Illusions in Paint by Ann M. Miller
General Release Date: 11th January 2022
Word Count: 65,807
Book Length: NOVEL
When art and illusion collide, no one is safe.
Eight months ago, Julia Parsons learned to control her strongest emotions—the ones that created doorways into paintings. With her Vista magic now in check, she has stopped looking for the descendant of the witch rumoured to have the power to remove her abilities. But when her magic goes haywire and paintings begin calling to her, she can barely resist opening portals into any works of art she encounters.
Then Julia runs into Luke Mercer, who offers to help her find the descendant, a teen named Marisa. When Julia’s boyfriend Nick joins the search, they locate the girl—in an art gallery, of all places. Before Julia can ask Marisa to remove her magic, the call of so many paintings overwhelms her, and she opens multiple portals at once. Marisa is sucked into one, and Julia and the boys are forced to enter works of art to get her back.
As Julia’s connection to the art intensifies, so does the danger lurking in the deep corners of the paintings they move through. In order to save Marisa and her friends, Julia will have to separate reality from illusion…and fully embrace the magic that runs through her veins, once and for all.
Publisher’s Note: This book is best read as the sequel to Captured in Paint.
The smudge of purple on my skin was my first clue that I’d done the unthinkable. The acrylic paint set on the table was my second.
I stood in the kitchen doorway, looking from the lavender-coloured smear on my thumb to the paint set that was sitting open next to the napkin holder. I had first noticed the spot on my skin a minute earlier in the bathroom, when I’d held my hands underneath the tap to wash them. The Beatles song I’d been humming had died in my throat, and I’d stumbled down the stairs, willing it to be a hallucination. But when I’d caught sight of the paint set, its case glinting in a pool of early morning sun, I’s known the truth. I’d done the one thing I swore I’d never do again—I’d painted.
My limbs were frozen, my only movement a twitching of the thumb marked with the telltale speck of paint. The paint set had been stowed away in the basement. I hadn’t touched it in eight months—hadn’t so much as looked at a paintbrush. So how did—?
My heart accelerated as I spotted the corner of white paper peeking out from under a placemat. My paralysis broken, I reached up to the hollow of my throat. The heart-shaped pendant still rested there, effectively dampening my strongest emotions. Thank God. If there was a painting under the placemat, I wouldn’t be in any danger of bringing it to life. And I didn’t mean figuratively. Without the charmed necklace, my Vista power was released—a power that not only opened doorways into works of art but pulled people inside, trapping them.
Yeah, it sucks to be me.
Taking a deep breath, I pushed off the doorframe and shuffled to the table. I ran my hand over the tubes of acrylic paint nestled in one side of the case. Every tube was accounted for, although the lavender lay crooked in its slot. As I straightened it, my fingertips pulsed with the memory of blending colours with my brush, dabbing and sweeping in an imitation of my favourite painter, Bob Ross. God, I’d missed that feeling. Eight months was a long time to go without creating, but it wasn’t worth the risk.
I snatched my hand back from the tube, focusing on the other side of the case, which housed my paintbrushes. My filbert was missing. I quickly scanned the table, but there was no sign of it. I’d look for it later. Right now, I needed to gauge the full extent of what I’d done.
With my hand shaking just a tad, I peeled back the placemat to reveal the entire piece of paper. My heart slowed to normal speed. No picture there, but a streak of paint shimmered on the bottom right-hand corner of the page. It was a streak that was an exact match to the colour on my thumb, which meant that sometime during the night I’d—
My ears pricked up at the sound of Aunt Karen’s SUV pulling into the driveway. Crap. Instinctively, I crumpled the page into a ball and pitched it into the garbage under the sink. Then I snapped the paint set closed and hightailed it down to the basement. I slid the case back onto the dusty shelf where it belonged and bounded back up the stairs just as my aunt’s footsteps sounded in the front hall. I took big, gulping breaths of air and turned to greet her when she entered the kitchen.
“Hi, sweetheart,” she said, dropping her bag onto a chair. She brushed back the wisps of auburn hair that had escaped from her bun and massaged the back of her neck. Her face was imprinted with lines of exhaustion, and her cheeks had almost zero colour. I knew she enjoyed her work as a general surgeon, but the overnight shifts took a lot out of her.
“Hey, Aunt Karen. How was your night?”
“Oh, you know, the usual. Back-to-back surgeries and…” She trailed off with a frown. “Why are you out of breath?”
I scrambled for an excuse. “Oh, I was dancing to my Beatles playlist.” I did a stupid little twirl.
My aunt glanced around. “I don’t see your phone.”
I groaned inwardly. Even when she was practically dead on her feet, she was perceptive. She knew I always listened to my music on my iPhone with my earbuds in. “I was doing it upstairs. Just came down.” I pretended to pick some lint off my pajama top so I wouldn’t have to make eye contact.
She didn’t need to know what had happened—not that anything had happened. I’d discovered a smudge of paint on my thumb and one on a piece of paper. It wasn’t like I’d created another world that could be opened up, not like my mural. But to make sure I didn’t, I’d burn my paint set or haul it to a dumpster or something—anything to get it away from here, which was why there was no point in freaking out my aunt. I’d take care of this—whatever this was—the first chance I got.
Aunt Karen crossed to me and tipped my chin up so I had no choice but to look at her straight on. She fixed her green eyes on mine. They were tired but sharp. “Talk to me, Julia.”
