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Witch Way to Mistletoe & Murder
“I’m going to need chicken blood, salt, five candles, and a bottle of vodka.”
I looked at Gran in surprise. “Vodka? For the spell?” She was rummaging in the pantry and turned to me triumphantly, a bottle of vodka held aloft. Gran was what you’d call eccentric. She most certainly didn’t dress her age— eighty —and today's outfit was no exception. Zebra print leggings under a hot pink mini skirt, a leopard print halter top, and Ugg boots.
“No, that’s just to celebrate turning his weeny into a teeny tiny pickle.”
I laughed, the first true laugh I’d had in days. “You know I’m behind you one hundred percent,” I said, chuckling and wiping the tears from my eyes, “but one of us with a revoked witch’s license is enough, don’t you think? Plus, I already put him through hell.”
Gran slammed the vodka onto the table, making the vase in the center wobble and the wilting roses drop a few more petals onto the tablecloth. “You were too soft on the cheating bastard,” she scolded, placing two shot glasses on the table a little more gently. “A snake? You could have done better.”
“Don’t forget the monkey. Then a rat,” I reminded her. Though I’d turned my ex-fiancé into all of those things, I wasn’t proud of it. Gran, on the other hand, was indignant I hadn’t taken things further, like make Simon’s offending appendage drop off.
Simon was an English professor at the East Dondure University in the city. I worked as a librarian for the East Dondure Public Library—that was where we’d met when he’d come in requesting assistance on a paper he was writing on historical witchcraft from the 1650s. Our shared passion for books and history had been the beginning of a whirlwind courtship, and despite accepting his proposal, it had been over a year and we still hadn't set a date. Now there was no need. We'd been at the faculty’s annual Christmas Ball when I caught him in the cloak closet with a student. The rage that had roared through me had unleashed my magic in an unholy blast, turning him into creature after creature with no thought or control behind it. Unfortunately, my public display had consequences and here I was, back in Whitefall Cove living with my Gran.
Watching her struggle with the bottle of vodka, I took it from her and twisted the cap off, pouring us each a shot.
“Here’s to asshat’s pecker falling off!” Gran toasted.
“Gran,” I warned but raised my glass and tossed back the shot, my eyes watering as it burned down my throat, heating and then numbing. I coughed.
“Lightweight,” Gran muttered, not quite under her breath. Another thing about my Gran was that she could drink pretty much anyone under the table. Don’t let her diminutive size, and advanced age fool you; she had a cast iron liver and a taste for spirits—not of the ghostly kind.
“Child…” Reaching across the table Gran placed her gnarled hand on top of mine and squeezed. “It’s good to have you home. I’m sorry it’s under such circumstances, but it’s still good to have you here. Whitefall Cove has missed you.”
“I never thought I’d say this,” I admitted, eyes glassy, “but it’s good to be back.”
I’d been living in the city for five years and hadn’t been back in all that time. But after the incident at the Christmas Ball, I’d returned to the apartment I shared with the two-timing rat Simon when the decree from Drixworths Academy of Witchcraft and Wizardry had arrived, suspending my witch’s license, effective immediately. Further instructions to follow. I’d been stunned. I hadn’t expected my punishment to be so swift or brutal. Then the text had arrived from my boss. You’re fired. Perfect, I’d hit the trifecta. I knew then that I was done with city life. My career was over, no one would hire me again, not after the performance they’d all just witnessed, despite being the best damn librarian the city had ever seen, so I squeezed my belongings into my Lexus and hit the road.
“You’re taking all of this very well.” Gran peered at me as if her eyes could see into my very soul.
I shrugged. “Truth be told, Gran, I’m more upset about losing my witch’s license than I am about Simon.”
I looked at my left hand where a week ago a massive diamond ring had decorated my finger. I’d sold it at a jewelry store on my way out of the city, and had pocketed a sweet ten grand. I’d been silently surprised that Simon had bought such an expensive ring, but then he was all about appearances. And now that I knew the truth, knew that his engagement to me was a smokescreen for what he was really up to, I had no qualms about selling it.
I sighed, clenching my fingers into a fist and meeting Gran’s gaze. “I’ve done nothing but think about him and that night, and while I’m pissed off about the whole thing, I’m not brokenhearted.”
“You didn’t love him.” Gran nodded in understanding and I narrowed my eyes. Did she understand? How could she when she’d married the love of her life at eighteen and they’d been together, happy and in love, up until the day he’d died, ten years ago.
Sucking a deep breath into my lungs, I held it, then blew it out softly. “No. I didn’t love him.” But I’d thought I did. I'd believed myself to be in love with him. I guess he'd done me a favor.
“That’s why you wouldn’t set a date for the wedding. Despite having that ridiculous bauble on your hand.”
