for her mind to work.

“You didn’t have time to,” Basheba countered. “That doesn’t count. You brought it along. One leaf for me. One for Cadwyn. One for Ozzie. None for you. The intention’s pretty clear.”

Cadwyn. A small idea blossomed on the edges of Mina’s brain. She shuffled as if to get comfortable, the motion making Buck growl again. It was just enough of a distraction that she was able to slip closer to her purse.

“I didn’t bring it. Someone put it in my bag.”

It was Basheba’s turn to look completely baffled. “You were holding it for a friend?”

“I didn’t pack it. I only knew it was there just before we set out.”

“You didn’t get rid of it.”

“I didn’t see a reason to. It wasn’t weighing me down.”

The blonde was silent for a moment, too consumed by her thoughts to notice Mina’s slowly creeping hand. The latch of her purse brushed her fingertips.

“All right,” Basheba said, startling Mina and making her freeze. “Who put it in your bag?”

Mina’s stomach dropped. “Why?”

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