With just one touch, bread turns into roses. With just one bite, cheese turns into lilies…
Based on Portuguese legend, Diana Pinguicha’s A Curse of Roses is an epic tale of mystery, magic, and making the impossible choice between love and duty—available December 1st from Entangled Publishing.
With just one touch, bread turns into roses. With just one bite, cheese turns into lilies.
There’s a famine plaguing the land, and Princess Yzabel is wasting food simply by trying to eat. Before she can even swallow, her magic—her curse—has turned her meal into a bouquet. She’s on the verge of starving, which only reminds her that the people of Portugal have been enduring the same pain for years.
If only it were possible to reverse her magic. Then she could turn flowers into food.
Fatyan, a beautiful Enchanted Moura, is the only one who can help. But she is trapped by magical binds. She can teach Yzabel how to control her curse—if Yzabel sets her free with a kiss.
As the King of Portugal’s betrothed, Yzabel would be committing treason, but what good is a king if his country has starved to death?
With just one kiss, Fatyan is set free. And with just one kiss, Yzabel is yearning for more.
She’d sought out Fatyan to help her save the people. Now, loving her could mean Yzabel’s destruction.
She took the bowl from Fatyan and put it to her lips, tilting her head back so the stew fell directly into her mouth.
From the corner of her eye, she caught Fatyan maneuvering herself to better watch what unfolded before her. Glimpses of heat flashed inside Yzabel’s mouth, down her throat, fading when they landed in her belly, and her left hand hummed with glowing energy.
Halfway into the bowl, Yzabel choked and coughed a few times before spitting up a chewed-up daisy with only a handful of petals still attached.
“Extraordinary,” Fatyan muttered.
“An extraordinary bother, more like,” Yzabel countered. “Brites made a tea that used to dull it, but it no longer works. She serves most of my meals pre-mushed and pre-cuts the cheese and bread so I can eat with minimal chewing—I guess with all the commotion she forgot to do it today.” She crushed the daisy in her hand. “Either way, such options aren’t available when you’re hosting dinners. It’s even more unthinkable that touching food forces me to waste precious sustenance in times like these.”
“And when it showed…who told you it was a curse?”
“My mamá. She said that some crafty noblewoman had cursed me, jealous I was to be Queen of Portugal and the Algarves. The very same curse my great aunt Erzsébet suffered from over fifty years ago, and one that ultimately killed her at a young age, shortly after she performed a miracle.” Yzabel refilled both their wineglasses and cradled hers to her chest. “The curse grew worse with time, and up until now, I thought I would die the same way my aunt did. Seems…silly, now that you’ve made me see I’m meant to master it. Not just to keep Denis from finding out, but to feed the people without breaking his rules about where and how I spend my dinheiros.”
Fatyan cocked her head and raised an eyebrow. “And you think your betrothed will kill you if he found out you bear sahar? If your aunt had the same gift, and hers was seen as a miracle…”
“Aunt Erzsébet’s husband was a man of God. When he caught her sneaking out to feed bread to the poor and she turned bread to roses in front of him, he took it as an act of the Lord, meant to humble him into allowing his wife to continue her charitable exploits.” Yzabel’s mouth tightened. “Denis is many things, but devout isn’t one of them. His reaction will not be that.”
“Does he treat you wrong?” Fatyan asked, darkness consuming her eyes.
Yzabel’s movements slowed, then became flustered. “No! Lord, no. He’s just very, how do I put this… Strict? A miser who can’t see how privileged he is? And I don’t think he’d forgive another betrayal from me. He’s still upset I went behind his back with my charity and almost spent my dowry before we were even married.”
Fatyan tapped her jawline as she thought on that last sentence. “But to kill you… Do you truly think he’d do that?”
“He would. If not for the betrayal, then out of pride.” She looked down at her hands, picked on her cuticles. “Kings don’t let princesses drag an engagement for years, and a princess who hides terrible secrets can’t risk the ire of the men who hold her fate in their hands.”
Fatyan pointed at the three robust slices of bread neither of them had touched and said, “Show me more of your magic, then.”
Yzabel instinctively made to argue, but she had to do this. Her slender, small fingers reached for the bread—the magical glow emanated from her hand, rushing forth as if it hungered for the sustenance before it. It enveloped the food in a white light that broke apart to become a thick stem, elongated and thinned to green leaves, swirled into nested petals of deep red.
