SHE WAS A LION AMONG LAMBS, AND SHE DID NOT SCARE EASILY.
A dark and steamy NA fantasy romance series following Kitarni Bárány, a witch with a power worthy of rivalling the dark queen and her cult. But everything comes with a price, and Kitarni's power could cost her everything.
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THE CURSED AND THE BROKEN
Years ago, the dark queen was executed by witches, her cultists hunted down like rats and forced into hiding. Their black magic buried and put to rest, all was well in the world … or so we thought.
Kitarni Bárány, witch and shepherd of her flock, has always been different. There’s a darkness in her blood and a destiny beyond the border of her small village. Corruption is spreading, and the whispers of cultists stir through the woods once again.
Betrothed to the heir of the Wolfblood Clan, she risks not only her life but her heart. United, they must stand against the cultists, or watch the Kingdom of Hungary fall. Cursed by Death and controlled by Fate, Kitarni is forced to meet her demons … or die by them.
A story of succumbing to wicked desires, death, and the temptations of a deliciously dangerous love. The Cursed and the Broken is a steamy, enemies-to-lovers dark fantasy romance perfect for fans of Jennifer L. Armentrout and Kerri Maniscalco.
This book is perfect for readers who like ...
*Enemies to lovers
*Arranged Marriage trope
*One Bed trope
*Dark fantasy and witches
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Art by @susa.zyama
Available for purchase in store
Art by @saramirza_art
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"Dark, spicy, magical. Everything you could want in a fantasy novel -- it sure was for me!"
"The Cursed and the Broken is captivating and entertaining, filled with magic, witches, action and plot twists. This is a must read for fantasy lovers."
"A brilliant and captivating read, filled with magic, mystery, romance, and intrigue. I absolutely loved it!"
READ AN EXCERPT
“Hanna has been missing for five days now,” Eszter gossiped behind a petite hand. Her brown eyes sparkled, as did the silky strands of gold in her hair as the sun beamed through the window. That mischievous look was in her eyes again. Which was undeniably a bad sign. Somehow it always ended in a misbegotten adventure, inevitably resulting in the reprimands of a one, fierce, Nora Barany.
Naturally, being the eldest sister, I took the brunt of Mama’s wrath. Eszter, with her cherub-like face and her charming personality, got away with everything. Everyone in the village loved her, even if she was the envy of all the girls her age.
We were physically alike, with the same curly brown hair, bow-shaped lips and straight nose. Our skin was olive, glowing in the prime of our youth, and our figures were slim—mine perhaps more muscled than Eszter’s, for I was both hunter and shepherd for my flock. But Eszter was naturally charming and courteous, skilled at finer arts and crafts that were more of a nightmare for me. Her beauty and poise were classical, graceful.
I seemed to rub people the wrong way. Beautiful? Yes, I could admit that. But the elders said I was too spirited, too stubborn. A little rough around the edges, not prim and proper like Eszter. It didn’t bother me.
At least, that’s what I told myself.
Truth was, I had always been different to my kith. We were a small village of around one hundred witches, and of the magic coursing through our veins, mine had always been different. Dangerous.
The other girls my age shied from it. From me. Where most witches’ magic in our village harnessed the earth, mine was fire and brimstone. I had always hated it—being different, being an outcast. I couldn’t grow or tend crops, vegetation, and flowers, and I was useless at mixing herbs or poultices and often botched simple spells that aided our day-to-day duties.
Instead, I had been gifted strength. Power that could hurt, maybe even kill. And it was useless in a peaceful place such as this. My affinity for fire made me a friendless, forgotten thing.
Thus, I had always preferred my company to that of others ... or at least of my witch kin. Power was an obsession amongst the girls my age. I stayed clear of the popular circles. Trying to engage with them only painted a target on my back.
Hanna was the worst of them. We had been friends once. Long ago when we were children. Before power became purpose and becoming a lady meant acting the part. And oh, did she throw me away when she grew into her grace and status. Stepped on our friendship with her fine boots and ground her heel until there was naught left but dust and days forgotten.
