New Cover for NaNoWriMo project!

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So I took a little time yesterday to work on the cover of my new novel.  I’ve actually had the artwork done for quite some time – but since NaNoWriMo started I’m feeling like I will actually have it done (maybe in time for all of the new Christmas Kindles)!

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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!

My first review for Legendary Magic (Relic Hunter Book 3)

LM Image 2E with TextI just got my first review for Legendary Magic and I couldn’t be happier! It made my day! Here it is:

“I have been reading this author since 2012. I absolutely love her books. I feel as though I’ve been brought into the world she is writing about. This most recent book was fantastic. I highly recommend this book for sitting next to the fire drinking a glass of Irish Mist!” written by Taraharp on Amazon.com.

Come on, it’s snowing – don’t you want to sit by the fire with a glass of Irish Mist and escape on a magical adventure? I know you do…

Hedgehog Tea – A Relic Hunter Holiday Short Story

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Christmas shopping in Salem, Massachusetts has always been one of my favorite holiday rituals. Basir was perched on my shoulder, his talons digging into the thick acrylic fur on the collar of my coat while he looked around at the other shoppers with an air of superiority.

“That’s not a very cheerful look. Perhaps this will help you get in the spirit.” I pulled a small red and green collar out of my pocket and slipped it over the brown and white feathered head of my companion. He swiveled his head around to look at his reflection in a shop window.

“Who!” He exclaimed in a horrified tone.

“You look more festive already.” I laughed, reaching up to adjust the small golden bells that were sewn onto the points of the collar. I stroked his sable and white feathers with one of my faux-fur mittens as he glared at me with as much menace as he could muster. Christmas in Witch City is such an odd mix of Santa meets the occult that a great horned owl dressed like an elf doesn’t get me as many strange looks as you might think.

The shops were decked out in the traditional colors of red and green with a random ghoul or vampire thrown in to the mix – some in Santa hats, and three Dickens-type carolers sang under a poster for the Yule Ball. There were other traditional symbols of the pagan holiday Yuletide right next to manger scenes and menorahs.

Silver bells tinkled and shoppers strolled along the pedestrian mall laughing and peering into the festive displays in the shop windows. I shifted my packages in my hands and continued across the brick walkways toward Derby Square. One of my favorite shops was just off the main street and I never passed up an opportunity to poke through Magic Past Times.

A woman with long blonde curls turned the corner and we exchanged a polite smile and wave. I knew her name, but that was the extent of my experience with Caly Mendelsohn, one of the local psychics in Salem. She knew me because she was a huge fan of my grandmother, Wilhelmina Zatavichnova, a world renowned psychic. I knew her because I was often tempted to stop in at Foretold, a psychic parlor where she worked, to have her read my Tarot Cards. We wished each other a generic “Happy Holidays” and continued on our separate journeys.

The front window of Magical Past Times blazed with multi-colored lights and a giant wreath decorated with ornaments which were not your average Christmas decorations. Miniature cauldrons bubbled in the corners of the window, sending up wisps of red, green, and gold smoke which twined in long tendrils around the wreath. A few pentagrams glittered with crushed glass and others sparkled with silvery glitter. Mistletoe, the plant sacred to my Druid ancestors, hung in graceful bunches around the wreath alongside vintage glass ornaments. Everything was festooned with glittery ribbons inscribed with spells and magical symbols.

“Whoo!” Basir called and dug his talons into my shoulder at the same moment as I felt the prickle of magic against my cold cheeks. I saw the flicker of movement on one of the ornaments and a sense of urgency uncoiled beneath my breastbone.

I stepped back and then forward again, searching for the source of the magical charge in the air and saw a flicker of movement on the large round ornament again. I spun around to see if someone else had walked behind me and it was just a reflection, but I was alone on the street.

“Whooooo.” Basir cooed, urging me forward toward the window with a small flap of his wings.

We peered through the window, watching intently so we wouldn’t miss it. The surface of the ornament seemed to swirl and shift and hazy figures appeared and disappeared on the pearlescent glass. I tilted my head to the side and saw the faint image of white feathers and large amber eyes on the top of the ornament.

“Is that a snow owl?” I asked, peering into the window.

Basir clicked his beak once and I saw in our reflection that he had tilted his head to the side as well, trying to get a better look. It was also likely he was trying to figure out a way to wiggle out of the elf collar.

