Sneak Preview – A Wayward Witch

I’m too excited to keep one of Evan Robeson’s cases to myself.  Here’s a sneak peak at his very own story:  A Wayward Witch

The knock on the door was nothing if not authoritative. I grumbled and swore under my breath before reluctantly slamming my work back in the cabinet and trudging to the door. I flung it open without looking out the peep hole, and was startled to find one of Boston’s finest looking wide-eyed and flustered. I made a note to dial back on the irritation I felt at being interrupted.

“Mr. Robeson?” He asked, settling down into something resembling belligerent.

“Yes, officer. How can I help you?” I forced neutrality into my voice.

“We need to investigate a complaint filed by your neighbor, Mr. Durham.”

I didn’t hide the sigh. “What is it now? I’m the high wizard in some cult that tortures small animals?” I put on my best weary expression and ran my hand down my face.

The officer quickly hid a smile. “Um, actually Mr. Robeson, he claims you put something in his water supply.”

I grinned. “Actually, he probably thinks I ‘cursed’ his water, right? What did I put in it…eye of newt, wing of bat?” I shook my head sadly and stood aside, gesturing for the policeman to enter my townhouse. “Come on in, Officer. You might as well call me Evan, I think we’re going to be seeing quite a bit of each other.” I stood aside and the officer entered, glancing around with mild curiosity.

“Nice place.” He commented, and followed me through the rooms to the kitchen at the back of the house.

“Thanks. High Evil Wizard pays pretty well.” I replied, not hiding the grin in my voice or on my face. “You see, Mr. Durham is convinced I’m an evil wizard so everything that goes wrong at his place must be my fault.  In reality, I’m an attorney.” I paused next to my suit jacket which was hung on the back of my sofa and fished out a card. I handed it to him with a shrug. “I’m sorry you got called for this, officer. May I offer you some water or maybe an iced tea?”

The officer declined and glanced at my card. It was a heavy cardstock with my name in raised black letters and a fictitious law firm name. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a real attorney, but my employer is a little paranoid – and justifiably so. I watched as the cop flipped open his small black book and began reading his notes to me.

“Mr. Durham says his water has been running black for the past two days. He suspects you somehow caused it because you’re in a disagreement over a parking spot.”

“I can’t explain his water situation, but yes, he does complain that I usually manage to get a parking space right out front. He thinks it’s magic.” I smiled and spread my hands wide as if I had no explanation for Mr. Durham’s crazy ideas.

“Magic?” The officer tried to hide a grin, but the corners of his mouth twitched just enough to give him away.

“I come home at odd hours, and there’s usually one open space in front of the two houses when I get here. Mr. Durham comes home at 5:15 every night, and there’s no parking anywhere on this block. Probably because everyone else gets home at 5:10, but he thinks I use some sort of magic to clear out a space for myself.” I laughed and leaned against the counter, holding my hands out in surrender.

“Did you have words over it two days ago?”

“Yes. Mr. Durham parked his car down the street, and it was my bad luck to get a spot right out front of my house when he finally got to his own door. He made some snide comment, and I’d had a bit of a long day and told him I made the other car disappear. I suppose I probably shouldn’t have said there was no point in being a wizard if you couldn’t at least get decent parking.” I pulled a contrite look and shrugged. “You see, this has been going on for a few months now, and I’ve tried to explain it rationally, but there’s no reasoning with the man. This time, I changed my tactic and lied to him. I told him I was using magic, thinking he’d realize the absurdity of that, but apparently I overestimated him.” I laughed. “Who would have expected him to take me seriously?”

I forced some calm energy out of myself, giving the officer an apologetic shrug for good measure.

The officer nodded sympathetically and finally closed his notebook gently. He assured me he would alert the city water commission about the problem and speak to Mr. Durham again. I smiled, nodded, and thanked him wearily. I even shook his hand at the door. Really, a wizard with nothing better to do than get good parking spaces and screw with my neighbor’s water?

Maybe that’s what retired wizards do, but I had bigger fish to fry at that moment.

 

Stay tuned for more from Evan – as well as sneak peak of my new novel co-authored with April Chanderon and the debut of my new series! After all, it is NaNoWriMo!

Chapter 3 of Legendary Magic

Chapter 3

When the third gong chimed, Basir didn’t even bother to fly out to check out who was visiting. I looked up at him perched on the rafters and he shrugged at me. Pops and Ezra were seated at the kitchen table, speaking in excited whispers and I was trying very hard not to lose my patience with the new cloak and dagger act that was happening in my kitchen. I hadn’t asked for an explanation and none had been offered and it was driving me nuts. The arrival of another visitor just added to the drama.

I glanced at the driveway as the sleek luxury sedan approached. I didn’t even bother to declare the appearance of yet another unexpected (and uninvited) visitor. I simply propped my chin on my palm and watched the car park behind Ezra’s rental.

When the door opened, I felt my knees go weak when the new arrivals got out of the car. Kingston Pon wore an immaculate dark navy suit and Evan Robeson stood on the other side of the car in an equally classy charcoal gray suit that probably cost more than my state of the art refrigerator with the in-door icemaker.
Pops stood up and opened the door, beckoning the two men into my kitchen like he was the host of the little soiree.

“Kingston. Good to see you again. And you must be Mr. Robeson; I have heard a great deal about you, sir. Nice job getting the conviction on that no-good LeClerc bum.”

My grandfather held out his hand and exchanged enthusiastic greetings with each of the men before turning toward me and gesturing with an upturned palm. “I’m sure you both remember my beautiful granddaughter, Dr. Arienne Cerasola.”

I smiled politely and bobbed my head in acknowledgement of the compliment.