No, people did not agree with me. Animals, however, were fine friends to keep, and we had many. I was shepherd of our flock, and one thing I was good at was tending to them, giving them the best life I could.
“Aren’t you worried about where she’s gone? She was your best friend once,” Eszter pushed, dragging me from my thoughts.
I took a bite of my palacsinta and groaned as an explosion of flavours filled my mouth. The sweet crepes rolled with fruits and nuts never failed to lift my spirits. Mama said my sweet tooth would be my downfall. She wasn’t wrong.
Swallowing the delicious morsel, I raised a brow at my sister, who was jiggling impatiently in her seat. I rolled my eyes. “Hanna was always prone to recklessness; she’s probably been sneaking off with a táltos. I wager she’ll be back any day now.”
Eszter slumped in her chair, pouting her rosy lips. “Hanna has all the fun. Why can’t a boy whisk me away from this village and take me on an adventure?”
I smirked at her as I put my feet up on the chair. “Eszter, your idea of an adventure is raiding the seamstress’s store for new dresses. Your turn will come. The spring festival will have many suitors lining up for your hand, I’m sure.”
She brightened at the mention of our annual celebration. It was the most joyous event of the year for our coven, when the taltoses came to court the maidens of our village. Every so often, the banya would honour a family by selecting an apprentice to study under her. It was the highest blessing a witch could receive, and our coven was nervously awaiting the day the banya would choose again.
I had my doubts about the banya. I kept my faith in the gods, but why should I blindly place my trust in a witch who didn’t deign to bless us with her presence? No, I had no interest in being picked. My sights were set on the world beyond our borders, and naturally, Eszter was focused on boys and status. At seventeen, she was of age to be wooed by eligible men, which was alarming. Her beauty and innocence would have her snatched up in an instant.
The taltoses, like witches, were powerful non-humans living in the woods, right near the Romanian border. Much like shamans, their power was spiritual, forming a connection between the living and the dead. The strongest could re-animate the dead. It gave me shivers just thinking about it.
Still, the men from that village were fathers, sons, brothers … and though we lived separately from them, they were essential. Unlike human families, ours were unconventional in that we parted ways. The girls would return to their mothers’ covens to learn how to weave their magic, and the boys would train with taltoses to harness their gifts.
I’d always wondered why anyone thought it was a good idea to break families apart—why it had to be this way at all, but it wasn’t worth the trouble of finding myself in the council’s crosshairs. The chief elder was not someone to trifle with.
My father had passed away years ago, and it still irked me how he had been so close yet so far. A figurehead, little more than myth. After Mama fell pregnant with Eszter, our little family had returned to our coven. They never married, he never visited, and Mama never spoke of him. It was only when news came of his ill health that she took me to see him one last time.
My last memory of him haunts me still. Skin and bones covering a deflated stomach. Barely a vessel to hold his heart and soul intact. It had scared me how emaciated he was in his sickness, and yet, there had been kindness in his eyes. Hazel, like mine. He had patted his bed with a frail hand, until I sat before him, and he had looked upon my face. I was six then.
He had taken my hands in his own and whispered words in another language. Ancient. Powerful. The hair on my prickled skin had raised and my blood had seemed to swell with hunger. A devouring of power. Only I didn’t know what that power meant. What I could do with it once I realised what a gift he had given me.
And what a curse.
I had been too young to understand the depth of his gift back then. It’s not like he had time to explain the magic’s use, and we never had a deeper bond. My lack of attachment to my father was not unlike the other witches’ feelings towards their fathers and brothers.
To live to every womanly whim … such was the way in our village. To cavort with others was a primal instinct, if nothing else, to preserve our line without sacrificing independence and authority. Adult witches took human lovers from time to time, but the unfortunate souls would soon find themselves in the woods without a clue how they got there.
The elders didn’t mind, so long as we remained safe. Secret.