I studied the ornament for a few more minutes before deciding the surface shifts weren’t just a product of my imagination or the lighting. The ornament was definitely enchanted, and I was fascinated.

Without needing any more encouragement, I pulled open the door to the shop. The warm air billowed out, carrying the scents of cinnamon and sandalwood into the cold December afternoon. I glanced around at antique copper spell pots, hand blown glass bottles in various colors, mortars and pestles made from exotic materials, and myriad occult-related doodads. All the items had been used by spell-casters and potion makers for generations before winding up in an antiques store specializing in magical items. I could feel the residual magic inside the store and my own magical senses perked up and added to the faint thrumming in the air.

“Blessed be.” Called a man from behind the counter. He had woven bits of ribbon and gemstone beads into his short red beard and he had a black cape slung dramatically around his shoulders. The ends of his mustache were waxed into elaborate curls which gave him a slightly kooky look.

I cringed and smiled politely. The propensity of the shop owners to give the standard witch phrase of greeting to all the tourists drives me nuts. As a genetically- wired witch I find the greeting trite and vaguely insulting. Witches don’t necessarily use the phrase and it had become somewhat of a cliché. My chic wool and faux-fur coat was stylish, my red beret was cheerful, and my tiny protection amulet was safely tucked into my coat pocket. I don’t announce my magic with a costume or a phrase.

“Same to you.” I replied with a thin smile. It wasn’t my job to wage a personal war against the over use of the traditional Wiccan phrase, but I wasn’t going to pretend that it delighted me. A simple good afternoon would have sufficed, unless he knew me to be a fellow practioner.

“If you don’t see what you’re looking for, just ask. We have some other items in the storage room that we haven’t put out yet.” He said, pulling a cinnamon stick out of a steaming cup of water and laying it on a chipped saucer.

“We’ll let you know, thanks.” I replied, heading down the aisle nearest the window with a vague wave. As I walked, the tiny pulse of magic beat against my exposed skin and I felt excitement skitter up my spine. There was something very special inside the shop, and my skin shivered with the energy.

Basir shifted on my shoulder as we approached the window and I put my hand on his feathered chest as I leaned forward to get a closer look at the pearly white ornament. It was about the size of a grapefruit with a silver filigree cap to cover the stem of the ball. The metalwork was intricate and a few tiny stones were set into the center of flowers which gave the cap a Victorian elegance.

The surface of the ornament itself shimmered as if lit from within. Scrolling along the bottom and sides of the ball were intricate designs and scenes which were masterfully painted in muted tones that were nearly invisible unless you looked closely. It looked like porcelain with the subtle shimmer of pearls. Tentatively, I reached out a finger to touch it.

“Whoo!” Basir warned and I pulled back with a start.

“It’s just an ornament.” I whispered, but even though the words were out of my mouth, I knew I was lying.

“It’s a fine piece of art, actually.” The shop owner said with a note of smarmy salesmanship. He had been lurking at the end of the aisle and I’d been so transfixed I hadn’t noticed him. My usual senses must have been overloaded by the other items in the store. Maybe it was some sort of magical interference.

“Uh huh. It’s very pretty.” I replied, stepping back and feigning disinterest. With a flourish, he stepped toward the window and plucked the ball off the wreath. In huge hands he held it out to me for inspection. In the lights of the shop, I could see the designs which were so faintly painted on the glass shimmer and flicker like holographic images. The price tag was flipped over the man’s hand and I glanced at it quickly and nearly yelped.

“It’s on commission from the Sage family.” The man said, with a note of apology.

The confused look on my face prompted him to add more. “Captain Daniel Sage was a prominant sea captain and one of the earliest settlers of Salem. His family still lives around here and every once in a while they send an heirloom to one of the shops in the area on commission.”

As a child, I had lived in Salem for a few years. I knew of the Sage family, and I had heard the rumors that Mrs. Emily Sage, wife of Captain Tarquil Sage, was believed to be a witch. During the witch trials, it was whispered that Emily was spirited away on the ship of another captain so she couldn’t be tried for witchcraft. She never returned to Salem and history held that her husband was driven mad with grief and lived out the rest of his life in the family home, too distraught to continue sailing.

Their oldest son, Daniel, took over for his father and became a famous local figure; effectively taking the focus off his much maligned parents. In addition to his mother being accused of witchcraft, it was rumored that Tarquil was a vampire, so poor Daniel worked very hard to build a stellar reputation as a captain and as the family fortune and status grew, most people forgot the ugly rumors. Most people – but not all.

