A witch with a bad feeling. A partner facing her own challenges. With the help of the ancestors, can the two of them stop danger in its tracks?
Alejandro has it good, except everything in his life feels wrong. But when his partner Shekinah confronts him, and a possible new love interest comes knocking, the last thing he wants is to face another challenge, this time from a long dead family member. As this ancestor desperately tries to communicate the danger targeting Alejandro's friends, he gets the sense there's more to the situation than meets the eye.
With the help of his coven and Shekinah, Alejandro must uncover the deep secrets of his family's past, and the secrets Portland holds. To protect his relationships and his life, he must risk everything he knows before death strikes yet again…
By Dark is the eighth spellbinding stand-alone story in The Witches of Portland series of paranormal urban fantasy novels.
T. Thorne Coyle writes powerful stories. And even the stories that are on the lighter side end up sticking with you. One of the reasons I chose this novel is because I love this entire series, the alternative Portland, and witches doing Good. Plus, Thorne is unabashedly queer, and their fiction reflects that. – Leah R Cutter
"This was more than an ordinary action story. I loved the way that the themes connected the magical powers and political works."– Reader review
"By Dark is a story of magic, love, connection, and commitment, set against the backdrop of the very real social injustices facing Portland. Highly recommended!"– Reader review
"I eagerly await each new episode in this series about a witches' coven in Portland, Oregon."– Reader review
Alejandro dropped his keys in the bowl on the nice side table in his condo's entryway. Much as he loved Raquel and Brenda's classic old Portland houses, he appreciated his low-maintenance condo even more. As he walked through to the living room, he thumbed his phone open. Pressed a few buttons. The sound system began to softly play Apocalyptica's second album. The walls were white, hung with Michoacán weavings, a couple of wooden masks and, over the gas fireplace, a flat screen television. Centered around the fireplace, a dark brown leather couch was grouped with a wood coffee table and two squared-off, white–linen-covered chairs.
As the rock cello hummed through the space, he walked past the wood dining table—another sleek, mid-twentieth-century piece—toward the tidy kitchen space. This was all sea-green glass subway tiles, white countertops, and chrome. Opening one of the navy-blue cabinets, his hand hovered in front of a small array of bottles of high-end liquor. Tequila? Or whisky? His fingers landed on a bottle of very good scotch. Oban. One of his favorites. So, whisky it was.
He poured two fingers into a heavy, squat tumbler and went back to the living room, to a corner nook flanked by two tall bookcases filled with curios, a Christmas photo of his sister, Catarina, and his nephews, dark hair covered by silly Santa hats, one of him and Shekinah at the ocean, and a larger portrait from his parent's twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. And, of course, books. Set into the corner nook were his favorite mid-century pieces: a canted wooden chair slung with leather and a matching ottoman, with a sculptural sweep of steel suspending a lamp directly over the chair. Perfect for reading.
He flicked on the lamp and swung into the chair, shifting the ottoman with his feet until it was just right.
He and Shekinah had talked about getting a place together, around six months after they started dating. But he had weaseled out of it, not wanting to move. He asked if she'd ever want to move into his condo.
"Look at this place, Alejandro. There's no room for anyone other than you here."
The condo had plenty of space for two people, but she was right. It was his place, through and through. There was no room for anyone here but him. And now, in the middle of his stupid crisis, the place felt sterile. Cold. It had always felt warm and welcoming to him before. But now? He could see the ways in which his earlier insistence on ambition and autonomy had crowded out everything else.
He'd bought this place after his last long-term relationship ended. Ten years of love and effort, and they still broke one another's hearts. They had tried polyamory and it just didn't work for Roger. Alejandro had always been poly. He'd tried monogamy on for Roger's sake, but couldn't quite manage it. They were at an impasse. An impasse that ended in tears. The fact that they still deeply loved each other almost made the heartbreak worse.
Roger had found a nice man who wanted to live a happily coupled life. They invited Alejandro to dinner once in a blue moon.