“About what?” I quickly tucked my thumb under my fingers to hide the evidence. “My crappy cooking skills? Because we can get something out for breakfast today.”
“You know that’s not what I mean.” Her gaze softened. “You’re worried, aren’t you? That’s why you’re wearing this again.” She touched her fingertip to the pendant hanging around my neck.
I nodded and briefly shut my eyes, all too happy to let her think my emotional management was my major issue right now. “Yeah. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t slide this week.”
She gathered me in a hug. “It is a big week. I can’t believe you’re graduating and going out into the big world.” She tightened her arms around me. She smelled like chamomile and the strong soap she used for surgical scrubs. “I’m going to miss you.”
I rolled my eyes. “I’m not going very far.” After discovering I was a Vista witch, my plans to study at the Art Institute of Chicago had changed. I’d been accepted to the University of Western Ontario, where I planned to do a Bachelor of Arts degree while I figured out what I wanted to major in. The campus was only a few hours away from St. Peter’s. The best part was that my boyfriend, Nick, and my best friend, Roxy, were going to UWO, too.
Aunt Karen let me go with a smile. “I’m proud of you, you know? For keeping your grades up, even after everything you’ve been through, and for controlling your magic… I know it’s been no small feat.”
It had been my decision not to wear the necklace that stifled my strongest emotions, the ones that opened paintings, before I could get control of them. I’d wanted to live my life without dulling my feelings, so I’d worked at tempering them using the techniques Mom had taught me when she had been alive. While I’d gotten pretty good at checking the emotions that threatened to overwhelm me, I’d strapped on my charmed armour—aka the necklace—at the beginning of the week, just to be on the safe side with so much going on. It had gotten me through final exams and my eighteenth birthday the day before. Now I trusted it to get me through the big party tonight and the graduation ceremony tomorrow.
Of course, the necklace hadn’t stopped me from hauling out my acrylics and smearing paint on paper.
I shook off the thought and tucked my hands in my pockets. “I’m not taking any chances these next couple of days, Aunt Karen. I’ll Krazy Glue this sucker to my neck if I have to.”
She smiled again. “I don’t think you’ll have to go that far. Just check the clasp every so often.”
She didn’t have to tell me twice. Last fall I’d lost the necklace when the clasp had broken, and the chain had fallen off. Then Luke Mercer had found it and kept it from me for his own warped reasons.
Not for the first time, I wondered where he’d gone after getting access to his trust fund. I mean, it wasn’t as if I cared. I wasn’t looking for payback or closure, even though I hadn’t completely forgiven him for the part he’d played in Mom’s death. Still, I couldn’t help being curious about where he’d ended up.
“So,” I said, “how about that breakfast?”
“Oh honey, I’m exhausted. I’m going to go right to bed.” She pulled a couple of bills from her wallet. “Here. You go treat yourself to something.”
I took the money and grinned. “Don’t mind if I do. Thanks, Aunt Karen. Can I take the car?”
She slung her bag over her shoulder. “Be my guest. I’ll be out of commission for at least a few hours. But I’ll need the car tonight for my next shift.”
“No worries. Nick’s picking me up for the bonfire.”
“One last hurrah before the big ceremony, huh?”
I laughed. “Something like that.”
While she disappeared into her bedroom, I took a quick shower. Once I was dressed, I lingered outside her bedroom door, listening for the sound of her snoring, something I could always count on. As soon as it came, loud as a chainsaw, I hurried back down to the basement, grabbed the paint set and flew out to the SUV.
I glanced up and down the street as I slid the case in the trunk, feeling like I was on a clandestine mission. And I was, in a way. I didn’t want anyone to know what I was doing and why. I could imagine how the conversation would go if I told the truth. Oh, you know. Just going to dump my acrylics because apparently I can now paint while I’m asleep. Either that, or something drove me to paint last night, and the incident was wiped from my memory.
Yeah, that didn’t sound crazy at all.
Ten minutes later I pulled into the mall parking lot, not stopping until I reached the far corner, where a Salvation Army donation bin sat. I got out of the car, looked around to make sure no one was nearby and grabbed the handle of the case. Instead of tossing it right in, though, I hesitated—kind of like I had when I’d touched the paints right before discovering the smear on the sheet of paper. A heaviness settled in my stomach, and I swallowed hard.
I’d known this would be tough, but now that I was on the verge of giving away my most prized possession, it all seemed so…final. Once I did it, there was no going back. There’d be no painting for me, ever again, because there was no way I’d ever buy new acrylics. It would be the last nail in the coffin of my relationship with paint.
I curled my fingers around the pendant and squeezed. Without its power, I would have burst into tears by now, but it was keeping my emotions from overflowing. It was the reason I found the strength to pick up the case and hoist it into the bin. As the door of the box clanged shut, my heart gave a little jump, then stilled.
This was the way it had to be. No paints and brushes meant no risk of making art, which meant no risk of magic.
But just in case, I wasn’t going to take my necklace off, not even for a second.
About the Author
Ann Miller writes young adult novels about first loves, family secrets, and magic. She grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada, where the local bookmobile fed her diet of Nancy Drew mysteries, Sweet Valley High books, and Stephen King horror. After graduating from the University of King’s College, she moved to Newfoundland, an island that makes up for its unforgiving climate with beautiful coastlines and majestic icebergs.
When she’s not reading or writing, Ann can be found spending time with her husband and son, or binge watching Netflix while curled up with the two four-legged members of her family.
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