A twelve year old witch with a passion for history and a library card stumbled upon the diary of Jane Sage, the oldest daughter of Tarquil and Emily. Jane had some interesting memories of her father’s plan to keep her mother safe from those who accused her of witchcraft.
“Were they a family of witches?” I asked, with wide-eyed innocence.

“They’re not now.” The shop keeper replied with a note perplexity. “I think it’s the symbols on the glass that made them send this antique to my shop. See this one?” He held a thick finger on a small pentagram which was woven into the silver filigree. I nodded. “It’s an arcane symbol. There’s more mysterious symbols on it, too, but I’m afraid I don’t know what they’re all called. It’s a strange thing, really. Every time I pick it up I notice something that I swear wasn’t there yesterday. Like this picture here…” He pointed to the yellow eyes of the snow owl. “I swear that wasn’t there yesterday.” He cast a suspicious look at my own owl and I felt Basir dig his talons into my shoulder a little harder than necessary. The man’s eyes widened and he nervously looked away from Basir. Three and a half pounds of irate bird can intimidate almost anyone.

I felt my heart racing and my breathing was suddenly shallow. I held my mittened hands out to him. “May I hold it?” I asked, hoping the layer of synthetic fur would shield my own magic from mingling with that of the ornament. The man nodded and leaned over to place it in my waiting hands. The minute the ball entered the electromagnetic field of my body, I saw the images on the pearly surface shift and swirl. I held my hands out to prevent the shop owner from giving it to me. “Never mind. I’ll take it.”

The words were so rushed that the owner blinked twice in surprise before breaking into a wide grin. “I’ll wrap it up for you.” He said, sounding pleased.

Although the cost of the ornament was more than the combined value of every single holiday decoration in my house, I paid in cash and hurried back onto the street with my parcel tucked inside a shopping bag. The owner of the shop had looked reluctant to take my cash and I wondered if that was because the Sage family had asked to be notified of the purchaser’s name and address. Given what I suspected to be the truth about the ornament, it seemed logical that the Sage family would want to know where the ornament went.

What I had seen in the glass while the owner held it out to me told me that the ornament was no simple occult item and what I remembered from reading Jane’s diary in the dusty library so many years ago made me giddy with anticipation. I smiled to myself and hurried across the pedestrian mall, waving to Caly Mendelsohn as I passed by her outside of Foretold. Basir and I had a mystery to solve, and I couldn’t wait to get home and get down to work.

I hurried to the parking garage and stored my packages in the trunk of my tiny red car. Basir perched on the back seat as I pulled out into traffic and immediately took my first wrong turn, getting instantly lost on the way out of the city. It never failed that I could not successfully navigate myself into or out of Salem on the first try. Getting lost was just part of the journey for me, despite the fact that I had lived in Salem for many years as a child. No matter how many times I visited the city, no matter how many maps I had bought, even with the annoyingly confident GPS voice giving me directions, I had never made it to the highway without getting utterly lost and wandering through side streets and shopping malls while desperately seeking a road sign that would put me back on Route 128.

It took us nearly two hours to get back to our home in the Berkshire Mountains, and by the time I had parked in the old tractor bay beneath our converted barn, I was practically drooling with the eagerness of ripping into the box which contained the ornament.

I hurried up the old ramp and to the front door with Basir flying ahead and through the doggy-door I had installed high in the roof for his convenience. As I pushed open the bright jade green door to our home, I felt a tingle of delicious anticipation. Inside the barn, I toed off my furry boots and hung my coat and beret on the hook before scooping up the box which contained the prize we’d found. With great ceremony, I placed it in the center of the kitchen table.

Basir perched on the back of a chair with his ear tufts raised to full attention. Ka’Tehm, a water spirit who took the form of a blue beaver sauntered out of the bathroom to see what the excitement was all about. I pulled out a chair and sat in front of the box with my hands spread to test the vibrations coming off the object. I felt small sparkles of magic against my skin and something which might have been interpreted as hope blooming in my heart.

Ka’Tehm floated through the air and sat in the middle of the table, leaving tiny sparkling drops of water on the wood surface.

“I think it’s a witch ball. What do you think?” I whispered to my companions as I pulled up the cardboard lid and exposed the layers of bubble wrap and tissue paper beneath. Luminous blue and golden amber eyes watched as my fingers peeled off the layers of wrapping. I unrolled the bubble wrap while I recounted its discovery to the blue beaver. Basir stared intently at his other companion and I had the odd feeling that they talked to each other in ways I didn’t understand.