Kingston Pon took two steps toward me with his hand outstretched and I blinked like a fool as I silently took his hand in my own professionally firm grip. So many thoughts raced through my head that I couldn’t even form a sentence. I was peeved-confused-relieved-curious and about six other emotions that I couldn’t identify.

“Dr. Cerasola. It is a pleasure to see you again.” Kingston’s voice was deep and rumbled around my kitchen like a distant summer rain, soothing and melodious. He held my hand in his large one and his sapphire blue eyes flashed with amusement as I nodded at him. I was suddenly aware that landscape drawings were scattered around my kitchen and a big plastic tub of colored pencils were on the chair Pops offered to the man.

Evan stepped forward next, holding his hand out as well. I hated the fact that I blushed just a little bit when I looked at him. Evan was my not-so-secret crush and I smiled as we shook hands, wondering if that was really a little spark that jumped between us or just a product of my over active imagination. “Arienne, it’s nice of you to let us set up camp in your house.” He said as he gave me a dazzling smile.

“Camp?” I asked in a voice that was too high pitched to be mine, but the glare I shot at Pops through narrowed eyes was all me. I smiled tightly at my grandfather as I continued on. “Sure. Why not? The Alliance is always welcome…isn’t that right, Pops?” I snapped the word and smiled too brightly.
Kingston cleared his throat and hid a smile. “We’re not here as members of the Alliance, Dr. Cerasola. You see, there seems to be a bit of an issue with that organization at the moment.” He explained, clapping my grandfather on his shoulder. “Dr. O’Flynn has been very vigilant and we believe he’s found something interesting that we need to discuss.”

I looked at Pops and he shrugged. The gesture looked faintly contrite, but wasn’t convincing at all. Kingston walked toward the windows and looked out into the front yard.

“Your property is warded?” He asked, not turning to face me.

“Um…a little.” I said, thinking my property wasn’t very well warded at all since I had four uninvited guests standing in my kitchen. The fake smile was still frozen on my face and I tried to rein it in a little, without much success.

“Would you object if we strengthened the wards while we’re here?” He asked, looking at me with a polite expression.

“I don’t mind if you fix them permanently. Judging by the amount of unexpected company that makes it into this house, I’m apparently not very good at those things. Not that I object to you being here…” I added hastily, “It’s just I thought my wards were pretty decent.”

Evan stepped around me and joined Kingston at the window. “Actually, we felt your wards when we drove in. As a group, we tend to be a little more determined than the average visitor. Think of it as an occupational hazard. I’m sure your wards are enough to make most people drive right by.” He said, smiling a lazy grin that made my heart beat a little faster. Damn, he was handsome. Dark brown hair, faintly Native American features with high cheekbones and a perfectly formed mouth that was neither too wide nor too thin. He also had expressive eyes in a rich chocolate brown fringed with lashes that I’d die for. I smiled and averted my own gaze, not wanting to stare and embarrass myself anymore than necessary.

Kingston and Evan walked out the door and down the two steps to the experimental herb garden that I had been trying to coax into prolific bloom before the season started. Evan bent and pulled a leaf off one plant. I watched as he bit the leaf and made a comment to Kingston that caused the older man to take another leaf and bite it. They said something I couldn’t hear and walked to opposite sides of my driveway, standing like two security guards while they surveyed my property.

There wasn’t anything funny about my little herb garden and I felt a bit offended by their reaction. I put my hands on my hips and peered out at them. I resisted the urge to tap my foot. From the corner of my eye, I noticed Ezra staring at me and bobbing his head in a manner that indicated he was having a very entertaining conversation with himself. When he couldn’t remain silent any longer, the words began to bubble out of him in an excited tone.

“Yes, yes! This is a good start to our little quest. There’s no way it’ll get by us this time.” He clapped his hands on his knees and nodded at Pops and me as if we had been part of the whole conversation. I smiled because it seemed to be the polite thing to do.

“So how have you been, Professor Froehlich?” I asked, walking toward the fridge and grasping the stainless steel door. I noticed my knuckles were white and I forced myself to relax just a little.
The professor enthusiastically recounted the status of his health, including his recent experience with kidney stones…in great detail. I nodded and made “hmm” and “huh” noises as he described the eventual passing of the stone.

“Can I offer you something to drink?” I opened the door and read off the selections, realizing that the contents of my fridge suggested I harbored a deep fear of thirst. I had almost no food, but I had seven things to offer as beverages and a full line of condiments. Go figure.

“Oh, some grape juice would be lovely.” Dr. Froehlich said, nodding emphatically. “Although I should drink beer considering the stones. I hear it breaks them up when they’re small. Maybe I’ll have one later.” Without a break in the flow of his speech, he continued. “I’ve been in Ireland recently. Have you ever been there, Allison?” He asked.

Pops shot me a quizzical look, but I waved him off – Dr. Froehlich just wasn’t very good with names – or maybe it was just my name he couldn’t remember. “As a matter of fact, I have been to Ireland. You might have heard of my work there…Saint Cieran’s Cathedral?”

“Oh, beautiful old monastery, that one was. Pity it’s just a pile of rubble now.”

“Yeah…sorry about that.” I said, shrugging and grinning despite myself. Pops looked at me with obvious concern but he relaxed when I winked at him and poured the juice. Dr. Froehlich missed the exchange completely. I was determined to talk about it as if it didn’t matter. When I thought of Saint Cieran’s in the middle of the night, the memory made my gut clench as the old feeling of horror slithered up my spine. Maybe the only way to move past it was to get it out in the light of day. Heaven knew nothing else had worked.

I placed the juice in front of Ezra and turned my attention to the discussion Kingston and Evan seemed to be having in the driveway.

Evan looked up and waved me outside.