Of course, their laws didn’t include teens running off to roll among the tree trunks with táltos boys. We weren’t human, but the elders enforced many of their traditions, and keeping our maidenhood safe before marriage or childbearing was high on that list.
Arranged marriages were rare, but not unheard of. These days, witches and taltoses usually bonded to produce heirs or to strengthen a house’s blood. Taltoses would come to court witches on the spring festival, and bonds formed thereafter.
Not all witches followed such rules.
Including me. My virtue had been lost to a stableboy in the town over. I’d hidden myself in one of the trade wagons headed to the markets and had explored in every sense of the word. Mama had given me an earful about it, but it was one of the best days I’d ever had. I think, deep down, she knew what I’d done, but she had never asked about it and I hadn’t offered.
More importantly, she had never stopped me from going again. Or at least … I’d grown smarter about how I planned my trips. Mama was usually none the wiser.
Being hidden in plain sight amongst the humans always filled me with a sense of exhilaration—filled me with wonderment and joy. In our small village, I’d always felt trapped and alone. But out there … the world was full of possibilities. And more, there was comfort in the arms of another. Comfort I never found among my own people, bar the embraces of my family.
I know Hanna also sought such comfort—snuck out at night to meet with lovers in the woods. Eszter had learned Hanna was promised to another, and if she was to be wed soon, her dalliance would not impress the groom. Nor her mother.
So like Hanna to run off and leave everyone worrying. She was a beautiful, well-dressed bully. A conceited creature who valued power, beauty, and status, and she used those tools as weapons to prey on those who didn’t conform to her society’s standards.
I snorted. Her vanity was so far up her ass, she could wear it as a hat.
Despite my animosity towards her, a niggling feeling deep within my gut told me there was more to her absence. Five days? A long time to be left in the woods, especially during winter. There were many creatures within the surrounding forests that wouldn’t take kindly to her lingering, and worse still, there were those that preyed on witches and the weak-minded.
Hanna was such a witch. I wouldn’t miss her, but she hadn’t always been horrid. We’d even been friends once upon a time, and Hanna’s mother had always been good to me. She didn’t deserve the worry, and I suppose Hanna didn’t deserve to be eaten by wolves … or worse. Lidérc, tündérek, and changelings—incubi and fairies—were mischievous and self-serving. There were many good ones, of course, but come across evil and evil will devour flesh and soul.
Regardless of my feelings towards her, I felt compelled to protect my coven, to keep other witches safe.
“So you are worried,” Eszter said with a pointed look at my hands absentmindedly bunching up my skirts.
I rolled my shoulders casually. I wouldn’t let her see how concerned I really was, but Hanna wasn’t the first girl to go missing. Ever since my eighteenth birthday, witches had disappeared. None had returned.
I might have spied on several of the elders’ council meetings to gauge their thoughts on this. Safe to say, they were equally concerned.
I chewed my lip. Hanna and I were not friends. She had burned that relationship long ago, but a small part of me still held on to happy memories. I might despise what she’d become, but I didn’t want to see her hurt.
“I still think Hanna is reckless, but if she’s injured or worse …” I sighed. “We’d better look for her.”
Eszter grinned with wolfish delight, and I rolled my eyes before my smile spread. Yes, Eszter always started our mischievous adventures, but I spurred them to action. I couldn’t help myself. The woods called to me. Sitting still for too long was not in my blood.
“We’ll go first thing in the morning after chores. Mama will have our necks if we don’t get our work finished.”
“I’ll have more than that if you’re going to sit around eating me out of house and home,” Mama said with a playful smile as she swept into the room, a basket full of spools in bright pops of colour in the crook of her arm. She rounded the table and gave us each a kiss on the forehead. “And how was your day, girls?”
“Robi ate all the chicken feed today,” I said as I popped more palacsinta into my mouth. “The ladies were less than impressed.”
Mama scowled. “The devil sent that rooster himself, I’m sure of it. It’s a wonder he gets any attention from the hens at all.”
