Book 2: Taken

Taken by Charlotte Abel
Now Available on

Sneak Peek into Taken....
It was a little after midnight when Channie woke up. A thin coating of ice on the edge of the quilt crackled when she reached for Josh. Where was he? He wasn’t where he was supposed to be — spooned against her back, keeping her warm. She found him on the other side of the bed, facing the wall, his knees drawn tightly against his chest. 
Channie couldn’t keep from shivering, but Josh was as still and cold as a block of ice. Her heart stopped until she slid her hand to his throat and found his pulse. She shook his shoulder and said, “Josh, wake up.” 
He moaned but refused to move. She shook him again, harder this time, but couldn’t rouse him.
She got out of bed and fumbled around in the dark until she found the kerosene lantern and box of matches under the bed. Her hands trembled as she struck match after match with stiff fingers. When the lantern finally sputtered to life, she lifted it to Josh’s face. 
His eyebrows and feather-duster lashes looked like they’d been sprinkled with powdered sugar. She set the lantern on the floor and patted Josh’s cheeks as she fought the panic clawing at her heart. The north wind whistled through the cracked boards of the shack and swirled little piles of snow into the corners. She abandoned all pretense of gentleness and slapped him. “Come on Josh. Wake up.”
He blinked his eyes open and licked his lips. “Channie? What’s wrong?”
“We’re freezing to death. You need to cast another warmth spell.”
Channie and Josh were holed up in “The Shack” out by the abandoned bauxite quarry, hiding from the Veyjivik trackers. The rickety old shed was not meant for year-round habitation. The roof leaked. The windows were boarded up and there was a twelve inch hole in the floor by the door. There was no electricity, no running water and no fireplace or wood-burning stove. But it was isolated and well hidden. And that’s all that mattered. Avoiding the Veyjivik Trackers trumped everything else.
Josh swore then said, “God, I hate this dump.”
Channie didn’t like it either, but she’d worked hard to turn the old shack into a home, so Josh’s comment stung. She’d hauled more buckets of frigid water from the quarry than she could count and scrubbed every surface with lye soap till her hands were cracked and bleeding. She’d fetched Momma’s rag box from home and pieced together enough fabric to make a table cloth and curtains — even though the windows were boarded up and the only table they had was a warped scrap of plywood balanced on a cement block.
“If you can just cast one more spell that’ll last ‘till dawn, we can build a fire in the pit outside tomorrow—”
Josh struggled to sit up and said, “I’m sorry, babe. I don’t have enough energy for a warmth spell. I’ll go start a fire.”
There was a reason mages heated their homes with wood. The energy required to fuel a heat spell was greater than the warmth produced. It was not an efficient use of magic. But the feather bed and pile of quilts Aunt Wisdom had given them in addition to their combined body heat and the occasional warmth spell had been enough — until two nights ago when the weather turned bitterly cold. Every time Channie complained, Josh had cast another warmth spell. He’d obviously pushed himself too far.
She said, “You can’t go outside. You’re too weak.”
Josh collapsed against the mattress and closed his eyes. “Then come back to bed. We’ll figure something out tomorrow.” 
Channie was shivering uncontrollably now. It would be so easy to just crawl under the covers and fall asleep. But if she did, they’d both be dead by morning. 
Aunt Wisdom had given Channie, Josh and Hunter disposable phones to use in an emergency. This was definitely an emergency but the shack was miles away from a cell phone tower. She’d have to drive half way to Whistler’s Gulch, in a blizzard, down miles of switchbacks, to get a signal and she didn’t know how much longer Josh would last without heat. Fire first, then go for help.
She tucked the edges of the quilt around Josh and slid a knit cap onto his head then got dressed. She leaned over him and kissed his lips then clenched her jaw to keep her teeth from chattering. “I’m going to build a fire in the pit. I’ll be right back.”
He didn’t respond.
The fire pit behind the shack that served as their kitchen was out in the open, unprotected from the wind and driving snow.
Channie tried for half an hour to light a fire, but without dry wood, magic or shelter from the blizzard she knew it was futile.
Wait a minute …. What was wrong with her? She was either incredibly stupid or suffering the mind-numbing effects of hypothermia. Josh’s car had a heater!
She stumbled back to the shack, grabbed the keys off the nail inside the door and started the car. While the engine was warming up, Channie went back inside and wrestled Josh into his clothes and parka. She half carried, half drug him to the car and stuffed him into the passenger seat.
She gave the vehicle another five minutes to warm up then turned the heater on full blast. Josh groaned and slumped further down in the seat. He wasn’t responding to the warm air. She needed to take him to the emergency clinic in Whistler’s Gulch. 
It would be risky. No one knew where the Veyjivik trackers were staying, but Hunter had run into them at The Mad Dog Saloon when he’d gone into town for supplies. If Josh got within ten miles of them, they’d know it. And since everyone but Hunter was gone, they’d be suspicious and curious about a strange, new mage in the area. 
Trackers were worse than bloodhounds. They’d never give up until they hunted Josh down and interrogated him.
Channie rubbed his hands and patted his cheeks, but he didn’t respond. He needed help and he needed it right now. They’d just have to take their chances with the trackers.
She was grateful that Josh spent the first week of their honeymoon teaching her how to drive. She was also grateful that his four-wheel drive, cherry-red Rav4 had an automatic transmission. It would be hard enough negotiating the old logging trail in the dead of night during a blizzard. She didn’t need the added complication of a stick shift and clutch.
