Get Witch or Die Trying
Book 3 in the Spies and Spells Series
When an arrest goes wrong and the perp ends up dead, SKUL special agent Mick Jasper is under investigation and stripped of his badge. SKUL hires Maggie Park not only because of her ability to blend in with society when undercover but her uncanny ability to know things she shouldn’t. Little does the agency know that Maggie is a witch and has special powers she uses to her advantage to clear special agent Jasper’s name and hopefully bring the real killer to justice before the killer figures out who she really is.
Get Witch or Die Trying
Book 3 in the Spies and Spells Series
Get Witch or Die Trying
I knew it wasn’t going to be a good thing.
As soon as Riule, my mom’s cat who also just so happened to be her familiar, jumped up on top of me to get me out of bed this morning, a deep-rooted feeling told me today was not going to go well. I didn’t need my witchy instincts to tell me that.
“You aren’t doing it right,” Mrs. Hubbard said in a dull and troubled voice. She hiked King, her Yorkie, up a little further up on her hip.
Her feisty mood was back, but this time it was on our turf—The Brew’s kitchen, our family’s retro diner in downtown Louisville, Kentucky—and not out on the green where our house sat across from Mrs. Hubbard’s, our very nosy neighbor.
The Brew only served breakfast and lunch, so I was praying the time would go by fast. Real fast.
“I am doing it right,” Auntie Meme’s voice grated harshly.
She stood over the stove actually using a whisk to stir the ingredients, which was awfully strange to me since Auntie never used a mortal utensil to cook. That alone told me it told me it wasn’t going to go well.
Mrs. Hubbard, along with King, stood over her shoulder, which meant that Auntie Meme couldn’t just snap her fingers and make everything good or make Mrs. Hubbard disappear, which I was pretty sure was rolling around in her hot-tempered head.
Auntie Meme turned around and came nose-to-nose with Mrs. Hubbard. King’s lip quivered as a low growl crept past his gnashed teeth. Auntie’s bright red hair stuck up on her head like a dog that was about to pounce on its prey—a stark contrast to Mrs. Hubbard’s neatly styled grey chin-length hair and pearls studs in her ears. They eyed each other. Auntie drummed her fingers together. It was only going to take one quick flick and both Mrs. Hubbard and King would go poof. Auntie turned back to the boiling pots on the stove.
I let out a little sigh, thankful that Auntie Meme had backed down. Something that was extremely rare.
Auntie Meme and Mrs. Hubbard have always had the neighbor feud thing going on. Our family diner, The Brew, had always been a safe haven away from our nosy neighbors—at least until I opened my big mouth.
A month or so ago when I was snooping around for Auntie Meme after she’d accused Mrs. Hubbard of stealing a package left by the mailman on our front porch, Mrs. Hubbard had invited me in for a cup of tea and her homemade carrot cake. I was enjoying her cake so much that I’d almost forgotten to look for the package.
This was where my big mouth got us in trouble. I had told my auntie and my mom that I didn’t see the package in Mrs. Hubbard’s house, but that she’d made the most spectacular little cakes that were so moist. In fact, I raved so much that I’d convinced Auntie Meme that she needed to feature the mini-carrot cakes in the diner for the fall and winter seasons. Mom thought it was a fantastic idea since she needed to keep the prying eyes of Mrs. Hubbard away while she decorated for the Belgravia Court Historic Homes Christmas Tour, which might be sped along by a little magic that might be unexplainable to the mortal eyes.
That brings us to today. Mrs. Hubbard was beyond thrilled to come to the diner and make her cakes with Auntie’s help. Plus, Mrs. Hubbard said that her house was falling down around her and she couldn’t afford the repairs. She was hoping the money she was going to make from the cake sales at the diner could help her pay for some of the repairs.
Belgravia Court was where we lived in Old Louisville, Kentucky. It’s its own quaint little pocket just far enough away from the city to feel like a village with old historic charm. Which was why Mom and Auntie moved our family here. Gosh, Auntie Meme was pushing two-hundred years old and who knew how old Mom was, so the old was just comfortable to them. Which brings me back to the 1890’s Victorian homes on Belgravia Court.
Belgravia Court ran for three blocks, with all of the Victorian houses facing each other with a green courtyard running through the middle. The backside of our houses led to an alley on each side where we had our own detached garages. It was truly a magnificent place to live with the charming, gaslight-lantern-lined pathway along the green. It was magical and we didn’t have to put a spell on it to make it that way.
Mrs. Hubbard lived across the green with King. Both very nosy and very loud. When Mom talked Auntie into letting Mrs. Hubbard come to The Brew to make her cakes, it was due to the fact that Mom needed a good day’s work to prepare the house for the upcoming Belgravia Court Historic Homes Christmas Tour that ran every weekend from the end of November to January. We were only a couple of weeks away and Mom had already been working on this for a month.