“Excuse me, gentlemen. It looks like they need me to do something with my ‘go away’ ward before they improve it.” I said as I set the glass of grape juice in front of Dr. Froehlich before heading out the door. I had tried to keep the sarcasm out of my tone, but Pops’ quizzical look told me I hadn’t done a very good job of that.

Flip flops are marvelously comfortable, but not exactly elegant. They’re also not good for strolling gracefully across gravel. A small rock became lodged under my foot and I had to pause to remove it by shaking my foot vigorously while hopping slightly on my other foot. I realized how foolish I looked about mid way through the second hop and rolled my eyes. I came to the conclusion that I spent way too much time alone.

Fortunately, I had splurged on a pedicure and a pretty little diamond accented toe ring – my little piggies were bare and all decked out as I crossed the small patch of lawn that had been magically treated to be remain short and weed-free. The witch thing had some really good perks.

By the time I reached the two men in their power suits, I felt pretty darned good in my flip-flops and yoga pants, despite the awkward pebble dance I had performed. I wasn’t dressed well, but I was dressed in a way that showed off my curves and my excellent grooming habits; it wasn’t a bad time for unannounced company when I considered the fact that I had spent more than one day lounging around in my pajamas. Yoga pants and a black tee shirt were almost formal wear in my world.

“So what do we have to do?” I asked, looking at the two men with my hands on my hips.

“We can weave another layer to your ward, but then you can’t take ours down without us. If you take yours down first and then the three of us put the new one up together, you won’t need us here to modify it.” Kingston said.

Evan stood with his arms folded and looked at me with mild amusement. I resisted the knee-jerk urge to ask what was so funny and I turned and pulled my ward down with a sizzle and a pop, watching the magic shimmer down from above us and collapse in a barely visible net of sparkling blue on the bright green grass at our feet.

“Mine’s down, so what do we have to do first?” I asked, spinning around to find both men staring at me with a look of complete shock. “What?”

“How big was that ward?” Kingston asked in a near-whisper.

“From the beginning of the driveway to the back of the property. Why?”

“How many acres do you have?” Evan asked, stepping closer to me with a curious look on his face.

“About fourteen. Is that why it didn’t work? It was too big?” I asked, suddenly realizing I might have been overly ambitious.

“You warded fourteen acres?” Kingston’s voice rumbled with laughter and his shook his mane of silver hair. “It worked, Dr. Cerasola. We felt it when we drove onto the property, but we thought it was a small ward across the driveway, we didn’t imagine you had done the entire property.”

“Oh, so I should try to keep it smaller?” I asked in thoughtful tone as I looked out toward the woods with some trepidation. I liked the whole property being warded; it made me feel safer since I lived all alone in the woods.

“Hey, if you can ward fourteen acres, I say go for it. We’ll try to keep up with you.” Evan said, laughing at Kingston. “The great Kingston Pon should be able to do that easily, right?” Evan nudged me with his elbow as Kingston turned narrowed eyes to his younger colleague.

“I will have no problem warding the entire property. You water witches have a much harder time getting enough fuel for your spells.”

“You just worry about your air currents, old man. I’ve got the water thing covered.” Evan said, standing with his back to mine. “It’s probably better if we start it over the house, but could you maybe give us a few reference points around the boundaries?” He asked me.

“Um, sure. I can do that.” Those were empty words, because I had no idea how to give them reference points. I bent down and laid a hand to the ground, pooling the energy in the earth until it formed a small ball of green light. I’d been working a lot of earth energy spells lately, and I’d become quite proficient at gathering the raw material I needed for my spells. “I can make this work.” I said, really, really hoping that I could do it. I stood up and realized as I watched the ball of light dance over my fingers that bending down had given anyone standing above me quite a view down the front of my v-neck t-shirt. Evan had been standing right above me. Subtle as ever, Cerasola. I thought to myself.

I blushed and pretended I hadn’t noticed my gaping display as I held the ball of light between my palms. I couldn’t think of an incantation to use, so I just stood there, puzzling out the mechanics of a boundary spell. “Got it.” I announced, bending over again and slamming the ball of light into the ground.

I pictured the energy shooting out of the ball and streaking toward the four metal survey pins at the corners of my property. The ball flashed blue and white and split into four smaller orbs. They streaked out over the grass, leaving a slightly charred path behind them. I could hear the magic zing and buzz away from us, and I felt it in every cell of my body when the energy connected; a sharp pop like a transformer being blown sounded as the four pins were electrified.

I heard the sizzle of metal turn into a sharper noise and I realized too late that the balls of energy had not only found the survey pins, but had pooled and were shooting up blue and green sparklers from each of the pins. It looked like roman candles way off in the distance. It was considerably more effective than I had thought it would be. I hid a proud smile and heard a stifled laugh from Evan. Once the excess energy had burned off, the sparks died down.

Evan’s voice was verged on laughter when he spoke from his position behind me.

“Got that, Pon? I guess we should start over the house and then send the wards down to those points. Can you string some currents between them to keep us contained? With the way this one uses magic, we’ll ward the whole state of Massachusetts if we don’t get a definite end point.”

“The Tourism Board would be all over us for that one.” Kingston rumbled with amusement.

I felt an odd mixture of pride and chagrin war inside me for a moment. I was so excited that I had done something impressive, that I forgot about the energy depletion from creating such a large spell and stumbled a bit as I tried to turn around. Evan put a steadying hand on my shoulder and grinned down at me.

“There’s a price for that much effort. Can you continue or do you need a few minutes?” He asked.

“No. I’m good. I just lost my balance.” I shrugged it off, feeling the buzz of electricity around us. I kicked off my flip flops and dug my toes into the ground, letting the current of earth energy flow through my body. It steadied me and I felt the dizziness subside.

Kingston had turned his attention to the boundaries and he was sending a strong current of air racing from one point to the next. A single current.

