A spellbinding romantic fantasy about a powerful witch who will do anything to escape the remote island she’s being held captive on, including blackmail a notorious, charming pirate who washes up on shore, from debut author Angela Montoya.
Rosalinda is trapped on Sinner’s Isle, an island filled with young women like her—Majestics, beautiful witches loathed by society for their dangerous magic yet revered by powerful men who want to use them.
For years, she has been kept under the watchful, calculating eye of Doña Lucia. Now eighteen, Rosa will be the prized commodity at this year’s Offering, a fiesta for the wealthy to engage in drink, damsels, and debauchery. That is why she must flee—before someone forces the vicious phantoms within her to destroy everything she touches.
Handsome, swashbuckling Mariano has long sailed the high seas as the Prince of Pirates. Then the king’s fleet attacks his father’s infamous ship, leaving him marooned on Sinner’s Isle with only an enchanted chain meant to lead him to his heart’s desire. Instead, he falls into the hands of a brazen (although) bewitching headache—Rosa.
Together they must outwit each other and their enemies before the Offering ends and it’s too late to escape the perils of Sinner’s Isle.
An Excerpt fromSinner's Isle
One Day Before the Offering
The salt-stained breeze tugged Rosalinda’s hair from its braid and whipped it about like angry serpents. She shoved the tendrils behind her ears and scowled, half expecting storm clouds to form above her head to match her darkening mood. But the sky was annoyingly blue.
Squalls never touched Sinner’s Isle, after all. Even storms shunned the Majestics. If only the young king and his court would offer the same kindness. She knew that was a foolish dream. King Sebastián had left his castle and was currently sailing through the treacherous seas. He was coming for her.
“Senorita, your braid has come undone,” Cora, a maidservant, said from within Rosa’s bedchamber. “Please, come off the balcony so I may finish getting you ready.”
Rosa ignored Cora, keeping her eyes focused on the sea. The only glimmer of freedom she’d had in her eleven years on the isle. She was eighteen now. A woman. Though considered less than one because of the power she possessed.
In silence, she left the balcony, swept over to the vanity bench, and sat down, placing her hands on her lap. She kept perfectly still, her spine straight, her chin high. Just as she’d been taught to do since she was a little girl. But inside, in the hidden depths of her soul, she raged like a snared beast.
Cora clicked her tongue as she shuffled in front of Rosa. Cora’s wrinkled face and skin were covered with plain muslin, as were all the servants of the palace. Dona Lucia, their mistress, would not have her guests see anything on the isle but beauty, perfection, and vitality. And age, especially on a Majestic--a woman with magic coursing through her veins, blessed by the goddess Xiomara herself--was the opposite of those things, in la dona’s eyes.
“You are a mess, Senorita. And after all the work I just did.” She pinned loose strands of Rosa’s nearly black hair back into place. “Stay still, por favor.” Cora raised a single finger and brushed it over Rosa’s mouth.
A trail of ice followed her touch. It stung, but that was nothing new. Magic always found a way to hurt.
Rosa’s eyes flicked to the looking glass and watched as the soft pink of her lips turned into a deep plum. Cora’s glamour magic wasn’t extraordinary. Nothing of true value in the Kingdom of Coronado. Nothing worth paying the church a high tithe for. But perfect for a day like this.
“There you go, Senorita. As pretty as ever.” Cora patted Rosa’s cheek. “Now, I must attend to the rest of the young ladies before the king’s arrival.”
As soon as Cora left, Rosa slumped.
The door to her bedchamber creaked open, then quickly slammed shut.
“Forget something, Cora?” she asked, not bothering to raise her eyes from her lap.
“Si, my brain. Have you seen it?”
Rosa’s head snapped to the door. Juana, her dearest friend, stood panting as though she’d come running from the other side of the isle. Chest heaving, she rested her hands on her hips, her dark-brown skin glistening with sweat. She wore a soft-pink gown with gold embroidery. Her black hair was pulled into a bun with a few tight curls framing her pretty face. Irritation was etched on her features.
Rosa pinched her lips together to keep from smiling. Many of the girls under Dona Lucia’s watch happily wore the fine dresses laid out for them, but not Juana. She hated the idea of a dozen layers of skirts around her legs. She loathed face paint too, and yet, there she was with rouge on her cheeks.
“Aren’t you fetching?” Rosa teased.
Juana plucked a flower from her hair and crushed it in her palm. “They tried to shove me into a gown cut so low, I might as well have been naked.”