Only a few houses were chosen to be included in the exclusive tour and with a little wave of the hand, Mom made sure our house was picked. Mom was competitive and was pulling out all the magic she could muster up to make our house stand out above anyone else’s on the tour, which was very strange to me since we spent so much time trying to stay out of sight and blend in with the mortals.
One little problem, Mom didn’t have a Christmas decorating bone in her body. She was really good at the other holidays, but for some reason she just couldn’t pick one theme or even one century. She had what I called the Christmas flu and our house looked like she’d just vomited decorations everywhere. Yeah, it looks as lovely as it sounds.
Which brings me back to today. Here in the kitchen at The Brew where Auntie Meme was unable to use her magic to whip up her usual daily specials to keep Mrs. Hubbard off of Belgravia Court so Mom could use whatever means necessary to fix the decorated house.
“You need a little more flour, Meme.” Mrs. Hubbard was a ticking time bomb as she flinched behind Auntie Meme. King yipped alongside of Mrs. Hubbard.
“Gladys, you need to shut up. You and your ankle bitter are making me nervous.” Auntie threw her hands in the air and swiveled around. Her rosy red cheeks were redder than normal; her red hair that normally stuck straight up in the air was flattened with a layer of flour. I could see the spell that was on the tip of her eyelids as her black eyes assessed the situation.
Slowly I shook my head at her. She sucked in a deep breath and rolled her shoulders back.
“I’m sorry, Gladys.” It took a lot for Auntie Meme to swallow her witchy pride and not throw a spell on poor old Mrs. Hubbard like she’d done so many times before.
Harmless spells, but spells nonetheless.
“I sure could use some help filling up the salt shakers, Mrs. Hubbard.” I knew that if I got Mrs. Hubbard out of the kitchen for even a minute, all would be well and Auntie Meme could do her thing to the carrot cakes.
“Oh that’s a great idea.” Auntie planted a grip on each side of Mrs. Hubbard’s shoulders a little too close to where King was being held. He tried to nip at Auntie’s fingers, but quickly stopped after Auntie lifted a finger and sent a little shock to his system. “That way we can hurry up and open so the customers can get in here and taste these delicious treats.”
All three of us looked at the cakes just taken out of the oven. They were sunken in the middle. Definitely not fit to feed to a hog, much less a human, mortal or witch.
“I guess we could use a little break,” Mrs. Hubbard agreed.
She put King on the floor next to her and scuttled across the floor. She ripped the hairnet off of her grey head of hair. She’d insisted on wearing the hairnet since it was code for the health department, little did she know that the health department had never shown up here thanks to Auntie’s flip of the wrist.
She stopped shy of the door between the diner and kitchen. Her eyes darted between Auntie Meme and me as she fiddled with the string of pearls around her neck. She wore her usual uniform of black pants and cardigan. Today’s color choice was key-lime green. She tucked a strand of her chin-length hair behind her ear and disappeared into the diner.
I gave Auntie the bright-eyed, hurry-the-heck-up look before I followed Mrs. Hubbard into the dining area.
“Here you go,” I said to Mrs. Hubbard.
I reached under the counter and retrieved a refill caddy with all the condiments needed to refill the items on the table.
“Just fill up what you see needs to be done. I’ll start over in that corner.” I pointed to the window up front. “And work my way around until all the tables are ready to go.”
Both of us went in opposite directions.
“I’m glad you are featuring your cakes here. I can’t wait to have one.” I set the caddy on the retro dining table.
Auntie Meme had fond memories of that time in her life, so when she opened The Brew, she wanted a diner with a black and white tile floor, sparkly vinyl covered metal chairs, and the retro tables to go with it. There was no way I was going to wear the retro outfits she’d originally wanted, so we opted for aprons instead.
“It’s a trial run.” Mrs. Hubbard’s brows rose. “And by the taste of things and look of things, it’s only going to be today since she can’t seem to get it right.” She tsked, “How on Earth does she bake and cook all day long and not be able to get a simple cake right?”
“I think she’s just trying too hard to perfect your recipe,” I replied.
“Well, I was banking on that money to help fix up a few things in my house.” There was a worry in her tone that I hadn’t heard before.
I kept my head down so she couldn’t even try to read the look on my face because I was afraid she was right. If Auntie didn’t like how things went today, she wouldn’t let Mrs. Hubbard come back. I put a napkin, fork, spoon, knife, and frosted plastic cup in front of each chair at each table. My head jerked up when I noticed a shadow of a person cast into the diner from the outside morning sun just starting to peek over the buildings in downtown where the diner was located.
The person wore a black round-brim hat that covered the eyes. It must’ve been a customer looking to see if we were open because they took off when I looked up. I shrugged it off and went about my chores of filling up the items on the table, but when Vinnie whizzed by, I paused, rubbing my hand over my red dangling crystal necklace.