I slipped the ball out of the last of the packaging and once the ornament rested against my bare flesh, I felt the cool sandy texture of the glass and little tendrils of giddy energy skated along my nerves. Dusk was gathering outside the windows and I pulled the shades down and flipped on the overhead light. In the warm glow of the kitchen, the pearly surface of the ornament began to shift in subtle ways that had the three of us clustered around, transfixed by the magical surface of the ball.

“Witch balls were supposed to attract evil spells and trap them inside.” I shifted the ball and noticed a faint swirl on one side of the surface. I pointed to it. “Inside the ball are tendrils of glass or other material, like threads or twigs. I think this one has some sort of organic material. Maybe silk?” It was a guess, but a rather educated one. Captain Sage imported silks from the east, and since silk was an organic material, it didn’t seem far-fetched. “I need something to hang it on…” I said as I glanced around the room. Basir flapped his wings and hooted before flying off into the other room. I cradled the ball in my palms until the owl returned with a wooden candle holder. I set it into the grooved top of the holder and sat back to watch the shifting images on the glass.

The silver filigreed cap which fit over the stem of the ball was inscribed with magical symbols woven into an elaborate floral motif. I could make out a pentagram, as well as the elemental symbols for air, fire, water, earth and another symbol I didn’t quite recognize. I pointed to it and Basir narrowed his eyes at me.

“I should know that, huh?” I asked, tapping my fingers on the table. I named off the other four and studied the symbol again. It was a round circle. “The sun?” I ventured.

Basir rolled his eyes. “Moon?” I tried.

More eye rolling. I hated it when the bird made me feel stupid. “There are only four elements, Basir.” I groused.

One wingtip shot out and pointed to the center of my chest. “Me?”

He blinked once.

“So I’m the fifth element?” I snorted with laughter, but then considered the implications. “Of course! Spirit, right? The fifth element is the spirit of the one who channels the power of the other elements.”

Basir blinked once and clapped his wings together half-heartedly.

“Wise guy.” I groused, smirking and stroking his feathered head. “It’s not like I have an extensive magical education.” I stated in my own defense.
Basir opened his beak and wagged his black tongue back and forth. He had good reason to laugh, because our entire foray into the magical world had been a series of learn-as-you-go moments; some with comical results, some quite hair-raising, and some which proved to be very lucrative.

I turned my attention back to the ornament and studied the luminous surface of the glass. The pale yellow eyes of the snow owl glowed, and soft feathers appeared. Beneath that was a tonal portrait of a woman in a fur hood, her features regal and delicate. The fur of the hood seemed to shift as if blown by a cold breeze. A frame emerged from the surface of the glass, encasing the portrait in an elaborate filigree oval. Around the portrait, four smaller ovals appeared, hazy images forming inside each. The woman’s face faded into the glass, replaced by the spiked fur of a tiny critter with black eyes and a tiny black nose. The critter was holding a tea cup in his tiny rodent hands.

“What is that?” I whispered, leaning closer. Basir fluttered to my shoulder and looked hard at the ornament.

“Whoo Who.” He said, snapping his beak.

I grimaced. I know he expected me to catch on immediately, but his limited vocabulary really made that difficult. I looked again at the image on the glass and tried desperately to come up with the name of the animal.

“Whoo. Who!” Basir said again, slapping me in the back of the head with a wing.

“Two syllabils. Um…hmmm…it’s a…um…what do you call those? It’s a rodent, right?” I looked again at the small black nose and spiky fur.

“Hedgehog! It’s a hedgehog!” I slapped the table and looked up at Basir who rolled his whole head around and nodded grudgingly.

“But why is a hedgehog drinking tea?” I asked, tapping my fingers on the table. I knew the hedgehog was a clue, but it wasn’t connecting in my brain yet. “Well, it makes sense that a sea captain would have brought back tea, right?” It made sense, but I was pretty sure the sea captain angle wasn’t the only answer.

The image morphed again, this the lines of the hedgehog straightened to become a sprig of apple blossoms before the lines shifted again, revealing a frozen lake. The whole miniature animated movie started over again, in a different order. The woman morphed into the hedgehog drinking tea, the steam from the tea froze into icicles which were then melted by a fire made from apple blossoms and the woman’s face appeared again.