Rosa grinned. “I can picture it now: you, standing there on the docks, in nothing but your heeled slippers and tiara.”
“Oh, si. I’d catch the attention of the entire armada. Probably even that beastly king.” Juana tapped a finger against her chin. “On second thought, that wouldn’t be so bad. I could tell him I’ve seen his future and that he’s doomed to spend the rest of his days with his head up his culo.”
Laughter bubbled out of Rosa.
Juana paced across the room and collapsed onto a chaise longue near the balcony doors. “I had to run once the servants started chattering about using magic to elongate my lashes. If Dona Lucia finds out . . .”
“The mistress is too busy with fiesta preparations to worry over your lashes.”
“You and I both know that’s a lie.” Juana chewed on her fingernail, something she only did when her mind was caught in a spiral of worrisome thoughts.
“I know better than to believe you actually care what Dona Lucia will do,” Rosa said.
Juana once spent several days locked in her room when she broke Dona Lucia’s prized vase. Well, she didn’t break it. Rosa had. But Juana took the blame. She was always doing things like that. Sticking up for Rosa. Shielding her. With the reasoning that she was three months older and therefore much stronger than Rosa ever could be. Besides, she always said. I hardly like you, let alone anyone else. A few days of peace and quiet will be a delight.
“Tell me what you’re thinking,” Rosa said as she sat beside Juana.
Juana met Rosa’s gaze. “I’ve known this day would come for so long. But now that it’s here and our plans are falling into place, I can’t help but feel something will go terribly wrong.”
Rosa knew the dangers that came with running away from the isle. She’d seen what happened to girls who tried to flee. Seen them tortured by la dona’s all-female guards until their screams died in their throats. Watched as they were dragged into the depths by tlanchanas as soon as they reached the turquoise waters surrounding the island. But facing las sirenas to evade the Offering was worth the risk.
“I . . .” Rosa’s mouth opened and shut. She tried to form the proper words to make Juana understand why they had to leave. Tonight.
“You don’t have to say anything.” Juana squeezed her hand. “You never do. Not with me. But that doesn’t make me any less frightened.”
“I’m sorry,” Rosa said. And she was. She was sorry for everything they were made to endure. Sorry a Majestic’s power was coveted and hated. Sorry their worth was measured by their tithe--how much someone was willing to pay the church for a Majestic’s services.
It hadn’t always been this way. Only a century ago, Majestics lived freely within the island kingdom. They’d healed the ill, calmed the seas, called down rain from the skies to help farmers produce bountiful harvests. But when the former monarch, King Sebastián’s great-great-grandfather, learned he could weaken a Majestic’s power with iron on their skin, everything changed.
He rounded them up and carted them to his castillo, placing rings of iron in their earlobes to keep them weak, only taking them out so he could use their power to turn his wasteland of a capital city into a flourishing paradise. It took a heavy toll on the Majestics, for their power was like a living well inside them. When it ran dry, so too did their life force.
After decades of mistreatment, the Majestics fought against the king and his guards, but they could only withstand for so long before their dampened magic was depleted completely. Hundreds of powerful Majestics lost their lives during the rebellion. An entire generation of elders was gone in months.
The church began to spin tall tales to their flock, sending out pamphlets that deemed Majestics “sin in the flesh.” Many who had once sympathized with the Majestics turned their backs on the witches for fear of being cast into one of the seven hells. People started hunting Majestics to rid the lands of wicked magic.
But the king would not let his only access to true dominance die off like the church and its flock wanted. Neither would the nobles of the land, who clamored for power too.
A compromise was thus made. Majestics were exiled to a tiny island at the center of the sea. A Majestic could only live outside the confines of Sinner’s Isle if she and her powers were bound to a person of influence once she was of age. A person chosen by the king and the cardenals of the church for their loyalty to the throne and their gods. There the Majestic would spend the rest of her days meeting their demands, no matter what they may be.
A mischievous thought popped into Rosa’s mind. “Care to go on an adventure before this wretched day begins?”
Juana arched a brow. “Do you even need to ask?”
Rosa grabbed Juana’s hand and led her toward the door. Rosa opened it. Servants ran back and forth, carrying vases bursting with white lilies and baskets of fresh linens. A flurry of Majestics in stunning gowns passed by, giggling and gossiping with nervous excitement. When the corridor was clear, she led Juana to the right.
“Where are we going?” Juana asked, looking over her shoulder.
“To la capilla,” Rosa replied.
Juana balked. “The chapel? Why?”
