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Wicked Like a Wildfire (Hibiscus Daughter #1)
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006243683X (ISBN13: 9780062436832)
All the women in Iris and Malina’s family have the unique magical ability or “gleam” to manipulate beauty. Iris sees flowers as fractals and turns her kaleidoscope visions into glasswork, while Malina interprets moods as music. But their mother has strict rules to keep their gifts a secret, even in their secluded sea-side town. Iris and Malina are not allowed to share their magic with anyone, and above all, they are forbidden from falling in love.
But when their mother is mysteriously attacked, the sisters will have to unearth the truth behind the quiet lives their mother has built for them. They will discover a wicked curse that haunts their family line—but will they find that the very magic that bonds them together is destined to tear them apart forever?
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MY SISTER AND I WERE BORN ALL TANGLED UP together, both tiny enough that our unruly descent just narrowly missed killing our mother. I liked to think there would have been a fair bit of screaming on Mama’s part in the ruckus that followed, but that’s just my wicked fancy. Maybe she was stoic and flawless as ever, Snow White giving birth under glass. Either way, tending to her, no one spared the time to note which of us had arrived first. And so although we weren’t identical, by sheer bloody technicality we were always the same age, neither a minute older nor younger than each other.
Mama kept us in a single cradle, one that Čiča Jovan had carved for her from cherrywood before we were born. It was a whimsical thing fit for changeling children, wrought with mermaids trapped in ivy, open seashells with tiny apples growing in them instead of salty flesh. Sometimes I wondered if I’d have liked my own cradle as much as I would have liked having my own room once we were older. But Malina still liked to fall asleep by matching her breathing to mine, rubbing her feet together like a grasshopper.
The only real bedtime story Mama ever told us traced back to those early days, when we were both so little the tops of our skulls hadn’t yet hardened into something that could withstand the world. The mother I knew might have been tempted by that fragility, the urge to press her thumbs into such yielding clay. To see what marks she could make.
She must have been so different, then.
Instead, when we were old enough for our pale eyes to focus, she brought an assortment of offerings on a milky sea-glass platter. From it, she plucked tiny slivers of fruit and brushed them over our lips, one by one. Apple, mango, strawberry, papaya, prickly pear, some so exotic she could only have gotten them from the cruise ships that docked in the bay, rather than the open-air market outside the Old Town walls. Each was at its peak, the perfect moment of ripeness before turning. Then she passed violet petals beneath our noses, followed by jasmine, orchid, and peony; small lumps of ambergris; splinters of oud wood and sandalwood and myrrh.
Waiting to see which would bring forth the gleam, the magic that ran through our blood.
For me, it was the hibiscus flower, the petal red and fleshy as our mother trailed it over the tip of my nose, before she let me gum it to release its tart flavor. For Malina, it was a gleaming, perfect cherry, which Mama crushed into a paste that she let my sister suck from her ring finger.
It was bad luck to name a daughter after the thing that first sparked the gleam, Mama said. So I was Iris, for a flower that wasn’t hibiscus, and my sister was Malina, for a raspberry. They were placeholder names that didn’t pin down our true nature, so nothing would ever be able to summon us. No demon or vila would ever reel us in by our real names.
Even caught up in the story, Mama could never quite explain what the gleam looked like once she found it. Maybe our cloudy baby eyes cleared, like a sky swept by a driving wind. Maybe our tiny hands clenched fistfuls of air, seeking the tools that we’d use to capture the gleam once we were older. She never said.
Listening to her tell it, I could have sworn that she’d loved the needy little creatures Malina and I had been. Even if the whole thing was just a story—who rubs flowers and fruit and whale vomit on babies, anyway? What if one of us had been allergic?—it was still beautifully spun. There was love in its very fabric.
Then again, all that was seventeen years ago. These days, had someone asked me if our mother loved us, any “yes” would have caught in my throat like a fish bone. And had someone asked me if I loved my mother, I thought I knew what I would say.
But then she died without dying, and I didn’t know anything at all.
THAT WHOLE WEEK felt like a gathering storm. It was only the end of May, but already so stifling that just the effort of breathing made you mutinous. Malina and I worked split shifts at Café Tadić since school had let out for the summer, and that Tuesday I’d drawn the early straw, which I usually preferred. On my way out at six a.m., I’d see the sunrise over the mountains that Cattaro huddled against, the sky glowing like a forge before the craggy peaks above us lit with the first slice of the sun.
It reminded me of what my world had once looked like, brilliant and blazing and alive from every angle, back when I could make almost anything bloom.