It was beautiful.
It was a waste.
But if Fatyan could teach her how to control it, this waste would open the way for miracles.
Wordlessly, the Moura plucked the rose from her hand and examined it with enraptured attention. Yzabel tried to contain her anxious jittering while Fatyan looked at the rose with fascination. Closing her eyes, the Moura smelled the crown of petals, then trailed her fingers across the stem, carefully testing the prickles against the flesh of her thumb.
“No wonder you thought it a curse; no wonder the sahar turned into the image of one, too,” Fatyan mused. “I think I understand what’s going on. It shouldn’t be too hard to do what you need to do.”
Hope fluttered in Yzabel’s chest. “Truly?”
“Yes. But just in case…” Fatyan held out a hand, palm up. “Turn another while you touch me. My sahar should react and give me a better idea.”
Something still wasn’t clear to her, though. “Shouldn’t you have lost your magic now that you’re out of the stone?” she asked as she placed her hand on Fatyan’s.
“I will never lose my sahar. It’s been with me since I was born.” She traced her thumb over Yzabel’s knuckle, the simple touch erupting in complex emotions she couldn’t place. Fatyan brought her face closer. “Magic like ours can never be killed. Only mastered. Now. Tell me what you feel when you turn food into flowers.”
Yzabel pursed her lips and closed her eyes, trying to recall the sensation that came when she let her curse roam free. “There’s a tingling, like I have ants crawling on my skin. Warmth, too. And it’s always worse in my tongue and my left hand.”
“I noticed. But we’ll leave your tongue out of this for now,” Fatyan quipped with a smile and a wink.
The too-fresh memory of their kiss fluttered in Yzabel’s mind, and heat flooded her cheeks at the for now. She did not know what to do with it, and so she cleared the awkwardness in her throat and asked, “Where do I begin?”
A hum began in the back of Fatyan’s throat, the low, gentle sound a caress in Yzabel’s ears. “Try to replicate the feeling you get when you touch food.”
She tried. She recalled the heat, the numbness, tried to force those into her hand, to push the magic roaming inside her into doing what she wanted instead of what it wanted.
“Hmmm… Let’s try another way.” Fatyan picked up another piece of bread. “I want you to touch this, and as you do, focus, really focus, on the changes happening inside you.”
Hand hovering a hairsbreadth away from the slice, Yzabel closed her eyes to better concentrate on the curse’s magic. As if it was a ball in her veins, the energy traveled from her chest, down her arm, collecting at the cusp of her fingertips.
Though she wasn’t touching the bread quite yet, the magic reached out to it, hungry and eager, eating through the dark dough like bright mold.
“Tell it to stop,” Fatyan urged.
Yzabel bit into her lip, sweat beading on her forehead as she tried to bring the curse to a halt. Willing it to obey, she pictured a leash choking the magic and forcing it back up her arm. It whiplashed into her, making her yelp as it sliced at her stomach and burned the roof of her mouth like a trapped wild creature tearing a cage apart.
Her fingers jerked. The magic spread. Hoping to save the bread from becoming a rose, she closed her hand and pulled it to her chest before the light had completely enveloped it. Fruitless effort, for once the curse took hold, there was no turning back. The contaminated bread broke from the untouched segment, and between one blink and the next, a second rose, smaller, but as red-petalled and fresh as the previous one, fell soundlessly to the floor.
How was she supposed to stop something that had a will of its own?
Impotence and anger blurred Yzabel’s sight with tears. Her head swam, her throat ached, her breath refused to slow down, and her body became so hot. She had to get her clothes off, cool down. Her shaking fingers tried to pull at the strings around her neck, desperate to rid her from the burden of the cloak, and—
A tug on her arm, and awareness returned. Fatyan held her hand still, and Yzabel looked to find an expression of painful uncertainty on the Moura’s face.
Shame covered her in a blanket of panic and self derision, and she looked away to let the dim candlelight mask her wet cheeks. Fatyan was going to realize just how weak and useless Yzabel truly was; she would tell her she’d been wrong, and she’d be stuck with this cursed touch forever.
Something soft touched her jaw to catch a stray tear. “Why are you crying?”
“Frustration,” she said, unable to stop the ridiculous flow of tears. “Silly, isn’t it?”