Channie turned on the headlights, put the car in gear and glanced at the gas gauge. It was riding on empty. At least Whistler’s Gulch was downhill all the way. She’d figure out how to get back after she got Josh to the clinic. One problem at a time.
Drifting snow had turned the pothole-riddled logging trail into a deceptively smooth, white road. It was a deadly illusion. Every time the tires slipped into a rut or bounced into a hole, Channie fought the urge to close her eyes and jerk the steering wheel in the opposite direction.
She leaned forward and squinted into the storm with white-knuckled intensity, but couldn’t see more than a few feet beyond the hood of the car. She fumbled her left hand along the steering column until she located the lever that controlled the headlights and switched to the high-beam setting. The falling snow seemed to change trajectories. Each pellet-shaped flake shot towards her on its own parabolic path, making her dizzy. 
By the time she switched the headlights back to low-beam, the windshield had fogged up. Channie flicked her gaze to the climate controls for a split second. It wasn’t enough time to find the defrost setting, but it was plenty long enough for a hairpin turn to catch her completely off guard.
She slammed on the brakes and flung her right arm to the side, an instinctive and useless reflex, to protect Josh. The back end of the car fishtailed, hit a pine tree and rebounded back onto the road. They skidded and slid sideways for what felt like forever before the car finally stopped. Channie’s heart hammered against her chest as she visually checked Josh for injuries. 
He rolled his head to the side and peered at Channie. “Where are we going?” His voice was weak and raspy but it was the most beautiful sound Channie had ever heard.
“I’m taking you to the clinic in Whistler’s Gulch.”
“You’ve got hypothermia.”
“We can’t go into town. Hunter said—”
“I know what Hunter said, but you were practically in a coma.”
“I’m fine. Turn around and go back.”
“You’re too weak to cast any more warmth spells. If we don’t find shelter from the storm, we’ll both die. And you need medical attention.”
“Call your aunt. She can give us both.”
Channie stopped the car and checked her phone. Nothing. She drove another two miles before a single bar replaced the “no signal” icon. 
Aunt Wisdom answered on the first ring. “What’s wrong?”
“We’re freezing to death—”
“Don’t say anything else. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“We’re not at the—”
“Are you in town?”
“No, we’re about—“
“Don’t tell me where you are! Throw your phone away and go back to … where you started. I’ll meet you there.” Aunt Wisdom ended the call without giving Channie a chance to tell her they were low on fuel. She called back, but Aunt Wisdom didn’t pick up.  
They’d gone over this scenario too many times for Channie to have any hope that Aunt Wisdom hadn’t already destroyed her phone. There was no point trying to call her from Josh’s phone, but Channie tried anyway. Without success. 
She opened her door and tossed her phone outside then drove another mile down the mountain before she found a switchback to turn around. They ran out of gas about a quarter mile from the shack.
“Josh, I need you to send a distress signal.”
“I don’t know how.” 
Channie leaned across the console and put her frozen hand on his cheek. “Josh? Listen to me. A distress spell is instinctive, it’s usually the first spell a child casts. You can do it. I know you can. Just focus.” 
“I’m so tired, I can’t even find my power-well right now.”
If they were going to survive long enough for Aunt Wisdom to come looking for them, they needed to do something to generate some heat. “Then make love to me.”
Josh rolled his head to the side, opened his eyes halfway and curved the left side of his mouth into a crooked smile. “I’m glad you find me irresistible, but I’m too tired.” He closed his eyes again and said, “First thing tomorrow morning. Kay?” 
“If we don’t get help soon. We aren’t going to live until morning. You’ll never have sex again.”
He blinked his eyes open and said, “What?”
“We are going to die within the hour. You will never ride your bike again, you will never see your parents or your brother again, and you will never have sex again. Got it?”
Josh reached for Channie’s hand, squinted his eyes and trembled as he used the last of his energy. 
The spell was weak, but if Aunt Wisdom was in the area, she’d feel it. Channie didn’t know if it would help, but she focused her mind as if she still had her abilities and willed Josh’s magic to seek out Aunt Wisdom. But instead of rising into the sky, Josh’s magic flowed into Channie. 
She instinctively tried to raise a shield she no longer possessed. She tried to redirect his energy outward, away from her, but she had no control over magic anymore. She had no use for it either. Her power-well was sealed shut. There was no reason for her body to siphon Josh’s power, but she was powerless to stop it. She gasped as the last of his magic disappeared inside her heart.
“No!” She shook Josh’s shoulder, but he was asleep again … or unconscious. Every spell had its cost and Josh had obviously given everything he had to fuel the distress spell. She knew better than to leave the car — and it broke her heart to think that she and Josh would most likely die apart and alone — but if she had any hope of saving their lives, she had to find Aunt Wisdom. 
Despair settled over Channie like a cold, wet blanket. She kissed Josh’s frozen lips, whispered, “I love you,” into his ear, then opened the door and headed for the shack.
She focused on putting one foot in front of the other and hoped her sense of direction wouldn’t fail her in the blizzard.
It did.
At first Channie thought she was dreaming. Hunter Feenie was leaning over her, shaking her shoulders, patting her cheeks. She brushed his hands away and groaned.
“Wake up Channie. We need to get you back to the shack.”
“Josh?” She reached for him, but all she found was empty air.
“He’s already gone.”