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Rolling out of bed I padded downstairs to the kitchen. Bless the convenience of elemental magic, which I had used to turn the coffee machine on when my brain was awake enough to register daylight.

She was a beautiful brass vintage Bezzera my Grandparents had sent me as a housewarming gift. My Mom’s parents had welcomed me with open arms and my Oma probably coddled me more than the rest of my family combined. I guess to her couple thousand years I was barely past infancy, although at 33 chronological years I was financially stable but I was still sent a stipend from the family’s trust as I was the first to have a human-style career and earn money independently. With their blessing I sent that money on to a children’s home in the Scottish village near Loch Morar where I was found. But I still got monthly care packages which ranged from books to bicycles. Said bicycle was just inside the front entrance, red paint polished and gleaming, complete with new baskets installed in the front and back. My Opa had sent it the week before last. Like I said, spoilt.

I use beans, imported from the Manuka Brothers in New Zealand. The beans are roasted over the glowing embers of Manuka wood, which creates a range of distinctive warm, sweet and complex flavour depending on the bean. The roaster, fondly known as Black Betty, was designed, engineered, and built by 2 brothers. As a result, the beans that come out of their roasting process are perfectly proportioned

I pulled a triple shot of espresso and skulled it while I steamed milk and ground beans for a latte. Filling up my matching copper keep cup, which had also been a gift and had been spelled to keep the coffee at the perfect temperature indefinitely. Feeling the caffeine kick in I grinned as I headed to the solarium with a peppy-er step.

My solarium is one of my favourite places in the world. A large, deep oval pool was carved from a massive lapis lazuli geode. The intensely coloured stone is streaked through with intense blues, some so dark they’re almost purple and glittering veins of gold.

Partially sunken in the ground and taking up almost half the chamber’s floor space, with one corner curving sharply up to form a natural sky shower. The closest edge starts at my hips with driftwood stairs leading up and a large driftwood step inside the pool. The step doubles as a bench when I feel like it. I can float in the middle of the tub with my limbs stretched out as long as I can make them without touching sides. I’m 5’9”, to give you an idea of the size I can dive in and do half laps if I felt so inclined.

The water for my bathing chamber is drawn directly from the lake with a special heating and filtration system I designed and installed. I hadn’t wanted anyone else involved in the construction of my home. The cottage had stood empty for almost a century and had barely been a standing structure when I had purchased the land several months ago. I had done all the renovations by myself with the help of both science and a fair amount of elemental magic. No other human or supernatural imprints marred my territory. Oh yeah, apparently I am an alpha female shifter and ever so slightly territorial. A fun fact I learnt a few years back (a story for another time).

The pool was always full as the water flowed from the lake flowing through the waterfall-like sky shower and cycled through the cottage’s plumbing with a portion going to water the plants on a timed sprinkler system in the dry season (we are part way through spring so it wasn’t required yet). The rest of the water is cleaned and returned to the lake using a natural charcoal and slightly magically enhanced filtering system which used the lake tides to power itself.

I stripped and dove into the clear water. As I rose back up to the surface I reached out with all of my sense connecting with each of the living things around me. To the brambles bathing my home in perfume, beauty and unassuming security. Day and night, they guard my home; a barrier of thorns and quiet strength. Several vines grew all the way down the winding drive to my front gate. To the earth and flora surrounding my sanctuary on three sides and the lake and its floor on the fourth. Sensing no breaches, and no one else in my territory I momentarily allow the delight of being bathed in the morning sunlight and slight breeze to drift down the connections. Satisfied that all was well I began the ritual of washing my hair and scrubbing every inch of my body until I felt like a shiny new refreshed woman.

I moved here 3 months ago and spent that time renovating the cottage. I had received a few job offers through the medical temp agency and had gone on a few interviews. I had been to one small local practice and had felt an instant connection. The owners were an older couple who were wanting to semi-retire to help their daughter and her husband who had just had their first children, twin girls, who were now about 6 months and a handful from all reports. Chuckling to myself at the chaos a small witch can create unintentionally. It had been agreed I would pick up half of each of their work loads and had bought half of the practice.  I had spent the last decade of my life working 6 – 7 days a week and had saved up enough to slow down a little. Today was my official first day at work as a part-owner.

