Short Story: Insightful
This is a deleted scene that belongs to the book THE HIGH PRIESTESS, which is the first book in the Historical Collection and takes place about 500 years before Bianca Monroe’s story.
This scene began a sequence I eventually had to scrap, where Vittoria and Mateo work together to find other witches that would support Mateo in his eventual rise to power—before the intensity of the rebellion really took over. In this iteration of the story, Vittoria and Mateo stayed at Magnolia castle together, in adjoining rooms.
In the end, this idea elongated the story too much, and it bogged things down trying to drive that agenda. There wasn’t a lot of movement through the whole sequence, though I genuinely loved the idea of them embarking on an adventure like that together. Instead, I chose something that created more tension and drive right away.
If you haven’t read THE HIGH PRIESTESS, there are no major spoilers in this deleted scene except having an idea of what would have happened mid-book. But it would definitely be more fun to have read the book first!
For those of you that have read THE HIGH PRIESTESS, I hope you love some more time with my favorite ruling couple :)
* * *
The letters on the page in front of Vittoria were familiar, but not in the order she saw them. Then again, having never been taught to read, she felt encouraged with any letter recognition.
She puzzled over a few letters grouped in a long string. Zuri had quickly become not only her friend and one of Mateo’s sneakiest accomplices, but Vittoria’s tutor.
Your name, Vittoria. Zuri’s face lit up with a smile. Have you ever seen it in letters before?
The word no had filled Vittoria’s throat, but not escaped. Now that she stared at the curve and twist of the letters, a sense of puzzlement followed. She’d never seen her name written out. To see it reduced to letters on the page, when to her it was so much more, sent a frisson of something odd through her.
Maybe fear, in a sense. As if even letters could have power over her.
A gentle rapping on her door caught her attention.
Mateo cracked open the door between their rooms, peering in with an adorable expression that reminded her of Eneko when he was up to no good.
“Come in,” she called again.
He stepped inside with his usual boyish smile and floppy grin. His hair was wet, pushed out of his face with errant, ebony curls around his forehead. Her heart hummed in her throat. By the Givers, he was handsome. He nearly swallowed the room with his presence. Why did landowners seem to get all the luck?
“Mateo.” She shut the book on her lap, the paper with her name closed between pages thin as a whisper. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“It’s been two days.” A hint of worry lingered in his gaze as he studied her. “You’re well?”
“Attempting to read.” She sighed with a hint of a smile.
“Some, but it’s slow.”
“You have to rearrange the way you think a bit.” He crossed the room to sit on the other side of the divan from her, carefully away, but not too far. He rested his large hands on his knees. “I’m sure that’s not easy.”
“You seem different.” She resisted the urge to brush a curl off his forehead. The skin between her eyebrows pushed together as she studied him, filled with something uncertain. “Did something positive happen today? Did you confirm a vote in our favor?”
He shook his head. “No, but Balta has given me a good idea, of all witches, that could help us feel out who would give us a vote.”
His eyes gleamed with sudden excitement. “I’m going to host a dinner. A secret one. One that encourages and allows transformation and disguise for the witches that attend. I think witches are afraid to be seen around me, particularly if Romeo would notice. This . . . secret dinner would negate that. Invitation only, kind of thing. Hopefully, it would ensure Pere wouldn’t spy on it—though one hardly knows what he’s capable of these days.”
His voice had turned musing, even lighthearted. He had a surge of power, like a frisson of electricity, with every new idea.
“How?” she asked, hands stacked on top of each other on her lap.
He shrugged. “Magic, somehow.”
Her blood turned cold. Magic had that uncanny ability of putting everyone on the same level: the level where no one knew the truth. Having no experience with magic, she was decidedly below everyone that surrounded her here. The disadvantage was severe and distinct. Would she be able to attend there, the way he would want her to?
Without Mateo to provide a level of defense and protection, she’d be doomed.
She forced the thought away.
Mateo would always protect her.
“Balta gave you this idea?” she asked, propping her hands behind her.
“Well, no. He gave me an idea. I’ve grown it out from here on my own and came up with that.”
“Sounds like a dangerous idea.”
His gaze illuminated with a quick smile. “Which makes it all the more appealing, don’t you see?”
Given the bloodlust she’d witnessed so far amongst the Landowners, she did see. She wished that she hadn’t. Only those with an excess of life could feel so free in giving it back to the Givers that granted it in the first place.
Or wasting it in such revelry.
“Perhaps not appealing for me,” he said, gaze trained on her expression, “because I take all the risk, but for them. If we are to get the votes, we must speak at their level. This is one of the barriers to stop them from finding us.”
Still, her stomach clenched.
He went oddly still as he stared out into the night with its endless, roaring waves. Vittoria studied his profile—she couldn’t help it. Her eyes seemed to be drawn to him of their own accord.
“I’ve already started to issue invitations,” he murmured. “We’ll have to act quickly. We have five days left before I’ll host it.”
Five days? That seemed alarmingly fast. To already issue the invitations . . . his decisive nature often startled her.
“Where?” she asked.
“Hodei would expect that,” she murmured. “You have to take them all by surprise. Romeo too, if you truly want to hide it from him.”
“And where would surprise Hodei and Romeo?”
She shrugged. “Something on the water, perhaps. You’re not known for being there. Not many Landowners are, mostly Navy witches. Or right under his nose. So close he’d never think to look.”
Mateo’s expression darkened. “Indeed,” he murmured. “Very insightful.”
“Don’t tell the attendees where or when in advance. Just give them twenty minutes notice,” she said. “They can’t be prepared for it, they just have to go. And maybe they come in waves, everyone to a different time and place.”
“Two minutes,” he said. “Even twenty would give them a chance.”
“And only be available for ten or fifteen in each place. If it’s short, they’ll be more likely to attend.”
“Yes,” he murmured, “very nice.”
A quill and paper appeared near him and began to scribble while he murmured and hummed to himself. Vittoria stared at it, startled. Getting the hang of a thin feather in her fingers, and controlling it to her will, had been awkward and blundering. This feather, with the ease of magic, made her feel a burst of irritation. Of course, with magic it felt so easy.
Finally, he broke his concentration to look at her.
“Will you be with me?” he asked.
The depths of something lingered in his gaze. If she’d let herself, she would have gotten lost in it.
She swallowed hard. “Where else would I be?”
He sucked in a sharp breath, then let it out on a small smile. His hand lifted, hovering just above her cheek. She could almost feel his knuckle graze her cheekbone. The ghost of a touch. Then he pulled away.
Suddenly, it seemed all too real to her that his sheer size, his masculine scent, could be gone. In the final fight, should Romeo win, Mateo would never return. Though she’d known him for so little time, to imagine him taken out of this world?
Her brain couldn’t reconcile it.
But now, she needed a break.
“Thank you for coming tonight.” She straightened with him. “I’ve missed our talks. Please, let me know what I can do to help.”
A fleeting smile ghosted his lips, but she could see his expression far away. His mind had already moved on to conquer the next challenge. The next obstacle. She let him go back to his room with a sense of relief in the departure.
Her attraction to Mateo was almost too much to handle.
* * *
I hope you loved the additional insight into the world of THE HIGH PRIESTESS! Whether it’s your first encounter with Vittoria and Mateo, or a new one, I’m crossing my fingers it was a good one.
If you haven’t gotten your copy yet, just click right here. That’ll take you to my independent bookstore, where you can order it in e-book or paperback. The audiobook is coming soon!