“Just wait.” Together, they hustled up long and winding steps, toward the highest point of the palace. It was where they were supposed to say their prayers to the dioses. To the gods who had turned their backs on them long ago.
Burning incense clogged Rosa’s nostrils, followed by the sickening memories of hours spent on her knees, begging for forgiveness for something she had no control over--being a Majestic.
La capilla was small, sparse, meant for only a few sinners at a time. At the very front of the circular room stood an altar with glowing candles and twelve small figurines sculpted in the dioses’ likeness. There had been thirteen gods, but Xiomara was cast aside like the Majestics she created.
“Are you going to tell me why we’re in here?” Juana asked, pinching her nose. She detested the way la capilla smelled.
“I was thinking of that book.” Rosa gestured toward el libro de salvacion. It was a version of the pamphlet printed and given to every household in the kingdom, and the scripture Majestics on the isle memorized and recited the moment they were old enough to speak.
Majestics are sin in the flesh, it stated.
They know nothing but destruction and lust.
They will pull the piety out of a gods-fearing soul, causing men to commit damnable acts because it is in the Majestic’s nature; it was what they were born to do.
Rosa flipped the pages until she found what she was looking for.
Juana peered down and read. “‘The lowest pit in the seventh hell is reserved for the Majestic and those who worship her.’” She scoffed. “Are you trying to make me feel better or worse about today?”
“Keep reading,” Rosa urged.
She moved away, searching for a bit of ink or chalk that was used to practice their scriptures.
Juana rolled her eyes but continued. “‘Salvation may come for a Majestic, praise be to the dioses, if she lays down her will, her sinful nature, and offers herself and her magic to a pious man who serves his king and country well. Only then may she enter el cielo when she has parted from this world.’”
Rosa’s eyes caught on a pencil under one of the benches. She snagged it and shuffled back to the altar.
“Here.” She offered it to Juana. “I think it’s time we write our own story for a change.”
A brilliant smile filled Juana’s face. “You are diabolical.”
“I learned from the best.”
With a laugh, Juana snatched the pencil and began scribbling words into the holy book. Replacing sanctified verses with foul language. Swapping the word man for donkey. Rosa giggled so hard, tears fell down her cheeks.
When the pages were filled with Juana’s markings, she plucked up one of the figurines from the altar. As she started drawing a beard on the statue of Izel, the dios of nature, Rosa walked to the lone window within la capilla. The salty breeze kissed her light-brown cheeks as she eyed the entire isle, laid out before her like a living platter.
The tlanchanas’ den sat at the edge of a cobalt bay--at first sight, they appeared to be beautiful women bathing in the sun, but below the water’s surface their serpentine tails flicked and slithered in the sea as they waited for their next meal. The tiny village that housed the servants of the isle and their families nuzzled against a lush forest teeming with wildlife. There were also the Baths and the temple where some priests were housed. A network of dirt roads wove through it all, leading up to the Palace of Majestics, where Rosa and Juana resided.
Every woman on Sinner’s Isle was a Majestic, from the lowliest servant to the mistress of the isle herself. But only the very young, or the ones with giftings worthy of the king and his court, were allowed to live and study within the palace walls.
A bright white sail flashed in the distance. Rosa bit her lip and squinted as she leaned forward. Another sail popped into view. And another still. She shifted her weight, her pulse racing as dozens of ships blotted out the horizon.
“They’re here,” she said, her voice as soft as the rippling waves breaking on the shore far below. Perhaps if she spoke the words quiet enough, it wouldn’t be so. The ships would simply cease to exist. Yet no matter how many times she blinked, they remained. Before long, the vessels were passing between the bone-white statues standing sentry over the bay.
The darkness inside her, the sick shadow magic that wished to hurt and destroy, stirred to life. The wicked phantoms stretched and sighed as though waking from a deep sleep. She forced her breathing to calm. The last thing she needed was to worry over her powers. Especially when the king and his guests had finally arrived.
They were here for the Offering, an event that happened every year at the beginning of the new lunar cycle. For seven days, the ruler and noblemen of the Kingdom of Coronado would come to pay their tithes and worship the dioses. Not with heads bowed and songs of praise for their creators, but with fiestas, drinks, masquerades, and extravagant costumes. And the Majestics who had come of age or had yet to be chosen would be paraded around like peacocks in full bloom, hoping to be plucked from the isle to serve and cleanse their souls.
Rosa whipped around, feeling ill. Hand on her stomach, she rested her back against a cool wall. Juana’s grin fell. She dropped the statue, the clay figurine smashing to a dozen pieces on the floor.