Vinnie is my 1964 AC Cobra and also my familiar. I know he’s not the regular familiar that mortals have gotten used to seeing in the movies and books, but that’s how little mortals really knew about the real witchy world.
Vinnie had a mind of his own and kept me safe. When he sped off from where he’d parked this morning it made my stomach curl. My necklace didn’t warm (the usual sign of danger) nor did I get any witchy sense that something was wrong.
The rattle of pans and a loud crash, sort of sounding like a mini-explosion, was followed up by a puff of flour bursting through the window between the kitchen and diner, leaving me with little time to think about Vinnie.
“Oh, lordy.” Mrs. Hubbard shook her head, her tongue heavy with sarcasm.
“Auntie Meme?” I called out. “Are you okay?”
The cloud of flour settled and she popped her head through the window. Her hair no longer had even a speck of white flour in it as it had when Mrs. Hubbard and I were in the kitchen with her, nor did she look ruffled.
“I’m happier than a puppy with two tails.” The smile on her face told me that she’d done a little magic while I’d occupied Mrs. Hubbard. Her hands lifted up a tray of the most beautiful little carrot cakes that looked exactly like Mrs. Hubbard’s.
“Knock me down and steal muh teeth!” Mrs. Hubbard’s eyes popped open at the sight of the cakes on the tray. “How on Earth did you get those baked so quickly?” Mrs. Hubbard giddy-upped on over to the window and peered at the cakes that were as pretty as a picture. “And you frosted them exactly how I do it,” she said.
Her tone set off alarm bells ringing in my head. Auntie Meme had to be really careful. Mrs. Hubbard was one smart old bird.
I walked over and took the plate of small cakes from Auntie and put them underneath the glass dome on the counter to display.
“Well? How did you do it so fast?” Mrs. Hubbard wasn’t going to be satisfied with the silence Auntie Meme had given her.
“You made me nervous looking over my shoulder.” Auntie Meme clicked the heels of her black boots and twirled around on the balls of her feet. Her shoes clicked against the black and white tile of the kitchen floor. “And that’s why I actually own and cook at my own diner,” Auntie Meme was both excited and aggravated.
“She is good.” I tucked a piece of my long black hair behind my ear as I tried to avoid Mrs. Hubbard’s eyes and smooth the less than believable explanation Auntie Meme had given her.
“Good?” Mrs. Hubbard questioned. “Something ain’t right. It takes at least a good hour to cool one of them small cakes and ice it. That doesn’t even include the baking time. There’s no way we’ve been out here for more than five minutes, much less an hour.” Mrs. Hubbard glanced back at the kitchen window before her eyes shifted back to me. She shook her finger at me. “I know something fishy is going on because I know your car wasn’t parked there when we walked out here.”
My eyes followed her finger. Vinnie’s alarm was going off.
“Auntie!” I screamed across the diner’s dining room.
“What?” Her head popped out of the kitchen window.
“I. . .” I pointed over my shoulder. Her eyes flew open.
“Go!” She gestured.
The red gem warmed against my skin. My gut dropped.
“Maggie, I think you might be in danger,” Vinnie’s voice was bold and to the point.
“That’s a fine way to greet me.” I looked at the diner where Mrs. Hubbard was staring at me. “Plus you put on a real good show for Mrs. Hubbard.”
“I’m sorry, Maggie.” He put his gear shift in drive and peeled out of the space. “I am here to keep you safe from harm and when that person with the mysterious hat was looking through The Brew’s window, my circuits went off. I followed them down the street only they ducked down the alleyway. By the time I made it around the building, they were gone.”
“I saw them looking through the window, but I figured they were looking at what time we opened.” I put my hands on his wheel to appear as if I was driving in case someone looked over.
“I didn’t like what I felt, Maggie. I think it’s best you go home and help your mother out with the Christmas decorations.” He tried to make a left to go toward home, but I flipped on his manual switch. “Maggie, what are you doing?”
“I understand that you want me to be safe and home is probably the best place. But, there’s no way in broomsticks that I’m going to help Mom decorate for Christmas when she completely skipped decorating for Halloween and Thanksgiving since she entered our house into the Christmas tour. Besides,” I braced myself because I knew he was going to blow a gasket when he heard what I was going to say next, “I need to go to SKUL and get my paycheck.”
Immediately, Vinnie slowed down to a snail’s crawl.
“Seriously?” I pushed the gas pedal a little more, which didn’t do much for me. Even in manual mode, there were limits. I did have full control of the steering wheel. “If it takes me all day to get there, I’m still going.”
“Maggie, Mick Jasper has not contacted you for a couple of months. You will get your check another day. I think it’s in your best interest to go home. I think your mother would agree.” Vinnie wasn’t happy with my Life’s Journey, but it wasn’t for him to approve.