Basir hopped onto the table and looked at the back of the ornament. His eyes got wide and he flew out of the kitchen. Ka’Tehm and I exchanged puzzled glances and I heard a crash from the bathroom followed by wild flapping.

“Are you okay?” I called.

“Whooo.” Came the irritated response followed a few seconds later by Basir flying in and dropping a small makeup mirror into my lap. I caught the mirror and looked up at him.

“Do I have something in my teeth?” I asked, bearing my teeth at myself in the mirror.

Basir snapped his beak to get my attention and pointed to a spot behind the ornament. He hopped across the table and nudged the poinsettia center piece into place behind the ornament. I propped the mirror up against it and I could see a shifting pentagram on the back of the ornament while I watched the images on the front change from woman to hedgehog and back again.

The five points of the pentagram glowed softly as the picture on the front altered. The woman’s image lit up the top point, or spirit location, of the pentagram. The hedgehog image lit up the earth point, the frozen lake lit up the water point, the apple blossom lit up the fire point, and the tea cup lit up the air portion.

“Ah…I think it’s like a spell formula.” I said, letting a smile spread across my face. “In order to unlock the ornament, we have to follow the recipe.”

I glanced out into the dark yard and saw my small fire pit was outlined by the silvery moonlight. “I think we better do this outside. Just in case.” I managed a weak smile and Basir nodded in agreement. Ka’Tehm scampered to the door and turned around to look at me.

“You’re going out?” I asked, surprised.

The blue beaver blinked once at me and I shrugged. If he wanted to go out, I wasn’t about to stop him. I opened the door and watched him scamper across the lawn before disappearing into the forest. I felt a pang of fear for him, but knew that the magical blue beaver could just mist out of existence if he needed to. He’d be fine, I assured myself as I gathered up some other supplies to work the spell.

I pulled the long fireplace lighter out of the end table in the living room and grabbed the copper kettle off the top of the wood stove. I turned around to say something to Basir, but he’d flown out his doggy door and I was alone in the house. For a moment, I thought of how crazy it was that I was going to try and work a strange spell that I found on an ornament in a magic shop, but the vibrations from the pearly white object all felt positive and somehow…lost.

I was obligated to work the spell, because I had found it and I knew instantly what it might be. I had the history, the ability, and the materials to do it. It was like that ornament had been waiting in that little shop for me to come along and recognize it.

That thought sent slimy little drops of doubt into my gut, so I examined the coincidences further and decided that the ornament could have been picked up by anyone. Had it been a black magic item, it would have either over-ridden my doubt or given me the heebie-jeebies. The fact that I had doubt wasn’t a bad thing; it proved that the ornament wasn’t compelling me to work the magic. I could resist it but I didn’t want to. It just didn’t feel like a bad idea. My companions weren’t worried about it, either.

I felt like we were doing something that should have been done long ago. I thought about the hedge hog again and opened my spice cupboard. I pulled out a clear apothecary jar with a cork stopper and read the name of the herb aloud.

“Raskovnik.” It was a rare magical herb from Eastern Europe and I had spent a week trying to track it down before stumbling across a patch in the woods of Czechoslovakia last month. I had gone looking for the herb so I could give some to my mother for Christmas. My mother had an old grimoire which was magically locked and no matter how many spells and potions she tried on the iron lock, she couldn’t open it. Raskovnik was said to open any enchanted lock, and it was one of the few gifts I could think of for the woman who had everything.

I thought back to Jane Sage’s diary. She had copied her family tree inside the front cover. Jane’s maternal grandmother, Helena, was Romanian, and the legends of Raskovnik originated with the Slavic people. One Romanian source claimed that the only way to find the herb was to trick a hedgehog into finding it for you. I had used an alternate method to find my stash; a tortoise with a locked wooden box strapped to his back was just as effective, mainly because I couldn’t find a hedgehog when I went hunting for mom’s present.

I pulled a small bit of the herb out of the jar and dropped it into the copper kettle. At the front door, I stuffed my feet into my boots and shrugged my heavy coat on. Lugging my tools out into the garden, I set them down on a stone bench and began stuffing junk mail under some sticks in my fire pit.

Basir dropped a branch onto the papers and flew off again. I picked up the dried piece of apple wood and inhaled the faintly sweet scent. I laid it carefully on top of the pile and set an iron grate across the pit. Next, I placed the kettle in the center of the grate and sat back to wait for the rest of the materials.