“Well, that would have been a better idea.” I muttered.

I watched the current move from tree top to tree top. I pointed to it when both men looked at me. “I didn’t think of that.” I admitted with a lift of my shoulders. I had used four times the energy when I should have conserved it. It was a rookie mistake and made me look like an arrogant show-off.
“He’s just more conservative than we are. That happens when you get older.” Evan said, his chocolate eyes dancing with merriment.

“You just wait, Evan.” Kingston rumbled. “Age and treachery, my friend…”

“Those are two things that pay the bills, but not the only two.” Evan said, winking at me. I smiled back at him, realizing there was some undercurrent between them that I didn’t understand. Evan and I weren’t young by any stretch of the imagination. I was on the downward slide toward forty, and I imagined Evan was close to that as well. Kingston was maybe my mother’s age, late fifties to early sixties.

“I get the feeling I’m missing something.” I said, looking from one to the other.

“Before we came here, Mr. Pon received a letter from the Employee Resources department of the Alliance. It seems he has reached the age when he is eligible for retirement.” Evan said with a bright smile. “I think he’s considering it. He might take up golf and find himself a woman to chase. A slow woman…maybe one with a limp.”

“Like hell I am. They just want me gone so they can do whatever high-handed thing they have planned next.”
Kingston said, glaring at Evan. “If you’re not careful, they’ll find a reason they don’t need your department, either.”

“Get rid of Legal Services? Never.” Evan replied.

“You lost your last case.” Kingston reminded him.

“It doesn’t count as a loss if that’s what I intended to have happen.”

“But it does count because you took down one of their own. You’re on thin ice as well and it’s better for you to remember that.”

“Ah, but we’re going to fix that, aren’t we? We’re going to make damned sure they don’t get the advantage over us.” Evan said, stepping behind me and putting his back against mine.

I pulled away as a slight tingle passed between us. From over my shoulder, I saw Evan hide a grin and then deliberately step back, placing his shoulders against mine with a bump that sent me stumbling forward.
Reflexively I turned and swatted him. “Cut that out!” I said in a serious tone before turning and backing into him, my shoulder touching his. He laughed and I blushed furiously.

Kingston moved toward us and put his shoulders against each of ours. The three of us formed a triangle, facing outward. “Here’s to our first collaborative spell!” Evan said and I felt him tilt his head back and look up. I focused on a spot above us as well even though I didn’t know why I should be looking up.
A circle of water shimmered in the air and began to rotate slowly; shooting drops of mist off the edges and beginning to look suspiciously like the eye of a miniature hurricane.

“Stop playing with my spell, old man.” Evan grumbled, pushing his circle of water higher to get it out of the rotating wind created by Kingston.

“Stop showing off and I won’t have to make you look bad.” Kingston replied.

“Um…Boys? Can someone tell me what you expect me to do so we can get back inside?”

I felt the hair on the back of my neck prickle as another jolt of energy sparked between Evan and me. The faint scent of his cologne washed over me, a mixture of spices with notes that smelled like the ocean breeze and a cool river at the same time. His voice had a tone that I couldn’t quite identify, but it sent a rush of heat to my cheeks. I could feel the tiny hairs standing up on my arms as if the air around us had become charged.

“I’ll pull the water down to your boundaries so it will reflect the scene right behind the drops. That will make your property invisible. Kingston will push the air around the boundaries so nobody will be able to hear what is said inside the ward. You can weave your magic underneath those two layers, so if anyone stumbles in they will feel the urge to leave. That should make this place pretty secure. Can you do that?”

“No problem.” I said, as I leaned forward just a little. The charge in the air was much worse when I brushed against Evan, so I tried to keep a few inches between us. I noticed Kinston kept a small distance as well, but Evan seemed oblivious to the connection. I hoped that I could stay focused enough to weave my own spell. It was getting warm outside and the moisture that hung above us made it hard to breathe.

Watching the humidity condense over Kingston’s air currents and feeling the wash of magic coming off the two men was making all of my nerve endings hum in a very pleasant way. It felt right. I had never mixed my magic with someone else’s, and as we each poured our own talent into the spell, we began to feed and magnify the energy.

Air rustled the tree branches and my hair whipped around my face. Tiny drops of mist landed on my skin and tingled like the salty spray from the ocean. I pulled the energy from the ground and sent it racing to the perimeter with the intention that anyone who tried to cross my barrier would be compelled to turn around and leave. I pulled at the tendrils of energy and wove them into a magical fence to keep out unwanted visitors. The currents that I used would raise the hackles on anyone’s neck, but as I wove the spell I specifically thought of all the people and animals I wouldn’t want repelled by the spell. It was a disturbingly small group.

I looked around at the distant the perimeter and caught a glimpse of the magic as it connected. A faint sparkle from my green earth energy shimmered up from the ground, and a blue glint of Evan’s water magic glistened underneath a white ripple of Kingston’s air magic. The three colors seemed to swirl and settle together in an almost visible web before sparkling faintly and fading away like embers from spent fireworks.

“It’s done.” Kingston said after what seemed like an eternity, and I felt my own earth energy snap against the air and water energy of my companions. The web of magic settled high above our heads and I felt safe, secure, and completely enthralled by the experience. “Nobody will know what happens here.” Kingston said with a note of relief.

“That is the point.” Evan replied, “Or we’re all in big trouble.” He bumped my shoulder but when I looked up at him I was disappointed to find that his expression wasn’t one of amusement at all.

The two men stepped away and walked wearily back to the house. Evan’s comment didn’t seem directed at me, so I tried to ignore the knot of dread that formed in my stomach. I stood where I was for a second longer, contemplating the magical wards that were now set.