“If your hunch is right about that person, the only way to find out if something is going on is to make an appearance at SKUL,” I said knowing that SKUL and my Life’s Journey were tied together.
Every witch had what was called a Life’s Journey, what their purpose on this earth was. It wasn’t until the last six months that I’d found out my Life’s Journey was to be an undercover civilian agent for SKUL, Secret Keepers of Universal Law. As a part of Interpol it was a big spy division to keep the United States a safe place.
And I’d worked a couple of cases with them as a civilian who they claimed blended into society. They had no clue that I was a witch and I would blend in just about anywhere with a snap of my fingers. Regardless, I still had a paycheck coming to me and it was a great way to see if there was really something going on or if Vinnie and I were just a little too on edge.
“You wait right here until I get back,” I warned Vinnie even though he had a mind of his own and did what he thought was in my best interest. I grabbed my SKUL badge and put it in my pocket.
When I got out of the car, I looked back at him with a scowl to let him know to play the normal, everyday car part. Like a good familiar, he beeped as though he had locked his doors, when in reality he didn’t need to lock a door because if anyone tried to mess with him, they’d get the surprise of their life.
“Good morn—” Patsy looked up from the receptionist desk. SKUL headquarters was disguised as a dental office. It even came with the smell of cement and fluoride. “Oh, it’s you.” Her lips pursed.
“Good morning, Patsy.” I smiled and showed her my badge.
“Wait right there.” She stood up and stopped me from going around her to the hallway that led to the secret door to an elevator. “Does Mick know you are coming because he didn’t say anything to me.”
Mick Jasper. I sighed.
There were many reasons Vinnie didn’t like my Life’s Journey, one reason in particular. Mick Jasper.
She grabbed the receiver of her phone and started to punch numbers.
“I’m not here to see Mick. I’m here to see Burt.” I pushed my way around her desk but not without giving her a bout of upset stomach with the wiggle of my nose.
A loud gurgle came from her belly. She blinked. One hand held the receiver while the other one clutched her stomach. She gulped a couple of times and rolled her lips together.
“You stay.” She stuck her hand in front of her and scurried past me, putting her hand over her mouth.
“If only you’d learn and let me back without an issue,” I whispered and helped myself down the hall.
I opened the door that hid the elevator and got in once its doors slid open. I pushed the button to the bottom floor where the guts and inner workings of SKUL was located. The sound of people typing, talking, and the shuffling of papers filled the room around the cubicles. All different SKUL agents working on different things.
I nodded to a few people who had recognized me and I recognized from the few times I’d been there. I walked down the hall to Burt’s office. Burt Devlin was the head of SKUL and the one who saw my potential value add to the team. Albeit, I’d yet to have the formal training he said I’d get, but so far my only duties were to blend in and see what I could overhear or uncover while feeding all the information to Mick Jasper.
Mick Jasper. My heart did a little flutter when I saw him sitting in the chair in Burt’s office through the glass wall of windows. I’m a sucker for tall, dark and muscular, but it’s his blue eyes that are killer and jabbed me right in the heart and weakened my knees.
I opened the door and realized clearly I was interrupting something. Something I’d describe as evil.
“I’m sorry,” I apologized and took a step back out the door while holding on to the door knob. “I’ll just wait outside,” I said to all six eyes that seemed surprised to see me.
Burt leaned up against his desk with his arms crossed. Mick sat in the chair in front of him and Sherry, another SKUL agent who usually worked with Mick, was sitting down on the couch in the back of the room.
“No, no.” Burt waved me in. “Come on in. Funny you are here. I was actually going to call you today.”
“To give me my check?” I asked.
“That too, but we were just discussing the deaths of two local women,” he said.
“You mean those girls on the news?” I asked before I stepped back into the room and shut the door behind me.
Suddenly I’d taken an interest, not that I was going to have any answers. I’d seen a little snip of it on the news but didn’t pay much attention to it. There were shootings all over the city. It was on the news nightly and had become one of those things you expected to hear, like the weather forecast.
“They have one thing in common.” Burt stood up and walked around the desk.
“And what might that be?” I asked, being nosy.
“Me.” Mick stood up and rolled down the sleeves of his blue button down. His brows rose. “Let’s say I dated them at one time or another.”
“Unfortunately, there is no other tie between the women and the police are looking into Mick.” Burt pushed the file on his desk toward the edge.
“May I?” I asked to see what was inside.
“Sir.” Sherry stepped forward. “No offense, but Maggie doesn’t have clearance and she certainly isn’t going to be on the case.”
“No offense taken.” I put my hands up and totally wished I could give her a zit the size of a quarter on her chin or make her have an onset of grey hair that no amount of dye could cover for a few months.
