Lana Harper first introduced us to the quaint magical town of Thistle Grove in the fast-paced, queer rom-com romp Payback’s a Witch. Get ready to return to this charming locale this spring for another round of romance in its bewitching (pun very much intended) follow-up, From Bad to Cursed. More of a companion piece than a direct sequel, From Bad to Cursed shifts its focus to a secondary set of characters from the first book, digging into the long-running feud between the magical Thorn and Avramov families.
Isidora Avramov (sister of Payback’s a Witch heroine Talia) has been struggling with her commitment to the family’s witchy business but is nevertheless still looking forward to participating in the upcoming Flower Moon Festival at Beltane. But when someone starts sabotaging the celebrations leading up to the big event—and a member of the rival Thorn clan is hurt, by the same kind of magic her family is known to wield—Isidora must join forces with Rowan Thorn to investigate and clear their names..
Though each begins this search with some rather unflattering assumptions about the other, their search—and the growing attraction between them—will ultimately lead both Isidora and Rowan to question how much of those beliefs are true.
Here’s how the publisher describes the story
Wild child Isidora Avramov is a thrill chaser, adept demon summoner, and—despite the whole sexy-evil-sorceress vibe—also a cuddly animal lover. When she’s not designing costumes and new storylines for the Arcane Emporium’s haunted house, Issa’s nursing a secret, conflicted dream of ditching her family’s witchy business to become an indie fashion designer in her own right.
But when someone starts sabotaging the celebrations leading up to this year’s Beltane festival with dark, dangerous magic, a member of the rival Thorn family gets badly hurt—throwing immediate suspicion on the Avramovs. To clear the Avramov name and step up for her family when they need her the most, Issa agrees to serve as a co-investigator, helping none other than Rowan Thorn get to the bottom of things.
Rowan is the very definition of lawful good, so tragically noble and by-the-book he makes Issa’s teeth hurt. In accordance with their families’ complicated history, he and Issa have been archenemies for years and have grown to heartily loathe each other. But as the unlikely duo follow a perplexing trail of clues to a stunning conclusion, Issa and Rowan discover how little they really know each other… and stumble upon a maddening attraction that becomes harder to ignore by the day.
From Bad to Cursed will be released on May 17, 2022, from Berkely and we’re excited to share an exclusive excerpt from the story below!
And that was how I wound up at the Shamrock Cauldron, face-to-face with my archnemesis for the first time in seven years.
The quirky bar came across as a kind of friendly visual assault, festooned in sparkly, multicolored shamrocks and Halloween-themed string lights, a plastic skeleton in a leprechaun’s green top hat leering in one corner—Dead Frederick, the Shamrock’s unofficial mascot. I’d chosen the spot for its status as a popular haunt of Thistle Grove’s magical community, a neutralish ground for our kickoff lunch. Their food was solid, if not amazing, but I’d always had a soft spot for Dead Fred, and the drinks had become pretty legendary since Morty Gutierrez had taken over for his dad.
I was going to need many of those drinks to get me through today.
Rowan sat across from me like a thundercloud incarnate, silent and baleful, threatening imminent rain. We’d been glaring at each other in dead silence for a good while now, since I’d purposely come in almost twenty minutes late as a power move. Either this had pissed off Rowan Thorn, (Supremely Punctual) Wildlife Hero, to such extremes that he couldn’t speak, or we’d both come in determined not to be the first to break. We hadn’t exchanged so much as a word in all those years; whoever conceded now was definitely going to be losing face.
Under the table, I recrossed my legs in an effort to keep my butt from going numb, smoothing my skirt back over my fishnetted thighs. I’d donned battle armor in the form of a bottle-green-and-black baby doll dress, in a subtle print of snakes twined around roses, adorned with chiffon inlays I’d added myself. I had my chunky-heeled lace-up hiker boots on, along with all my protective amulets, spiked leather bracelets lining both wrists. It was a look I intended to read as “I could kill you in your sleep and look motherfucking stellar doing it.”
Given the circumstances, it maybe wasn’t the most productive take. But hey, it worked for me.
Slowly, without breaking eye contact, I lifted the copper mug of Witch’s Vengeance to my lips and took a long, loud slurp from its straw, draining the peach-and-lemon whiskey smash down to the citrusy dregs. Shit, that meant I was going to need a refill soon; the idea of standing up felt like a tacit admission of defeat.
Fortunately, my next protracted slurp tipped Rowan past his breaking point.
He closed his eyes, lids flickering over them, drawing a breath so long and deep it actually tugged his crisp, sky-blue button-down taut over his broad chest. Of course, even his fashion would be terminally straight edge. He did it a few more times, until I determined he was counting to four on both the inhale and the exhale.