I had laid out an outfit last night, a blue cotton summer dress, canvas chucks to cycle there in and a denim jacket. I had packed 2 pairs of heels to leave at the office, a beige pair and a red pair, with three new crisp white lab coats for work.

­­Each had a unique trio of matching buttons with pressed flowers: alyssum from Aunt Hecate, forget-me-not from Aunt Persephone and heather from Aunt Styx.

I wake up an hour early every day to allow time for a full soak. My family realised soon after discovering me on the banks of that loch that I needed at least 30 minutes immersed in water every day or else I become pretty grumpy. I do an hour in the morning and an hour at night before bed to build up a reserve of water time in case something happens and I don’t have access to enough water to immerse myself in. I stripped and stepped up to the edge of my bathing pool. I placed my coffee on the edge and dove in. That feeling of being surrounded by water is one of the most comforting feelings in the world. It’s like a hug from someone who loves you unconditionally.

One of the benefits of being a doctor of different origins was the ability to identify and deal with non-human issues which required a combination of human and non-human medical knowledge. As different as all supernatural beings are, at the core we are still descendants of the homos genus. To be precise we are technically Nephilim, the result of human and angelic pairings or the result of a transmutation spell cast by a Primal. Different abilities come from the type and rank of angle that sired the line.

Witches are generally considered the healers of the supernatural world, but as they do with humans, politics have interfered with this and trust in witches and their doctoring has been degrading over the last 1000 years. As I am not a pure witch I was fortunate to have learnt from Aunt Hecate, technically the first Witch. I have treated many whose fear or ignorance had stopped them from seeking out the help of a true witch. At least it's a start.

Fiume Blu had a large supernatural population given its size, I'd estimated about 90% or more were supes. The humans here were well aware of the supernatural which I found interesting, many having intermarried into the different groups. Based on the signatures I identified on my frequent trips into town, I estimated well over 50% were Lykae, with a small local coven. Which makes sense as Lykae are fairly territorial, one of the reasons I had bought so far out of town. Oh, and they tend to hate witches. I had had a few run-ins with unranked pack members when they demanded to know what I was but I was strong enough to make them slink off without ruffling a single hair on my head. It will be interesting to see how the ranked members of the pack react to my regular presence in town.

Each different type of supe has an underlying signature, with individuality layered on top. You can identify a supe by that underlying signature and their strength or ranking by the layers above it. I know my own is completely chaotic and contains so many underlying signatures it is impossible to pick out individual ones from each other. I'd know that the overlaying signature was strong, strong enough to physically push someone away from me if I uncovered it. My family had discussed masking my signature to match my Mom's but decided against it as they thought it'd make me feel like something was wrong with me. I am grateful to them for teaching me to just be who I am, although I do deliberately cover my strength signature as I prefer being underestimated and often stronger signatures in a female attract a lot of aggression and challenges from males who aren't as strong. Which is annoying and a waste of my time.

I ducked under the water one last time, rinsing off under the waterfall before stepping out of the water. It’s become second nature to dry myself off using my powers so by the time I’m back upstairs I was completely dry. Pulling my long dark blonde hair up into a messy ponytail I throw on my outfit, the blue highlighting the blue streaks in my light eyes. My eyes have both blue and green streaks through them, bluer when I am happy and greener when I am mad or sad. Today the blue was shining through as I have been looking forward to starting work. My skin is a golden olive, having been in the sun a lot lately my tan was deeper than usual making my eyes stand out more. A slightly flatter nose than one would typically expect with my colouring (well if I had been human anyway), with high cheek bones and an almost heart-shaped face. At 5’9” I am unusually short for a supe, but I make up for my lack of height with width of hips.