How was I supposed to bring company over with an impenetrable ward? I’d have to ask about that, since I didn’t want my house to be permanently off limits – what if I suddenly made friends or got a life?
My voice broke the silence as Kingston and Evan made their way back to my barn. “I have a few questions…” I said, holding up one finger. Kingston veered off to the car and I followed Evan to the door.

Evan held the door for me and I entered, brushing by him on somewhat unsteady knees. He held out a hand as if to catch me in case I stumbled, but I managed to keep upright and I leaned against the kitchen island and tried to look casual. Casting such a large spell had left me weak and dizzy and although I’d been practicing magic in the hopes of building up my low stamina, it didn’t seem to help much.

“Only a few questions?” Evan asked, giving me a lopsided grin. “I’d hold off asking them for a bit. After we show you what we’ve found, you’re going to have a lot more.”

Pops and Ezra were seated at the table and Basir was perched on the back of one of the chairs. Kingston entered the house and set a laptop up on the kitchen counter, the large screen faced toward the table.

“After examining the footage you sent me, Christy, I think we have a more serious problem than you thought.” Kingston pressed a few buttons and a video began to play on the screen.

My stomach clenched before a wave of nausea made me break out in a cold sweat. Basir swiveled his head to where I was standing with my arm braced against the counter. His amber eyes were narrowed and one ear tuft was raised. I shook my head and bit my lip, forcing myself to stay standing despite the splitting headache that had suddenly slammed the back of my eyes. The fact that Pops had sent the video to Kingston was alarming.
I barely heard the announcer’s voice over the rushing of blood in my ears.

“Dr. Stanley Ash believes Abbotshire is one of the most significant archaeological sites in the British Isles. It has been inhabited by many culturally relevant groups from Neolithic times through the Roman Empire, Normans, and Middle Ages. He has identified the ancient site of the Cistercian Monks who preserved ancient manuscripts from destruction during the so called “dark ages”. The ancient order of scribes is believed by some to be the creators of the legend of King Arthur. With the cooperation of the town of Abbotshire, excavations are scheduled to begin with the main kitchen of the abbey.”

Kingston hit the pause button on keyboard and I pushed myself away from the counter, looking at the screen. Dr. Stanley Ash was shown in front of a ruin, proudly surrounded by eager graduate students. The smug look on his face was enough to bring back all the rage I felt at Ash-hole for ruining my career in archaeology. Alright, maybe it was really my own fault; but he goaded me into doing it by ignoring my theories. A bubbling sense of dread was magnified by the dark haired man standing at the very edge of the left side of the screen. The video showed the man peering over the shoulder of Milan Corveneaux, my former colleague and friend.

“I read about that last night.” I said, swallowing hard despite my suddenly bone-dry mouth.

“Raymond has managed to get himself hooked up with the dig.” Said Evan, in a voice that held almost as much contempt as I felt.

I looked at Evan and gaped. “What’s he doing there with him?” There was no disguising the hatred in my tone, nor did I feel particularly inclined to try and disguise it.

“That is the million dollar question, Arienne.” Kingston’s voice rumbled deeply and he faced the others who were clustered around my table. “When Christy contacted me about the dig in Abbotshire, I thought it was just a routine archaeological excavation. When we researched the records of who is funding the dig, we noticed one name in particular kept appearing: Chanson de Bastille. It seems the Duchess has taken an interest in ancient Roman history, particularly in the United Kingdom.”

I had no idea who the Duchess was or what the Chanson de Bastille had to do with it, but the fact that Ray was on the dig meant both was somehow connected with the magical community. I realized I was staring at the floor, lost in my own thoughts when the room became silent. I looked up at Evan.

“I thought I was just being paranoid.” I admitted as I offered a weak smile.

“You can never be too paranoid when Ray’s involved. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s there to steal something. He went through a lot of trouble to falsify his credentials so he could get hired. The Duchess’ corporation recommended him specifically; we believe it was one of the conditions the team had to meet in order to get the dig funded.” Evan looked at me and crossed his arms over his chest. “It’s not the first time Ray’s impersonated an archaeologist.”

“What’s the Chanson de Bastille?” I asked, trying to focus on the fuzzier details.

“It’s a philanthropic corporation owned by the Duchess Alais D’Margienne. Mainly the corporation functions to launder the dirty money of magical organizations outside the fold of the Alliance.” Kingston replied.

“It’s the magic mob.” Evan said with a shrug of his shoulders. “The Alliance is the magic police and the Chanson is one of the biggest magic mafia families in existence.”

“Get out of here.” I scoffed. I made a face and slowly regained my composure when I realized everyone else was completely serious.

There was a magical government and a magical mafia who could pull strings so Ray could impersonate an archaeologist and get hired for a dig – but I was a real archaeologist and couldn’t get hired in any occupation remotely connected to my expertise? There was absolutely no justice in that at all. My world was getting increasingly complicated by the second and while the pieces were slowly clicking into place for me, everyone else in the room was waiting for me to catch up. I swallowed hard and blinked, finding my voice a little hoarse when I spoke.

“What’s he trying to steal?” I asked, leaning closer to the screen and studying the grad students who flanked the biggest, most arrogant, egotistical man in the world and the world’s biggest liar. “Jeez, throw in a couple loa, an insane Bokor, and a few mythical creatures and I’d feel like this was an episode of ‘This Was Your Life’…” I said, trying to make light of the fact that the cast of characters in the little drama were all people I knew and disliked.

“You might not be far off.” Kingston said quietly.

“Oh, please! I’m just a gardener who creates magical disasters. This is nothing more than coincidence.” I said, holding my hands out.

“You’re a gardener who managed to pull off some pretty tough magic in the Pine Barrens. You found a mythical healing tree that thousands of people have looked for over the centuries. I’m afraid your reputation may have something to do with this dig.” Kingston said, looking from my grandfather to Ezra. “That is why you contacted us, isn’t it, Christy?”