“It’s not, and it happens to the best of us,” Fatyan whispered, one hand cradling Yzabel’s cheek with gentle patience while the other traced the inside of her palm.
Her heaving chest expanded, close to bursting, as if all the magic inside her roiled like the Tenebrous Sea during winter storms, as if she were made of brittle glass and was about to shatter.
“The only reason you can’t do this is yourself. Or rather, your perception.” Fatyan thumbed away the tears on Yzabel’s face with delicate motions, her eyelids low with concern. “You can’t treat the sahar as your enemy and hope it’ll obey.”
The motion of Fatyan’s fingers reassured her somewhat, and Yzabel managed to resume breathing evenly. “Then how?”
“Accept it for what it is—a part of yourself, like your nose”—she tapped Yzabel’s nose with a finger—“your ear”—she traced the shell, eliciting a small shiver—“your hand.” She brought their joined hands between them. “You don’t try to cut your nose off when you have a cold, do you? Or your ear, when you can’t hear well enough? Or your fingers, when they drop something?”
Fatyan was so warm, her words so gentle. Yzabel looked at their joined hands—how nicely they fit together, Fatyan’s long dark fingers threaded with Yzabel’s small white ones. “I don’t know. Maybe I should’ve cut off my hand. And my tongue.”
“Then you would’ve been one-handed and tongue-less, and the food would still turn,” the Moura jokingly retorted before becoming serious again. “You refer to your magic as a curse. And because you’ve shunned it all your life, it’s become a starved animal, hungrier and hungrier every day. Until you see it as the gift that it is, it will remain unruly and feed itself every chance it gets.”
“Surely that can’t be all.”
“It’s not. But it’s important.” Fatyan released her to sit back on the corner of the desk, crossing her arms over her chest, concentrating as if trying to assemble a torn letter back together. “Have you tried to just…keep turning food until the magic’s dried out?”
“No. To do so would waste too much, and I—”
“You’ve been starving the sahar,” Fatyan interrupted. “Like you, it needs nourishment, and all that denial and hatred you bear has been slowly turning it hostile. You have some serious neglect to make up for.”
The shame from before returned at full force. Marriage, intimacy, public outings, asserting herself, the curse… Could she truly do nothing right? Was she doomed to fail in her endeavors until her frail health caught up to her?
Fatyan edged closer. Her knees pressed against the side of Yzabel’s thigh, and she quietly waited for Yzabel to do something. She didn’t know what, and when she reluctantly lifted her gaze to the Moura’s—her eyes so beautiful, the lashes thick and long, the irises so green—she couldn’t tear herself away.
“Don’t look so down, Yzabel,” she said. “Everyone goes through this; gifts like ours are often wild, especially when we fight them.”
“You also went through this?” she asked with a rough, broken voice.
“I don’t know anyone who hasn’t.” A bittersweet smile lifted a corner of her lips, and a faraway look settled on her eyes. “The morning my gift manifested, I woke with sheets stained with blood, aching bones, and in a face and body that weren’t my own. Instead of turning food into flowers, I kept turning myself into someone else. It took me months, but eventually, I accepted it. Still, the sahar is a temperamental beast, and before anyone can use it effectively, it needs to be centered and leashed.
“So, on the next full moon, our Benzedor took me to a circle of herbs and cinnamon. A snake was laid at my feet, the scare triggering my gift into action and the ritual into beginning. After that, my gift was easier to control, and after many, many nights of practice, I could change anything about myself in the blink of an eye.” Pain creased her face, trembled in her voice. “But now my sahar isn’t working as it should.”
A sad shrug. “I don’t know. I’ve never come this far with anyone else, so this is all uncharted territory for me. The sahar is here”—she pointed to her chest—“but it will remain inaccessible until my curse is fully broken, which won’t happen until our bargain is met, which won’t happen until you accept the blessing into your heart.”
It wasn’t just about herself anymore. Mastering the magic meant reducing the waste of her meals, meant stopping Denis’s nagging about her health and meant giving Fatyan her freedom. “What happens if I don’t? Can we still do the ritual?”
“We can, but it will be dangerous.” A grave pause and a dark look. “The sahar can turn on you. You might die.”
Excerpted from A Curse of Roses, copyright © 2020 by Diana Pinguicha.