After the breakup, Alejandro had needed to retreat. Throw himself into his work. Study magic. Escape into his books and scotch on the days the pain came rushing back. He'd shaved his head to be more intimidating to the corporate masters he worked with, and, he finally admitted a few months ago, to get some distance from Roger, to shave off his old life.
Thank the Gods and Goddesses for his family. They had kept him connected to his heart all those years.
And then Shekinah had come along, like a cleansing wind. He would never forget the first time he saw her. She was sitting outside his favorite sushi place in northeast Portland, laughing with that wide mouth of hers at something her friend had said. She was blond, with an interesting face, and that laugh just killed him.
When he approached her table, she looked up at him and smiled. That was all it took.
She blew through his condo and his life. Shaking things up with her laughter, fresh fruit smoothies, and her yoga. That was five years ago, and they still lived apart. On one hand, that suited both of them. They were at one another's places four or more times a week, but had space and time to date other people, and have what they fondly called their "bachelor nights." The nights they spent alone in their underwear or pajamas, watching movies or reading books, and eating popcorn for dinner if they didn't feel like cooking.
Shekinah had a girlfriend she saw once a week, and he dated around, though hadn't settled on a steady anything other than Shekinah. And lately? He hadn't even dated. His flagging libido was another sign something was wrong. Shekinah thought it was just stress, but it worried him. She also gently suggested that at forty-five, it wasn't unusual for hormones to change and…
But he wasn't ready to hear that, either.
A few months ago, she also tried to reopen the "getting a place together" conversation.
"Why mess with perfection?" he had replied. There'd been a flicker of pain in her eyes, but she'd moved the conversation on. He'd never told her that after Roger, he was too afraid to take that risk.
Now he wondered if he'd fucked up.
He sipped at his whisky, letting the smoky, peaty scotch roll around his tongue before swallowing. The fumes were strong, almost medicinal. But Alejandro didn't think they'd cure whatever the hell was wrong with him.
Here he sat, in his expensive condo up on Broadway, within walking distance to fifty restaurants and bars, an easy commute to downtown, with a partner and family who loved him, but knowing he was a privileged fucker didn't make him feel any better.
I have no purpose anymore, he thought.
::Then get up off your ass and find one, mijo. And where's our ofrenda? Hmm?::
Alejandro shot up in his chair, steadying the whisky glass before it spilled. What in Goddess's name?
::That's what you get for ignoring us. We'll come and bite your ass, mijo. You better believe it. You should have taken the sobrinos to see the altars at El Mercado by now, hmmm?
Damn. His fucking ancestors. He set his whisky down on one of the bookshelves and ran both his hands across his skull. Earlier, Henry and Joey had ended up requesting hamburgers instead of tacos. He figured they'd go to the Mercado to see the ofrendas some other time.
::Some other time? When? Dia de los Muertos is almost upon us! And where. Is. Our. Ofrenda?"::
Damn again. They were right. He'd barely registered the coven talking about Samhain, and even though Joey y Henry had made some noise about Halloween, he hadn't really registered how late in the month it already was. Samhain was in five days. Dia de Los Muertos was two days after that, so, one week.
Lo siento, he thought.
"My apologies," he said to the empty apartment. Hoisting himself up out of the chair, he thumbed the music louder, went to the hallway closet, and took down a cardboard banker's box. He thunked it down on the wooden coffee table, grabbed his whisky from the bookshelf and sat down on the brown leather couch.
Lifting the lid from the box, he stared down.
And saw their faces staring back up at him. Lifting out the photos, some loose, some in heavy frames. They gazed out in shades of sepia and black. Grandparents. Great-grandparents. Indigenous. Spanish. Mexican. Vaqueros. Rancheros. Businessmen. Pie bakers. Tortilla makers. Weavers.
People with real work. Honest jobs. Not whatever the heck he'd been doing the past twenty years. Goddess. He really needed a new job. Or at least a new direction.
These people were his blood. His roots. His past. A family, for good or ill. Fighting. Loving. Enduring. A thing some people never had.
Running a hand over his face, he found that it was wet.
"I will build you an ofrenda. The most beautiful ofrenda."
::Yes. You will.::