I turned to my grandfather with my mouth hanging open. I didn’t even know what question to ask, so I just stared at him with my brows knitted.

“Now chicken, it seems to me that there’s a lot to this story that we don’t know. I don’t like the fact that Ash is out there looking for something that might be magical. You never know what that fool’s going to find if he pokes around long enough.” My grandfather pushed himself forward and looked at me. “Not to mention what he’d do with the information.”

“But he’s human…he’s a fool, yeah; but he’s a scientist. He wouldn’t believe in…magic.” Even to my own ears that sounded lame and faintly insulting considering who was in the room. “Well, you know what I mean.” I added quickly. Everyone stared at me with what looked like pity.

Evan looked me square in the eye and gave me a sexy half-smile that made my heart do a little flutter. “Um…he wouldn’t have believed in magic…if someone didn’t release a demon and collapse a monastery to contain it…right in front of his disbelieving eyes. When you see something like that, it tends to change your perspective, even if you’re a scientist.”

“Oh, damn.” I breathed, realizing that maybe Dr. Ash saw more at St. Cieran’s than I’d thought. It was possible that I had been instrumental in his conversion from scientific skeptic to believer in magic. “But didn’t you…” I let my voice trail off and looked at Kingston.

“Oh, we tried. We cleaned it up as best we could, but somehow a lingering memory of something must have stuck in his brain. We’re guessing that after the collapse, the Duchess contacted him with a very tempting offer. Dr. Ash may have exaggerated his involvement to a certain degree. At the very least he’s been trying his best to live up to the expectations she had. We don’t think he really knows much of anything, but since he has a reputation for finding magical sites…”

“He what?” I asked, reflexively putting my hands on my hips.

“He also has a master thief at his side. One who can find magical sites and knows what he’s doing.” Evan said, pointing to Ray’s face which was still frozen on the screen.

I stalked over to the fridge and pulled a jug of iced tea out of the door compartment. I slammed five glasses on the counter and looked at the men in the room. “Would anyone like some tea?” I asked, drumming my hands on the counter top. I needed to think and the ten eyeballs on me were making it hard to concentrate. If they thought I was edging toward a small fit, they were probably right.

Evan nodded and shrugged. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather toss back a good stiff drink?”

“Oh, I would. But I’ll settle for tea at the moment.” I poured five glasses and Evan reached out for them, turning his back to me and blocking me from my grandfather and Ezra’s gazes. I drained my own, wishing it was rum as Evan passed out the rest.

I took a few deep breaths while I went over the new information. Ash-hole was making a living off my magical blunder. Ray was helping him. In all honesty, I couldn’t think of two people who were better suited to swindle and lie their way into a shady business like relic hunting for the nefarious characters of the magical world.

My grandfather looked at me and I shook my head at the concern in his eyes. “So what are you going to do about these two fools?” I asked, turning my attention to Kingston.

“That’s what we came here to decide.” He replied, pulling out a chair and sitting at my kitchen table like we were old colleagues.

Sneak Preview – Chapter 2 of Legendary Magic

Chapter 2

I stayed up all night researching the history of Abbotshire. I looked into papers Dr. Ash had published, read through countless articles on the history of Great Britain and no matter how many notes I took, I couldn’t find a connection between Ash-hole and Ray besides magic – and that just wasn’t logical given what I knew about Dr. Ash.

With a dramatic sigh of frustration, I pushed myself to my feet and began pacing the floor. Basir and Ka’Tehm watched me with bored expressions. The more I thought about those photos, the more obsessed I became. I ran my hands through my hair and gritted my teeth. There was just no graceful way to get more information on the dig. If I called any of my former colleagues out of the blue and told them that I had seen an article and suspected something was afoot, they would think I was a bit wacky.

Hell, even I thought I was losing it! I sat on the couch and held my head in my hands. “I need to let this go.” I groused, feeling utterly exhausted. I stood up, feeling resolved in my decision and walked back to the kitchen. “Who wants breakfast?” I called to my companions.

I rounded the kitchen island and pulled the refrigerator door open. I grabbed bacon and eggs off the shelves and set about making breakfast while trying to get my mind off the mystery on the other side of the ocean. I scrambled and fried like a mad-woman, whipping up a pile of frittatas while I contemplated the facts and filled in with a little conjecture.

We had just finished eating in silence when the copper gong on the front porch sounded a loud tone. I glanced at my companions and a shiver ran down my spine. Nobody visited our nearly-converted barn in the woods, and the wards I had set around the property were generally strong enough to discourage even the most determined religious missionary from venturing down the long driveway.

I looked out the window. Sure enough, a car was rolling slowly toward our house. I didn’t recognize the small car, and I peered out the window as Basir landed on my shoulder.

“We have company.” I said, stating the obvious.

“Whoooo.” Basir replied.

“Well I don’t know yet.” I quipped and ducked as he slapped at the back of my head with his large wing. Owls have no sense of humor about their limited vocabulary.

“You better go take a look. I don’t like unexpected company.” I said, reaching up a hand to stroke his soft feathers. He nipped my ear affectionately and soared up to the peak of the roof and through the small door.
I watched from the safety of my house as Basir passed in front of the car and looked in at the driver. He veered out of the way of the moving vehicle and landed in a tree where I could see him. I held my breath and let it out in a whoosh when he lifted his wings in a joyful gesture. He flapped wildly in the air and returned to the house.

I felt myself relax and I pulled open the kitchen door and peered out as the car eased to a stop. Basir’s reaction meant I’d be pleased with the visitor, but I still didn’t know who it was. The person inside the car took forever to shut the engine off and open the door, but when the old man swung his feet to the ground and stood leaning against the driver’s side door I gave a shout of delighted surprise and ran out to greet him.