Ka’Tehm sauntered toward me, making an odd tinkling noise. I noticed icicles hanging off his blue fur. He stopped next to the kettle and I watched as the icicles evaporated into tiny crystals which were suspended in the cold night air. The crystals began to float toward the kettle, plinking softly as they hit the metal bottom. I peered into the kettle and found a pile of icy snow coated the inside of the pot. I reached a mitten covered hand out to stroke the blue fur of my other magical companion.

“Nice job.” I said, adjusting the kettle and placing the lid on top of it. Basir returned with another two sticks of apple wood and I arranged the sticks and lit the paper. Fragrant smoke drifted up and I turned my attention to arranging five bamboo poles into a teepee over the fire pit. I returned to the house and took the ornament from the candle holder, threading a wire hook through the cap before returning outside and suspending the ornament over the fire.

I settled in to watch the flames and listen to the crackle of the wood and the sizzle of the frozen water inside the kettle. Loose tendrils of steam began to rise and I smelled the woodsy aroma of the steeped Raskovnik on the crisp air. Basir and Ka’Tehm both sat on my lap and I pulled my coat over the two of them, snuggling them close to me while we waited.

The steam rose higher and I heard a faint tinkle, like ice cubes cracking a glass of warm water. I watched in fascination as the ornament burst into a million tiny pieces, sparking in the night like stardust and blinding me temporarily with their brilliance. When I blinked and opened my eyes, a woman formed out of the sparkling lights. Her hair was piled atop her head and she wore a long fur coat which I thought was probably mink. Under the coat, she wore a plain white cotton nightdress, as if she had been pulled from her bed, yet dressed for any weather conditions.

“You broke it.” The woman whispered.

“I believe that was the point.” I said, a bit more defensively than I intended.

“I didn’t think anyone other than Mother would be able to do it. She told me to expect to be someplace else, but I thought she’d be here.”

I smiled. “I’m going to guess that you are Emily Sage?”

“I am.” She turned around in the moonlight, looking perplexed. “Where am I?”

“You’re in the Berkshire Mountains, Mrs. Sage. My name is Arienne and I am an Archaeologist, witch, and Druid. I believe your husband and your mother arranged to hide you in the witch ball when the trials began.”

Emily Sage looked at me and tilted her head to the side. “Yes. The men came to the house and Tarquil tried to keep them from coming upstairs, but mother said they would take me away. She worked the spell, but Tarquil didn’t know.” She shook her head and a tear slid down her cheek.
I opened my coat and Basir and Ka’Tehm climbed off my lap. I stood and crossed to Emily in the moonlight. “I believe he did know, Mrs. Sage. Your daughter knew as well. When I was a young girl, about the same age as Jane was, I read her diary in the library in Salem. After your mother worked the spell, she fell ill and didn’t have the energy to undo it. For years, your family tried to free you from the witch ball, but nobody understood the materials or the process.”

“Years?” She asked and I felt myself grimace. Emily Sage had spent almost two hundred years trapped in a witch ball and I was going to have to break it to her. I realized with a sinking feeling that I didn’t think about the consequences for poor Emily.

Emily didn’t notice the look on my face and she continued speaking, as if the words would keep the reality at bay for a few more moments. “My mother brought the ball with her from Romania. I did not know what it was until she showed it to me that evening. She said the only way to unlock it was to brew the special tea. She said that because Tarquil was English, he would understand tea.”

I smiled. I was sure Tarquil did understand tea, but I was equally sure he didn’t understand what hedge hogs had to do with tea. Helena really didn’t understand her audience. Then again, I wasn’t much better at that.

The gong on the front porch sounded and I felt fear creep up my spine. Headlights pierced the darkness and I backed into the shadows, realizing too late that there were ways to find someone without a name and address; my whole idea of paying cash hadn’t accomplished what I hoped. Emily seemed to freeze, her mind paralyzed by the suddenly alien world of the twenty first century.

I heard a Coyote howl in the woods and I drew in a deep breath as a sleek luxury sedan slid to a stop in my driveway. The door opened and a man slid gracefully out of the car. He was gaunt, but beautiful under the silvery moonlight.

“Tarquil!” Emily breathed with a slight hitch to her voice. I watched as she turned and ran toward the man, her fur coat streaming behind her and her breath making icy plumes in the night air.