“I think that Maggie has fresh eyes and I like using her as a consultant.” Burt pushed it further toward me.
“You’re the boss.” Sherry took the file and handed it to me. “The only thing in there are photos of the women and their information. One was a nurse’s aide and the other was a paralegal. Both from opposite sides of the tracks.” Sherry glanced over at Mick.
“What?” He rolled his eyes. “I don’t discriminate on the women I’ve dated.”
“I bet you don’t.” Sherry shook her head with a chuckle. “The only thing Mick does have going for him is that he has alibis for both murders.”
“That’s why we think someone is trying to frame Mick,” Burt said.
“But why me?” Mick walked over to the window and looked out. “Ummm, Maggie. Your car is rolling.”
I let out an audible groan.
“Sir, let me look at the file and I’ll get back to you tomorrow.” I grabbed the file and ran out the door.
I don’t know why I did it and I knew better but I continued to tap the up button on the elevator as if that was going to hurry it up. I glanced around and no one seemed to be looking. I dragged my finger under my nose and instantly appeared in the corner of the lobby.
“Where did you come from?” Patsy’s head turned side-to-side. Her mouth dropped.
“I slipped by you.” I headed to the door.
“Here is your check.” She waved an envelope in the air.
I snatched it on my way past her.
“Thanks. I hope you feel better,” I said and darted out the door.
Vinnie was exactly where I’d left him.
“What on Earth did you do that for?” I asked in a snippy voice after I got in and he slammed the door behind me.
“Maggie, you said that you were only going to be a few minutes and it was much longer than that. I was beginning to worry.” He started his engine. I flipped on his automatic switch. “When I saw Agent Jasper looking out the window, I knew if I moved he’d make some sort of comment about your old car, which by the way I do not like being referred to as old. My pistons and gears are lubed better than his insides.”
“You have to be careful. You can’t let anyone know that you are not a normal car.” I opened the file and took a long look at the woman staring back at me from the first photo.
She was probably younger than me by a few years, which didn’t surprise me. I could see Mick dating younger women. Which seemed to be true by looking at the women.
Both of them had very pretty smiles that showed off brilliant white teeth, yet the way they dressed said a lot about their personalities. One was in a pant suit while the other was in jeans, tee, and Chucks.
“Maggie, Agent Jasper believes I’m an old car and that strange things go on with me.” Vinnie drove much faster home than he did going to SKUL, which didn’t surprise me. “Besides, Agent Jasper is none of my concern. You are.”
“SKUL is my Life’s Journey, which means that Mick Jasper is part of it too.” I dragged my finger down the paper to check out the occupations of the women.
One of them was a legal secretary and the other was a nurse’s aide in a nursing home. Their birthdays were different, not even the same birth months. Their cars were completely different. The secretary drove a four-door Toyota, the nurse’s aide drove a motorcycle. They even lived on opposite sides of town. They had nothing in common, well. . .nothing except Mick Jasper.
“Maggie?” Vinnie asked. “I’ve been parked in the garage for a few minutes now and you haven’t even noticed we made it home.”
I glanced up.
“Not that Burt has asked me to be on the case, but he did ask me to look at the file to see if there was anything that stood out.” I looked up and over the wheel. “You know, Vinnie, there is nothing that stands out to me.”
“That makes me want to protect you more from Agent Jasper. Because of him you’ve been at gun point twice in the last six months.” Vinnie reminded me of worse times.
“It doesn’t hurt to look into some things.” I shut the folder and ran a finger over my necklace.
“What is it Maggie?” Vinnie asked.
“I don’t know, Vinnie. Something is off about this. I know Mick Jasper is not a killer, but someone is trying to make it look like he did kill them.” I bit my lip and let out a sigh.
The twinkling Christmas lights from the kitchen window caught my attention.
“How do you know that Agent Jasper didn’t do it?” Red dots waved across Vinnie’s circuit board screen.
“The police have established an alibi for Mick.” Mentally I prepared myself for the winter wonderland I was about to walk into.
“He is a SKUL agent. He has a lot of contacts and he knows a lot of people.” Vinnie always looked at things from all angles, only when it came to Mick, the angle was always negative.
“You think he actually had these women knocked off?” A chuckle escaped me. “Why would he do that?”
“They know something about him.” Vinnie wasted no time in responding. “He had dated them. They knew him in a more intimate situation and he might’ve told them something that was classified.
“He found out and realized what he’d told them and for the information not to come out, he killed them.” Vinnie’s words drifted off and I jumped when a pumpkin flew out the back door of my house before the door slammed shut. “I’ve got to go.”
“Anything is possible, Maggie,” Vinnie said before I got out of the car. “You remember that now that you are part of the mortal world.”
“Mortal world,” I murmured under my breath and looked at the smashed pumpkin lying on the concrete patio next to the pool.