“Pops! What are you doing here?” I laughed, hurrying toward the car with my black flip-flops slapping a quick rhythm against my heels.

“Chicken!” He called, fumbling with the key fob to pop open the trunk. “Can’t a man visit his favorite grandchild without a reason?” He asked, smiling brightly.

“I’m your only grandchild and you don’t need a reason to visit. I’m so happy you’re here!” I said, meaning it with every fiber of my being.

I helped him pull his small suitcase out of the trunk and watched while Basir landed on the porch railing, waiting for his turn to greet my grandfather. After much excited hooting and affectionate beak snaps, the three of us chattered happily and walked into the house.

“I see you’ve done a few more things since I was here last time.” My grandfather said, looking around at the kitchen cabinets that were hung, the hardwood floors that had been stained and varnished, and the solid surface counter that I had considered a necessary extravagance when I’d bought it – even though it completely shredded my budget.

“It’s coming along.” I agreed, having long since come to the conclusion that refinishing that old barn was going to be my life’s work. “Where’s Nan?” I asked, thinking it odd that my grandmother didn’t come along.
“Oh, she’s out visiting that worm of a brother she has in New Mexico. I never cared much for him.” My grandfather announced.

“And she let you jet off without her?” I said, suspiciously.

“It’s not like I’m sneaking off with some tart, Arienne. She’s visiting her brother and I’m visiting our granddaughter. After sixty years of marriage, we don’t need to be joined at the hip and I don’t need to see that worm she’s related to.”

Pops had a point. Uncle Bert was a worm, and I wouldn’t drive across the street to see him, never mind fly halfway across the country if I had a choice. Nan had never given me that choice, though. I’d spent more than a few vacations in the burning sun of New Mexico. When I wasn’t dodging scorpions and Uncle Bert’s mean old cat, Pops and I had trudged through the desert looking for Native American sites and traces of old magic.
Pops looked around the house while he continued his story.

“Seems as if the worm is having a hard time with his son…your Nan went to give him some advice.” Pops waved a dismissive hand in the air and grinned at me with sparkling blue eyes. “I don’t suppose you have a cold beer in that fancy refrigerator?”

“What sort of girl do you think my mother raised? Do you want imported or domestic?” I headed to the fridge and pulled out two bottles before grabbing two glasses and an opener. “Have a seat in the new and improved living room.” I said, gesturing past the kitchen.

The house had improved in comfort and completeness since his last visit. I’d managed to replace my thrift store couch with a comfy sectional in a rich chocolate micro-suede. One wall was painted a pumpkin color and the threadbare rug had been upgraded to a modern shag in shades of cream and copper. The small television I’d rescued from the dump still stood in the corner; it was next on the list of things to be replaced when I had enough money to justify the expense.

Pops sat on the sofa and eyed the twig patterned throw pillows. “Pretty plush, isn’t it?” He asked, eyeing the faux leopard fur throw on the back of the couch where Basir perched. He stroked a large hand across the seat of the couch and winked at Basir.

“Whooo.” Basir agreed, shaking his wings and strutting around like he was royalty.

“I was going for cozy.” I said, sitting next to him and placing the two glasses upon the coffee table.

“It’s nice. You have good taste.” Pops leaned toward Basir. “She gets that from me, you know.” He swiped a bit of silver hair out of his eyes and grinned at me.

“Whoo!” Basir blinked once and pointed to himself with a white wing tip.

“You did not pick it out.” I disagreed. “You picked out that…” I said, pointing at the large oil painting of autumn trees, “…and that…” I said, gesturing toward the rug, “…but the rest of it was mine.”

Basir swiveled his head around and raised an ear tuft, looking pointedly at the large carved wood branch sculpture next to the windows.

“Oh yeah, you picked that out. Not like you had an ulterior motive or anything.” I said.

Basir swooped to the sculpture and landed on it gracefully, folding his wings and looking regal on his perch. The wood was carved walnut, lovingly shaped into a gnarly form and polished with beeswax by a local artist. Tiny little lights were strung beneath the branches and at night, it cast sparkly light all around the room when we lit it up. It was a beautiful sculpture, and I wondered what its creator would think to see a real owl perched on his art. I had to admit, as stunning as the piece was it looked even better adorned with rich sable and white feathers fluffed out with attitude and sass.

“So tell me about your business, Arienne. How do you like gardening?”

I shrugged. “It’s not archaeology, but it’s kind of fun.” I could feel the heat rising to my cheeks and I sipped my beer to hide my discomfort. Why did I choose those words?

“Oh, chicken.” Pops said with a note of sympathy. “I’m just as proud of you if you’re a gardener as I would be if you were winning some fancy award in archaeology.” He shook my knee with his gnarled old hand and smiled warmly at me.

“An award isn’t very likely, is it?” I snorted. Without warning, I felt hot tears sting my eyes and I blinked them away, a flutter of panic in my gut. “Be right back.” I said in a shaky voice as I escaped into the bathroom and shut the door behind me.

Where did that come from? I thought frantically. For heaven’s sake, Arienne – GET A GRIP! I stared in the mirror at my sage green eyes and gave myself a stern but silent talkin’ to. You’re fine. You’re doing well. You’re not homeless. You have a nice barn, a good business, Basir and Ka’Tehm. You’re doing fine! What in heaven’s name is WRONG with you?

I felt a spattering of cool water on my lower legs and I looked down to see luminous silver eyes staring up at me with concern.