A gratified glow fueled by pure pettiness lit just beneath my ribs. There’s a certain special exhilaration to driving the object of your loathing to soothing breathing techniques.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Isidora. Did I seriously come here just to watch you mess around with a cocktail,” he finally said, more statement than question—he, of course, was allowing himself only coffee while on the clock. His voice was even deeper than my memory of it, richly textured and heavy on the bass.
“I don’t know, Rowan,” I replied with exaggerated patience, lacing my hands under my chin and tilting my head to the side. “Did you?”
His jaw tightened, muscle twitching under the skin. “You’re the one who sent me an engraved invitation via a whole-ass raven, like some kind of evil sorceress who lives in a tower,” he pointed out. “Instead of texting or calling like a normal human being. So why don’t you tell me. I mean, for real, what the fuck was that red ink? Was I supposed to think that was actual blood? Because I hate to break it to you, but real blood doesn’t dry like that.”
“What can I say?” I spread my hands, the picture of innocence. “Couldn’t find you in the phonebook.”
It wasn’t that I couldn’t have gotten his number, had I wanted to play it aboveboard. But I’d figured, why not acknowledge that our forced collaboration was going to be inherently adversarial? Maybe even have a little fun with it?
Instead of responding, he laid his hands flat on the table and drew his lips through his teeth, one at a time, as if schooling himself into patience. His lower lip had the perfect amount of pout, finely cut but somehow still unabashedly masculine. It baffled me to no end, why the goddess or the universe or whoever else was in charge of that particular department would have seen fit to bless him with it. A pompous, do-gooding (do-goodering?) ass of his caliber didn’t deserve a gorgeous lip like that.
“Okay, how about this,” he said. “However the message was delivered, I appreciate your taking the initiative to reach out.”
Oh, so he was going to play the grown-up now? No, sir, not on my watch.
“My pleasure, really. I just assumed one of us would have to be reasonable and fair,” I added placidly, putting a snarky little emphasis on “fair,” just in case he’d somehow forgotten the sordid details of our history. “And reasonable individuals find a way to bridge the gap.”
“Oh, because your people are famously reasonable,” he shot back, eyes blazing. “And correct me if I’m wrong, but pretty sure it’s my cousin who still can’t feel her magic or her hands, just because she wanted to try out for Queen this year. Any part of that sound fair to you?”
We subsided back into silence, sinking into another glare even as my stomach twitched uncomfortably at the reference to Holly Thorn’s damaged hands. Caught up in the whirlpool of our private animus, I’d momentarily forgotten what was really at stake here. No matter our history, what had happened to Holly wasn’t ripe for jokes or playful debate. And she was Rowan’s family, his blood—how would I be acting in his place, had it been Letha hurt by one of his family’s trademark spells?
I clenched my teeth, staring down at the table’s pockmarked wood, where someone had scratched LIBBY + alexis into the pitted surface. Were our roles reversed, I was pretty fucking sure I wouldn’t be demonstrating even an iota of restraint.
“I’m sorry,” I finally forced out, meeting his eyes, though the words soured in my mouth. “You’re right, that was . . . below the belt. I know this whole thing must be deeply fucked up for your family.”
His jaw actually dropped open, pure shock flaring in his eyes.
“Hold up . . . you’re sorry?” he repeated, giving his head an incredulous little shake. “I’m right? Did Isidora Avramov really just utter those words in that exact order, or is this what it feels like to experience a psychotic break?”
I rolled my tongue along the inside of my cheek, my newfound benevolence draining away. Of course, he couldn’t even accept an apology gracefully, not when it came from an Avramov. What was I even thinking, offering him an olive branch? What had I thought he might do with one, besides sharpening it into a shank and trying to stab me with it?
“I have zero memory of saying either of those things,” I said, giving him a bland stare. “Definitely all in your head.”
He shook his head, huffing a laugh through his nose. “And she’s back, folks.”
“More like, never left.”
Still shaking his head, he plucked two laminated menus from the metal display holder, offering one to me. I pinched it from his grasp by the farthest corner, making sure our fingers didn’t so much as brush. By the time Rowan gestured for Morty to take our order, I’d skimmed the offerings and made my pick.
“Cheeseburger with the works,” I said to Morty as he drew up to our table, and shot him a warm smile. Feast your eyes on what it looks like, Thorn, when I’m being polite. “And a double order of the crinkly spiced fries.”
“You got it, strawberry shortcake,” he said, tipping me a wink before turning to Rowan.