Riule crawled out from underneath Mom’s herb garden.
Mom was in a mood and it was much easier to prepare for it before I walked in.
“What’s going on?” I asked Riule, my mom’s black cat and familiar. I bent down and rubbed my hand down his back.
“She’s had a rough day getting into the Christmas spirit,” Riule meowed back in words to my ears but to the mortal ears, he was simply acting like a cat.
“We are witches.” I couldn’t help but grin before feeling sorry for him. “You’ve had to listen to her all day?”
“All day. She’s yelling Riule this, Riule that.” He rolled his little green eyes. “When she asks for my opinion, I can’t help but throw in something that is black in color and she flies off, literally.” I knew he what he meant.
Mom was good at jumping on her broom when the going got tough. Sometimes she’d disappear for days. It might sound a bit harsh for a mom to take off, but in our case it was good because it was time for her to cool down and not just up and move all of us like she’d done when me and Lilith were kids.
“She screams that Christmas is green and red, not black.” He shook his head.
A crash came from the house. In a flash, Riule had run back under the bushes.
“Mom! We are witches not elves!” Lilith’s voice exploded out of the open kitchen window.
“Not an elf!” Gilbert, Lilith’s rare purple macaw familiar, echoed Lilith’s displeasure.
It was time to face the music. I couldn’t stay outside forever. I tucked the file under my arm and walked in through the back door, which led straight into the kitchen where Mom, Auntie Meme and Lilith were having a standoff.
“Finally,” Mom threw her arms in the air. “A voice of reason.” She pointed to me. I turned to look behind me and, seeing no one, pointed to myself.
“Me?” I looked between the three of them. “What do you have on?” I asked Mom after my eyes settled on her green shoes that were curled up on the toe with a bell on it.
There was a tinsel hat on top of Lilith’s head. Her bangs flattened on her forehead.
“I’m dressed as an elf to help work on the creative vision.” As Mom rotated her wrist in a circle, little sparks flew out.
“You can’t just ‘poof’ and ‘piff’?” Auntie Meme asked with Miss Kitty, her owl familiar, perched on her shoulder. “Like this. Poof.” She lifted her right hand and then her left. A tiny lit and decorated Christmas tree appeared in her right hand. “Piff,” she said and a small laughing Santa appeared in her left hand.
“No,” Mom gasped and pointed a finger at Auntie Meme, zapping the Santa and disintegrating him into a pile of ashes. “I want to do this the mortal way.”
Miss Kitty spread her wings and lifted into the air, hovering over Mom like she did when Auntie Meme used her to cast a spell.
“This is ridiculous.” I stood between them. I curled my nose at Miss Kitty and didn’t stop until she floated back down to land on Auntie’s shoulder. “Mom, you are the one who signed up for this Christmas tour.” I turned to Lilith. “Lilith is right. We are witches. We love Christmas and all that goes with it, but it doesn’t come as natural as carving a pumpkin or flying.” I pointed to her broom that was propped up against the table. “We need to just regroup, have some spiced brew and get a plan.” I nodded toward everyone.
“If you think I’m dressing up like an elf to help your mom’s creative flow, then you have another thing coming,” Auntie Meme warned. “Besides, what have you been doing all day while I entertained Gladys?”
Mom’s body shifted to the left and she stuck her fists on her hips.
“I had to put up with her annoying laugh, yappy dog, and if I had to hear her tell one more customer how she created the cakes and brag on and on about her nephew, I was going to turn her into a toad.” Auntie Meme took a step toward Mom. “Now tell me, while I kept her prying eyes out of view of the house, what did you do all day?”
Auntie Meme was on edge. It was a tall order for Mom to ask her to keep Mrs. Hubbard busy so she could decorate without Mrs. Hubbard’s nosy spying. I’d seen it with my own eyes. Mrs. Hubbard’s family room had a perfect view of our house and into our house. She even had a pair of binoculars sitting on the floor next to her chair.
I spoke up, “I’m just saying that maybe each of us can help Mom out somehow. She’s always been there for us.” I tried so hard to be the voice of reason.
There was a lot of nods, um huhs, and yeps coming from Mom’s lips.
“Have you forgotten that just a few months ago she wanted you to marry a mortal because she never thought you’d find your Life’s Journey and tried to set you up with Abram Callahan?” Just the sound of Abram’s name made my stomach hurt.
Abram was, well had been, a longtime family friend who grew up with me on Belgravia Court. We were best friends up until recently and he’d wanted to take it to a much deeper level. Abram knew there was something special about our family after I’d brought back Boomer, his cat, to life a few times over the course of our childhood and into adulthood. Abram was a local mechanic we used to work on Vinnie. He was good at keeping his mouth shut. Unfortunately, a few months ago we had to do a memory erasing spell on him because he was getting a little too comfortable knowing our family secret and we just couldn’t trust he’d keep our secret for life.