“Oh, Ka’Tehm. Everytime I think I’m over it…” I whispered, sitting down on the thick bath mat and looking at the spectral blue beaver. He had waddled out of the kiddie pool to check on me. “I don’t know why that happens out of the blue. I’m happy most of the time!” He looked at me and rolled over on the mat to dry his fur. I pulled the thick towel I kept draped over a stool for his use into my lap and closed my eyes, thunking my head back against the vanity in frustration. “He didn’t even say anything and there I go acting like a fool and getting all emotional for no reason. Jeez! It’s ancient history.  No pun intended.”

Ka’Tehm looked at me and blinked once; at least he agreed with me. He nudged my hand with his cool nose and I passed the towel over his fur lightly. Since Ka’Tehm consisted mainly of water, I didn’t want to dry him off too much for fear that he’d just disappear. I don’t know what magic enabled him to stay on the same astral plane as me, but I was glad for his sympathetic ear.

“I need to get a grip.” I said, stroking my hand over his shimmering fur. “I’m not an archaeologist anymore. End of story. I’m a landscaper, and I’m pretty good at it. Sure I use magic to make the plants grow, but that’s my little secret. I’m supposed to use magic – I’m a witch. The only profession where magic got me in trouble was archaeology. I mean seriously, if those monks meant for that demon to stay banished, they shouldn’t have carved those words on the stone, right?”

Ka’Tehm blinked again and I squared my shoulder. “Pops is here, so you should go out and say hello. I’ll come out in a minute.” I said, bending down and kissing his water vapor head. I stood and opened the door, watching the blue furred critter saunter toward the living room. I turned and faced my reflection in the mirror. I squared my shoulders and looked straight into my own eyes.

“Now, Arienne Cerasola. You get a grip on your sorry self. You can’t change it and it wasn’t fatal. You were fired. It happens. Big freakin’ deal. Move on!” I looked back at myself and nodded as if to emphasize my point.

It had been more than two years since I collapsed that cathedral in Ireland. Since then, I’d located a magical healing tree and saved the magical community from a variety of ailments. I’d rescued Boston from a loose Cemi that left chaos and destruction in its wake. I’d done real magic; I’d improved my ability to control it, and I’d managed to gain a few grains of respect by saving one of the top members of the United Coven and Alliance…and the fact that he was really more loyal to the opposition than the Alliance made me feel even better about it.

I was a witch, damn it, and I needed to stop beating myself up over my past mishap. Just because Pops was the legendary archaeologist, Dr. Christy O’Flynn, didn’t mean that I had shamed him because of my antics. Just because no academic institution would hire me didn’t mean I wasn’t a good archaeologist. I was. I had made money finding magical artifacts that nobody else could have found. I just wasn’t your typical archaeologist and that was my new reality. Being ordinary was way over-rated, anyway.

Feeling better, if a bit ashamed of my overly emotional reaction – I squared my shoulders again and headed back to the couch. Pops was talking to Basir and Ka’Tehm in a hushed voice and I felt a prickle of unease.

“I guess I’m tired, Pops. You know how I get when I don’t have enough sleep and I was up almost all of last night.” I grinned and sat back down, sipping my beer and trying to remember my optimism. I decided not to mention why I didn’t get enough sleep. That was my little obsession and I didn’t want to rile Pops up over my suspicions.

“Sure, Chicken. I understand. If you think about it we’re sort of in the same boat. Neither one of us is using our fancy degrees these days.” Pops sipped his beer and his blue eyes drifted out over the driveway. I watched him for a second, thinking that he looked as if he were waiting for someone, but that didn’t make any sense. I relaxed when he spoke again.

“So tell me about your business.” He prompted, facing me and putting his elbows on his knees.

“Well….” I began, looking for something to say. “I did a pretty cool pest repelling charm for rose bushes.” I explained the charm’s origin and how it evolved from super electric bug zapper to the present perfect form.

Pops stared at me with his blue eyes wide with what looked like astonishment as I finished my description.
“What?” I asked, narrowing my eyes as he leaned toward me with his brows knitted in disbelief.

“You tweaked the charm to only work on bugs of a certain weight?”

“Yeeess….” I drew the word out because it seemed like the obvious choice. “I didn’t want a pile of dead birds and squirrels around my gardens. That would be bad advertising.”

“Your charm works?”

“Yup. There’s probably a lady bug crawling over the plant right now and she doesn’t feel a thing.” I nodded, proud of that little victory.

“That’s quite an accomplishment.” Pops said, raising his glass in a salute to me.

“And I’m working on some new landscaping plans that I’m going to put in one of the local nurseries. It should be good advertising for those people who don’t know what plants they should put together.”

The gong sounded again and Pops looked sheepish when I peered out the window to see another unfamiliar car coming down the driveway.

“That’s odd. I wasn’t expecting anybody…” I said, watching Basir fly out though the owl door to scope out the new visitor.

“Um…I think I might know who that is…” Pops’ voice trailed off as I turned and gave him a questioning look. He stood and walked quickly past me, avoiding my gaze. I watched him go and had a fleeting thought that perhaps Pops wasn’t just visiting because Nan was in New Mexico with Uncle Bert.

Basir hooted from outside and I turned my attention back to the small black vehicle. I suppressed a groan when bright orange sneakers appeared below the open car door. One end of the white shoestring was frayed into a large fuzzy ball that was apparent even from the house.

“Dr. Froehlich?” I asked, hurrying toward my grandfather with a confused look pasted on my face.

“Ezra and I go way back, Arienne. Surely you know that…” Pops gave another vague wave of his hand before hurrying by me and down the steps to greet the half-mad archaeologist from my last magical adventure. I hadn’t seen my nearly eighty year old grandfather move that fast in years, and I suspected it was more to avoid my growing realization that I had been  set up, than to help Ezra out of the car.

I didn’t exactly like the way the little surprise visit was going, but I had a nagging feeling that the two old men were up to something that I’d be neck deep in before sundown.