I left my shoes off until I am in the entrance. Wearing shoes indoors is yugh, you don’t know what kind of filth you are stepping into your home. Both physical and metaphysical, I always wash the soles of my shoes before returning them to their place on the rack when I come home. A little OCD but I’m ok with that. I popped everything onto the back of my bike and the coffee into the special holder I had installed into the front basket. I slipped on socks and slid my chucks on before grabbing my bike and wheeling her out the door.

Stopping a few meters from the front door I turned and reached out to the brambles, with a twirl of my wrist I quietly wove them together to form a barricade around the entrances to my home. Opening a gap in the protection boundary that surrounded my entire property I slipped out and closed it behind me. Anyone looking at my home would see a small unremarkable country cottage and a garden. The spell included a glamour as well as a slight nudge that affected anyone, supe or human, to discourage them from approaching. I had used threads of all my magical signatures to weave it, which decreased the inclination for an onlooker to approach. An ordinary human would simply be turned around, however a supe, or a human with the sight, would smack up against a solid boundary, and be thrown if they tried to push through. The weaker a supe the more violent the throwback. Hopping on my bike I rechecked the integrity as I began peddling. It was a 25-minute bike ride if I stuck to narrow country road, which I did. Smiling, I absorbed the beauty of the countryside surrounding me as I peddled, sipping my coffee with one hand steering. There were much faster ways for me to get to work but I enjoyed the time it took to get to town this way. I had an hour before my first patient for the day and I was planning on stopping off at Josephine’s to grab breakfast in the form of fresh baked goods. The butterier the better.

Vianne and Armand, the couple I would be working with, had made plans to take me out for our first lunch so I had not bothered to cook enough to take lunch with me today. As I approached the outskirts of town I was greeted with the mouth-watering aroma of freshly baked bread, with an undercurrent of vanilla and cinnamon. Peddling a little faster I arrived at Josephine’s a mere 26 minutes after leaving home. Hoping off my bike I slid her into one of the bike racks just outside and grabbed my keep cup and phone. I had found Josephine’s on my first trip into the town, nestled in the heart of Fiume Blu, surrounded by small bookshops, boutiques, and vintage stores. A few wooden tables and chairs spilled out onto the sidewalk, and inside soft plush chairs and sofas were placed haphazardly around the large airy space. Josephine’s was an old, converted warehouse, with a generous kitchen semi-hidden behind thick brick walls. I was met by Ethel and Maude, two older ladies who seemed to run everything around here. Smiling at me as I entered, they greeted me by name, having introduced themselves on my first visit. They’d told me Josephine was on holiday and had left them in charge. From what I could gather Josephine was possibly the wife of the local Alpha, making her the Luna and second strongest Were in town. I was apprehensive about eventually meeting her, in part because, well Luna, but I also really didn’t want to lose my new favourite source of canelé and cannoli.

“Good morning child, the usual?” Maude asked as I approached the counter. It appeared I was their first customer of the day as some of the bakers where still stocking up the shelves and cabinets. I noticed a new item, sticky toffee and pecan cinnamon buns. The toffee drizzled over generous lashing of cream cheese frosting, and a small mountain of pecans, my mouth practically screamed for them. “Yes please Maude” I responded, “and may I have 3 of the cinnamon buns as well please?”. Ethel took my cup to make my latte as I paid. Boxing up 3 canelé, 3 cannoli and the 3 cinnamon buns Maude handed them over to me as I paid with my phone.

I sensed them before I smelt them, Supernaturals, 5 were clearly Weres, 2 were something else, were heading this way. From the power radiating off of 6 of the 7 it seemed to be a group of the highest ranked wolves. No doubt they had sensed me as they started moving faster and aggression was definitely coming off of the strongest one. Looked like this morning was going to be a bit more exciting than just starting work for the first time. Reaching across the counter I took my now full coffee cup from Ethel and braced myself as I heard the door swing open and both Maude and Ethel look up and squeal with delight.