We worked very hard at keeping our real life on the down low and I wasn’t about to let one guy ruin it for us. Auntie Meme had been the target of many witch hunts in her life and she said she was too old to go through another one.
“Okay, I’ll give you Abram.” The memory was still too fresh in my mind. “But we must move on. The season has changed, the old have died, and it’s our time of the year for renewal.” I recited the words of a seasonal spell. “So we are all we have and we need to help each other out.”
“When did you get all high and witchy?” Lilith glared at me and ripped the hat off of her head.
“Really?” I tilted my head to the side. “I’m trying to keep the peace and keep our family secret safe.”
Mom lifted her chin and took a couple of deep breaths as if she were trying to keep from crying.
“Fine.” Lilith’s words stuck like a sword. “I’ll help but I won’t dress up.”
“Yes you will.” Auntie dragged her hand down her body. “But I’m going to be the big guy.”
I tried not to laugh when a Santa outfit appeared on her body. Her natural rosy cheeks and short red hair reminded me of the children’s Christmas cartoon Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. She looked like the young Kris Kringle.
“What?” She cocked a brow.
“Okay, Mom.” Lilith had completely decided to be a sexy elf, giving me sister envy. “What can we do?”
“I really want to try to put up a Christmas tree in all of the rooms, but by hand, and I don’t mean wave of the hand.” At least Mom continued to stay true to her word.
It would be so much easier to wave a hand, snap a finger, wrinkle a nose to do dishes, make a bed, sweep the floor, but Mom has always insisted we did the mortal thing. She took pride in fitting and blending in. Me. . .not so much. What was the point of having these great talents and not using them?
I did use them at SKUL when I could. Unfortunately, unlike what mortals thought, we couldn’t just get ourselves out of any situation with a wink of an eye. That’s the downside. It depended on the situation and that was why we had familiars, to help us out in tight situations.
“All the trees are in boxes in the family room,” Mom called over her shoulder and we followed her down the hall. “I have each box labeled for each room.”
The boxes were stacked high to the ceiling.
“Where did you get all of these trees?” I asked.
“Maybe I did a teeny-tiny bit of magic.” Her fingers mocked the teeny-tiny she was talking about. “I’m the mom. You can’t use magic. Only use creativity the mortal way.”
Lilith and I rolled our eyes before we each took a box. Instead of dragging a box upstairs, since Mom wouldn’t let me snap it up to my room, I decided to do the tree in the family room.
“How did the diner go today?” I asked Auntie as she dragged her finger down the boxes.
“Pleased to say that Gladys’s carrot cakes sold out.” She glanced over her shoulder, and then tapped the box, letting it float out of the pile and into the entryway.
“You are brave.” I smiled. “Not only decorating the tree the tourists are going to see first, but using a little magic.” I winked.
“Shhh.” She returned the grin.
Auntie Meme and I had a special bond. She was my guardian for my Life’s Journey, which wasn’t a surprise to me since we’d been close all of my life. Even as a child when Mom forbid her to help me with any chores. Where Mom made me do them as a mortal, Auntie Meme would appear and wiggle her nose or give a special wink to help me out. She was a lot of fun.
“I’m not going to try to sugar coat it, her cakes were a big hit,” Auntie said.
“You put the spell on them.” I recalled the little stunt she pulled when Mrs. Hubbard and I had gone to refill the condiments on the tables.
“I didn’t put a spell on them, I made them using my own cooking techniques.” She waved her hand at the box and toward the entryway, allowing it to float the path, of which I was in the way. When the box passed me, an elf hat appeared on my head. Auntie Meme giggled.
“You and I both know what that means.” I opened the box and was happy to see Mom had picked a snowman theme for the family room. I loved a good snowman.
There was a knock on the front door. Auntie Meme and I looked at each other. We weren’t expecting company. We never expected company. She shrugged, we snapped our fingers and had the rooms completely decorated before she opened the door.
“Mick,” Auntie Meme put her hands together in delight. “Come on in.”
Mick? My mind reeled as to why he was there.
“Ho, ho, ho.” Joy bubbled in Mick’s voice. “Merry Christmas, Santa. Am I on the nice list or naughty?”
“We will see about that. Happy Thanksgiving.” Auntie Meme pulled the door wide open.
“It’s not quite Thanksgiving yet, but by the looks of it, you are just skipping it and going right on into Christmas,” he said with amusement and followed up with a sexy, deep laugh.
I walked into the entryway to stop him from coming deeper into the house.
“Mick.” I planted a smile on my face, but my insides were dying. He was already immune to any sort of spell because he was part of my Life’s Journey.