The men I’d let call me a nickname like that—or who could pull off a noncreepy wink, for that matter—were few and far between, but Morty Gutierrez was easily one of them. Bright azure eyes, a tousled shock of dark hair, and what I could only describe as an “edgy eclectic” aesthetic, featuring eyeliner and dark nail polish paired with a variety of Peaky Blinders-inspired looks. I’d have made a move years ago, had Morty and my brother Micah not been a Very Brief Thing a while back. That being the case, however, the ick factor was way too strong.
“Same here, except Impossible Burger,” Rowan said, giving Morty an easy smile. I grudgingly revised my estimation of him upward by a notch. Morty was the kind of broadly appealing genderqueer person who made some cishet dudes clutch the manly equivalent of their pearls—their balls, perhaps? But I didn’t detect even a hint of any such implied judgment in Rowan’s demeanor. “Side of vegan mayo, too, if you got it.”
“Sure thing, boss.”
Tossing us a jaunty salute, he turned smartly on his heel and headed back behind the bar, running a hand through his ruck of hair. Once he was gone, Rowan looked back at me, one eyebrow flicking up just the slightest bit, something suspiciously like a smirk tugging at his lips.
“Strawberry shortcake?” he repeated, with a careful lack of affect. “That what you’re going by these days?”
“Do not take it upon yourself to get any cute ideas,” I warned him. “For your own good. That’s an extremely Morty-specific nickname, and I plan on keeping it that way.”
“Wouldn’t dream of gambling with my life like that,” he assured me. “Just surprised, that’s all. Wouldn’t have pegged you for anyone’s fluffy dessert.”
Something about the way he said “dessert,” combined with the forthright way he was watching me with those hooded hazel eyes, sent a weird, unexpected flush spiraling through my stomach, warm tendrils extending down my thighs.
The fuck, Issa? Remember who you’re talking to. You hate him; he hates you. That is how this works.
“It’s not, uh, not like that,” I said, clamping down mercilessly on the feeling. “Morty’s just . . . nice, to everyone. And he and my brother dated for a minute, back in the day. So, you know, that’s ultra-gross, just the worst kind of sloppy seconds. I would never.”
I cleared my throat, painfully aware that I was babbling in a way that was very unlike me—and that Rowan realized as much, judging by the faint flicker of amusement in his eyes.
“Speaking of surprises,” I barreled on, eager to put this moment far, far behind me, then kill and bury any lingering memory of it, “you eat burgers? With mayo?”
“Uh-huh.” His eyebrows, dark and winged, a little jag like a lightning bolt missing in the left one, shot up. “Any reason I wouldn’t?”
“I don’t know. A burger for lunch seems somewhat . . .” I swayed my head from side to side. “Self-indulgent. And therefore not your brand.”
“And my brand would be . . .”
I gestured demonstratively, as if it were obvious. “A vast and overwhelming aura of moral superiority, of course.”
“Ohhhh, I see how it is.” He gave a sage nod, pursing his lips. “Because I have a well-established sense of right and wrong—unlike some—you think that means I don’t eat.”
“I mean, I’m aware you need to eat to sustain your life,” I clarified, ignoring the gibe. “I was just thinking more along the lines of healthful smoothies. Kale salads, tofu, assorted nuts and seeds. You know, the virtuous foods.”
“I’m vegan, not a raw food influencer,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Or a sugar glider. ‘Assorted nuts and seeds’? Come on, now. Does that sound like food for a grown-ass man to you?”
“Hey, just giving you my impressions,” I said, shrugging. “You are what you put out into the world.”
His eyes drifted back to mine, suddenly shocking in their intensity, laced with a subtle but unmistakable distaste. “Bet you’d know all about that, though, right?”
The thinly buried past came roaring back up between us like some furious wyvern bursting out of its underground lair, spewing fire everywhere. There he went again, judging me, not just for my own actions but seemingly for everything, and everyone, I stood for. As if that were the only way he could see me—not a person but a figurehead, the avatar of a family he despised on principle.
My whole skin flushed hot all at once, and my hands tightened into fists where they rested on the tabletop, my lip curling with affront. So this was what they meant when they said something got your dander up; it felt more literal than I’d expected. There was a whole shit ton of anger dander happening right now, that was for damn sure. Such a copious amount of it that it might’ve been visible had we been sitting closer to the windows, swimming like a swarm of dust motes in the sunshine slanting into the bar.
I managed to keep from telling him to go fuck himself only with a massive effort, by mentally repeating, over and over, that I was doing this for my mother—that I was representing her, and my whole family by extension. That I wasn’t going to let this condescending shithead goad me into misbehaving on our very first day.
“The reason I asked you here,” I said icily, as if he hadn’t spoken, “is to set some ground rules for this joint investigation.”
Excerpted from From Bad to Cursed by Lana Harper Copyright © 2022 by Lana Harper. Excerpted by permission of Berkley, an imprint of The Penguin Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. All rights reserved.
Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.