Eszter laughed. “Robi is a softie at heart.”
“Tell that to my ears when he crows well before the dawn,” Mama grumbled as she set to work preparing dinner. “Eszter darling, can you help me?”
My dutiful sister braided her long, voluminous hair efficiently and grabbed an apron from the hook on the wall. She gave our mother the side-eye as she began chopping tomatoes. “Another girl has gone missing again,” Eszter said carefully.
Mama froze, her hands halting over an onion. “Who? How long?” Her voice was quiet, strained. Tension rippled from her in waves, and I shifted in my seat.
“Hanna—the herbalist’s daughter. She’s been missing for five days now. Her mother thinks she left in the middle of the night,” I offered quietly.
“And her sister said Hanna’s cloak, travelling boots and blade were still in her closet,” Eszter piped in.
I shot her a sharp look. “You didn’t mention that earlier.” That information changed things. No one in their right mind would venture out willingly in the middle of winter without layers or protection. Not without a death wish.
Eszter’s eyes widened. “I thought you said”—she blushed as she glanced at Mama—“I thought you said she was going to the woods to … you know.”
Frowning, I looked at my family. “Hanna is the fourth girl to vanish within the last three years. It happened again. Another girl has disappeared, never to return.”
“You don’t know that she won’t come back.”
I set my jaw. “Mama, we should go look for her.”
My mother shook her head fervently. “Kitarni, I won’t have you running off and putting your sister in danger. There are things in those woods that are better left alone. The banya will search for her.”
“We don’t even know where she lives,” I snapped. “For all we know, the banya has forsaken us.”
Perhaps that was a stretch, but only a select few had ever been in her presence, and ever since Death visited me three years ago, I hadn’t been able to forget what he’d said about her. He’d implied that she’d lied to us.
Many stories were told of her, but she was an enigma to me, little more than folklore to keep witches in line and remind us of a higher power. Someone who supposedly kept us safe.
Even when she picked an apprentice, the banya came and went like smoke. Gossipers said she came veiled, her face hidden. Some stories said the gods favoured her, and her form would blind any who looked upon her divinity. Others said they had defiled her face, and such was the price of her magic.
I didn’t know what to believe, but the witches loved and respected her, worshipped her like a god. And though I yearned to be her apprentice, for my power to prove worthy of something, it had never sat well with me. How little we knew of our so-called protector.
“Kitarni Barany,” my mother said sharply. “You will not utter such blasphemy in this house. She is as close to godliness as a witch can get. If that poor girl is within her domain, the banya will know and return her to us.”
I scoffed. Would she though? None of the banya’s apprentices had ever come back, and all the girls who’d gone missing remained lost. Whatever the banya did to occupy her time, it seemed a few wayward witches weren’t enough to concern her.
My cheeks warmed and I jumped out of my seat in anger. “We are witches, Mama. We can use our power to find her, to bring her home. What if I went missing? Or Eszter?”
The blood drained from Mama’s face, and her knuckles whitened as she clenched her apron. “I will not lose either of you. Ever since that night. Ever since …”
I knew what she wouldn’t say. The night Death came for us—for me—it changed everything. Mama had grown stiflingly protective, to the point of devout with her protection spells and the charms she would make us wear. She had coddled Eszter especially, keeping her under a close watch.
My sister was capable, but she was naïve and trusting. Combine that with her beauty and personable nature … Mama barely let her out of her sights. Eszter tolerated it for now, but there would come a day when her wings would spread, and she would fly the nest.
I had never told Mama what really happened that night. The exchange between Death and me. Something told me she wouldn’t have believed me if I did. She’d say I’d been under a spell or lost in an illusion.
But there were some things that were undeniable.
Three jagged lines down my back from where Death had marked me. The scar. The promise.
He had never said what my future entailed. Only hinted at a life shrouded in lies.
Something told me that had more to do with the girls going missing than I yet knew.