“Rian!”, they both exclaimed in unison. Making their way around the counter they both hugged what I could only describe as a bear sized being, he was one of the two who weren’t Wolves. A thick black curly mop of hair, clean shaven, deeply tanned olive skin and an unsettling shade of green eyes that I’d bet didn’t change when he shifted, he was definitely the strongest one and I’d bet he shifted, into what though remained to be seen. Or not, I was keen to keep my distance from other Supernaturals. Close to 7 foot tall, with lean muscles, and biceps bigger than my head (and I am by no means small). Maude and Ethel were both hugging him as if he wasn’t capable of tearing the place apart with one hand tied behind his back. It/he did not take his eyes off of me as he cuddled one arm around each. I leaned back against the counter and looked him up and down once before turning my attention to the rest of the group. Two more males were present, both a more normal sized 6’5”, one with ash blonde hair tied up in a man bun the other with silverish blonde hair in a slick pompadour. All the men were dressed like extras from “Peaky Blinders” although I sensed a lack of irony in their attire.

The rest of the group was made up of 4 women, one clearly related to the brute as the tallest women and similar standout colouring, however her eyes were ice blue, a shade I’ve always admired. She was watching me closely and when I smiled in greeting, she grinned back, flashing the sharpened canines of a stereotypical Were. I honestly don’t know how humans aren’t aware of the existence of other species when our features surely should give us away.

Continuing my assessment of the group I noted the similarity in looks among the next two women, sisters I’d wager. Both sporting well established mate marks that look like shimmering bites with cords connecting them clearly to the 2 “shorter” male Weres. They both smiled warmly as they assessed me right back. Before I got to the fourth women in the group, who was given off the smell of anger, the tallest female stepped forward and introduced herself. “Hi I’m Jose”, she said as she stuck her hand out, “and this is my brother Dorian, our cousins Edvard and Thieg and their wives Nora and Kat, and our packmate Skye” the last indicating the hostile blonde standing between Jose and her brother. I found the use of the term ‘packmate’ as opposed to ‘friend’ interesting. “Our Mum is Josephine”, she said indicating at the bakery’s sign. “Dorian and I just arrived back in town from NYC and what better place to get food when Mom isn’t around right?” Jose continued, completely ignoring the blonde and her brother’s silence as each of the group stepped forward and shook my hand. “Thorne” I said as I first shook Jose’s hand. “I am the new doctor in town”. Each of the couples shook my hand and greeted me, with both women hugging me, which took me a little off guard. Their deep inhales as they clearly tried to figure out what I was made me chuckle. That left the blonde and the Alpha in-training, because there was no doubt in my mind he would be the next Alpha.

“Thorne, as in a little prick in the garden” sneered Skye, as she looked down at my outstretched hand. “Yipe,” I replied calmly, smiling at her serenely. Chuckling a little on the inside at her obvious attempt to irk me. Growing up the weird kid , even one where you are loved, gave a girl thick skin. Females regardless of species can be arseholes.

“How long have you been in town?”, came out as a deep rumble from the mountain masquerading as a man, unsurprising when you considered his size. He certainly wasn’t as friendly as his sister. He choose that moment to unleash the full strength of his signature, his eyes glowed a little as he did. “Rian!” Jose exclaimed as her and the rest of their group, including Maude and Ethel were physically pushed back by the wave of strength rolling off of him. Taking a sip of my coffee before answering, “3 months” I replied in an amused tone. I hadn’t moved, I wasn’t sure of that was his full strength or not but it was close enough to mine to not actually affect me. He looked  surprised. I didn’t uncover my own signature and try and get into a dick measuring contest. “Where are you staying?” came the next integration question, I grinned in his face when Maude and Ethel simultaneously slapped him on his forearms, with Ethel chiding him “that isn’t a very polite question Rian”.

Choosing that moment to make my exit I turned to Maude and Ethel and hugged them each goodbye, “I’m sure you have lots of catching up to do, I’ll see you tomorrow morning” I said. I turned to Jose and the sisters bidding them friendly goodbyes and nodding my head at both the shorter men. I smiled sweetly at Skye and completely ignored Dorian as I walked out the café.

Putting them out my head I safely stowed my bakery treasures away and hopped back on my bike. If I peddled hard I’d still have a decent amount of time to set my rooms up, the meeting of the ranked pack members taking up more time than I realised.

Chapter 2: Text
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