Actually, a spell I tried on him from me losing a friendly game of Truth or Spell between me and Lilith at The Derby, a neighborhood bar which sounded really good about now, had gone wrong. I was supposed to put a temporary cat spell on Mick when it bounced off of him and hit the wrong fellow. That’s when I knew my Life’s Journey had to do with Mick Jasper, only I didn’t know it was with SKUL until a few days later. Here we were today.
He was very good looking and pretty damn hot, but at a distance. I couldn’t put my heritage at risk for a fling with a mortal, not that he thought of me in that way.
“Book club?” He pointed to my head where I’d forgotten about the elf hat.
I dragged it off my head. “No book club tonight. Mom has entered the house into the Belgravia Court Historic Homes Christmas Tour.”
Auntie Meme had a group of witch friends called the Spell Circle. They got together and created new spells, or even just did cleansing spells in full witch regalia: pointy toe heeled boots, black dresses, hats and all. Mick always had the perfect timing of showing up when the Spell Circle was meeting and in order to explain their dress code, I lied and said it was her book club and they dressed to align with the book’s theme because he didn’t need to know who we really were.
“Oh, I thought you might be reading The Night Before Christmas.” He laughed and rolled back on his heels. “Hey, Maggie, can I talk to you?”
“Sure,” I moved past Auntie Meme and her prying smile, grabbing him by the elbow and dragging him out as fast as I could onto the front porch.
The nip in the late afternoon air tickled across my collar bones and I wished I had on a light jacket. October weather in Kentucky was a bit chilly in the mornings and nights but a bit warmer in the afternoon. It was a tad bit early for the breeze to hold a chill, which told me cold weather was coming and coming fast.
An twinge in my soul told me that we were being watched through Mrs. Hubbard’s binoculars, so I positioned us behind one of the pillars on our front porch.
“I wanted to make sure you knew that I didn’t kill those girls.” The corners of Mick’s eyes dropped.
“I know you didn’t.” Well, I didn’t know, but I had a hunch. “It really doesn’t matter what I think.”
“Sure it does.” Mick put his warm hand on my arm. He peeled off his black leather coat and wrapped it around my shoulders. “You’re cold.”
“Thanks.” I pulled the edges of the collar closer and kept it fisted. “I’m going to help out if Burt will let me.”
“No, I mean, I don’t want you,” he touched the front of his jacket on my chest, “to think I did this.”
My stomach twitched.
“I don’t date any and every girl that comes my way.” He stepped back and down a step. He cocked his right foot on the top step and leaned his forearm down on his thigh. He had on a pair of khaki pants and a blue-and-white-striped, long-sleeved polo with a pair of Sperry loafers. A typical southern outfit for a Kentucky man on a fall day. “I’m very selective about who knows me and who I date. They didn’t even know what I do for a living.”
“Okay.” Inside I cringed because I couldn’t come up with a better word than okay.
He straightened up when a group of people walked down the courtyard on Belgravia Court and turned right on St. James Street heading toward Central Park where the annual St. James Art Festival was in full swing.
“They must be going to the festival.” I didn’t recognize the group, which meant they didn’t live on Belgravia Court and were probably just looking around at our beautiful slice of heaven.
“I’m headed that way to see an old high school friend,” he said.
Mrs. Hubbard’s front door opened and King came charging out of the house yipping and yapping at the tourists walking on the other side of the black wrought iron fence on the side of Mrs. Hubbard’s house.
It was an ornamental fence that gave Belgravia Court a border between us and the outside walkway of St. James Street.
“Hi, Maggie,” Mrs. Hubbard called. There was a young man standing next to her. “This is my nephew visiting from New York. He’s a fancy art dealer.”
I squeezed a smile on my face and waved.
“I was telling him about the diner and he’s going to meet me there tomorrow for lunch.” Pride rolled across her face with each bounce she made on the balls of her feet.
I nodded again with the same stupid grin on my face. Auntie Meme was going to love this.
“Say,” Mick rubbed his hands together and turned my attention back to him. “Want to walk down with me?”
“Right now?” I asked.
“Yeah.” His blue eyes tugged at my heart.
“So we can discuss the case?” I asked.
“No. Just us going to look at the art,” he said. “And to meet up with my friend.”
“Sure.” My heart raced under his jacket. I took it off my shoulders to keep my trembling hands busy. I had no idea what was going on with me because no man had ever made me feel this way and it was new to me. I handed him his coat. “Let me get my coat.”
He stepped up on the step as if he were going to follow me. I opened the door.
“I’ll be right back.” I turned to him and held up a finger.
I leaned up against the shut door and closed my eyes trying to let the feeling pass.
“Ummhmmmm,” Auntie Meme hummed. “Yep. Your Life’s Journey is going to get you in trouble in more ways than one.”
I opened my eyes and looked at her. I hesitated, torn by conflicting emotions.