The man caught her in his arms and I noticed that although Emily’s sobbing breaths caused white trails in the moonlight, Tarquil made no such display. Over the moonlight garden our eyes met and while I’m sure mine showed deep fear, his only showed gratitude and relief. He stepped from his wife, leaving her in front of the car, still as a statue as he crossed my gravel walkway.

I backed up a step and felt hands on my shoulders. “I wish you’d tell me when you’re having company.” Coyote breathed in my ear. His words drained the tension out of my body and I leaned against him as the graceful and gaunt man approached in near silence.

He drew a breath and his voice was low and soulful, like a midnight deejay on a love-song station. “It has taken centuries for one to undo this. There are no words to express my gratitude.”

I nodded and cleared my throat. “Um…you’re welcome. She has no idea how much things have changed.” I grimaced and tried to keep my eyes focused on his, instead of staring at his mouth. I was failing at that task until I felt Coyote’s fingers dig into my shoulders a little more. I pressed my lips together to keep from smiling. “I think you’re going to have a little explaining to do.” I said, feeling a bubble of hysterical laughter rise in my chest.

Tarquil Sage stepped back and regarded me with an amused expression. “Pardon?”

“She’s been away a long time. You’re going to have to explain about cars and computers and ATMs.” Coyote said with a wave of his hand. I opened my mouth to add something to that list, but Coyote clapped his hand over my mouth and continued speaking. “It will all be quite a shock.”
The man pulled an envelope from the breast pocket of his suit and dropped it on the stone bench. “I am refunding the money you paid as well as giving you a token of my gratitude.”

“It’s not necessary.” I said from behind Coyote’s hand. It sounded more like “Iff no newassy” but Tarquil understood and smiled without showing his teeth.

“I assume I will quickly forget this encounter?” He asked the man behind me.

“By the end of the driveway.” Coyote agreed.

I watched as Tarquil Sage placed his wife into the passenger seat of the sedan and slowly drove back down my driveway.

Coyote let go of me and I spun around to face him. “He was a vampire, wasn’t he?” I asked.

The mythical trickster spirit, Coyote, in human form grinned at me. “It’s the wrong season for vampires, my little witch.”

A Cup of Christmas Cover

The above story is my contribution to the holiday anthology A Cup of Christmas. The proceeds from this book are being donated to First Book – a wonderful charity which provides books to needy children. There are several other lovely holiday stories, poems, and recipes in the anthology so why not give a gift to a friend and do some good at the same time?

Have a wonderful, blessed Holiday Season
Love,
R. Leonia Shea (Leigh)

10 New Strategies over 10 weeks for 10 minutes per day – Marketing my new book release.

LM Image 2E with TextI’ve decided to try 10 new book marketing strategies over the next 10 weeks.  My catch is that they can’t take more than 10 minutes per day.

After I click “publish” and sit back to watch my book soar to number one (which, by the way, is overly optimistic) – I’m left with a frantic feeling that I should be doing something to push sales along.  Well, something other than obsessively checking my amazon rankings and email.  One thing indie-authorhood has taught me is that those weeks following a release are filled with angst and self-doubt instead of optimism and joy.  The reason is this:  Once the first wave of books purchased by my fans is over, those all-important rankings begin to dip lower and I feel a crushing pressure to share, sale, tweet, tweak, link and post – all things I really, really, really don’t want to do – partly because they’re boring and time consuming and partly because shameless self-promotion feels icky.

But shameless self-promotion is sometimes required, so I give in to the urge to engage in it with abandon. For two weeks. Then it’s back to business. Since promotion seems to take so much time from the main task (which is writing – in case you’ve forgotten), I have started to condense the marketing tasks into smaller chunks that feel more manageable. The first thing I’m doing is writing a short story which will be included in an anthology of works by other indie authors. That’s a task that’s way more than 10 minutes per day, so I’ve had to choose this weeks marketing strategy based on how much “extra” time I have left.

The winner this week was this: Change my categories on Amazon to get new readers.

That took about 10 minutes to research what categories other books similar to mine are listed under and maybe two extra minutes to go in and change the categories on my own books to match those. If I were not such an avid reader in my genre, I might not have known which categories to select – but since I read so much, it was a pretty easy task. For the next two weeks, the first book in my series will be listed under humor as well as contemporary fiction. At the end of the two weeks, I can decide if I want to move it back to just fantasy (debatable, since my books are funny – just read the reviews!). Ten minutes might net me a whole new group of readers – we’ll see!

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.