“I guess.” I hadn’t hung around to discuss it with Simon, to ask him why he’d cheated on me, or how long it had been going on. I’d been angry, furious even, but buried deep beneath it all was a sense of relief.
“This is where you belong, Harper. Want a waffle?” The abrupt change in topic had my head spinning and I laughed again. Life with Gran was never dull.
“Sure. Why not?” Ten o’clock at night drinking vodka shots and eating waffles. Only in Whitefall Cove.
Pulling out her wand, Gran set the kitchen to work and before long a plate piled high with waffles was sitting in front of us. I missed my magic. My own wand was upstairs in my room, as useless to me as a twig. Its magic had been stripped and I mourned the loss. I’d yet to hear from the Academy on how I could go about restoring my powers, but I held on to the last words of their message—more instructions to follow.
“You should buy The Dusty Attic,” Gran said, shoveling a mouthful of waffle into her mouth and pointing her fork at me.
“I didn’t know it was for sale. What happened to Mr. Dudley?”
“He and Eve retired to Florida. Six months ago. The bookstore has been sitting empty ever since.” She shoveled another mouthful in, nodding. “It would be perfect for you. And prove to the Academy that you’re getting some stability in your life.”
“Buying a bookstore would prove that?” I said. “Wouldn’t they think it was an impulse buy?”
“It’s not an impulse buy. The Dusty Attic has been waiting for you. It was always meant to be yours.”
I choked on a mouthful of waffle, coughing hard, my eyes streaming. When I eventually got myself under control Gran was still eating, unconcerned.
“What do you mean? About The Dusty Attic being mine?”
She shrugged, waving a hand in the air. “Oh you know, some things are destined, and this is one of them. We all wondered what that old bookstore was waiting for and when you came home it hit me. It was waiting for you.”
“How do you know that?”
“I just do. I’m an eighty-year-old witch. I have skills.”
I studied Gran for a moment. She had a point. She’d never steered me wrong. Even when she’d waved goodbye to me when I’d moved to the city, she’d wished me well and had told me that this was just one step on my life’s journey and that I would be back in Whitefall Cove one day. I hadn’t believed her. I had my sights set on bigger libraries than what Whitefall Cove could offer, and East Dondure Public Library was perfect. I made a comfortable salary, I lived in a comfortable apartment, lived a comfortable life. I had everything I thought I ever wanted. And then I hadn’t.
“I guess it couldn’t hurt to take a look.”
* * *
Stepping into Whitefall Cove’s only realtor office was bittersweet. Seeing my high school nemesis, Whitney Sims, wasn’t. Whitney hadn’t changed much. Still a tad overweight, still squeezing herself into skin-tight dresses. Her hair was better. Rather than the blonde frizz she’d battled in high school she now wore it in long sleek tresses curling over her shoulders, and her makeup was on point. Despite the heavy application, she was actually an attractive woman beneath the war paint.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t Harper Jones. I hear you need my help.” Her voice was the same. Nails on a blackboard. A shudder ran up my spine. I plastered a smile on my face and turned to greet her.
“It’s good to see you again, Whitney,” I lied, holding out my hand. She took it, her handshake limp. I schooled my face to hide the repulsion I felt. Wet fish handshakes made my skin crawl.
“I hear your career went up in flames.” The sneer curling her bright pink lips made me want to punch her in the face, but I restrained myself—she wasn’t worth the trouble.
“I’m here to sign the papers for The Dusty Attic. I assume you’re handling the sale since you’re the only realtor in town. Too bad you don’t have your own office and have to work out of Parker Construction,” I shot back. I wasn't about to let her walk all over me. A flush of color darkened Whitney’s cheeks, but whatever retort she had was interrupted by a young, attractive brunette carrying a cardboard tray of take-out coffees.
“Here you go, Whitney,” she said with a smile, then looked at me and frowned. “Oh I’m so sorry. I didn’t know Whitney had an appointment this morning or I would have gotten you one too.”
“Not a problem at all. I’m meeting a friend at Bean Me Up after this.” I smiled in response.
“I’m Christina, by the way.” She beamed at me and set the coffees down on the reception desk, then held out her hand and gave me a firm handshake. I smiled in delight.
“Oh yes, you’re buying The Dusty Attic.” She nodded enthusiastically. “I’m so excited to see what you’ll do with the place.”
“Thank you, Christina, that will be all,” Whitney cut in, a look of irritation pulling her brows together.
“You’ll get lines if you keep frowning like that.” The words slipped out before I could stop them, and judging by the stiffening of her spine and the way she squeezed her hand into a fist, Whitney did not appreciate my observation. Again, she was stopped from replying by the door bursting open and her husband, Bruce, stepping inside.
He nodded at Christina and then held out a phone to Whitney. “You left this at home.”
“Thanks.” After taking it from him, she ignored him completely.
He cleared his throat, threw me a smile and said, “Good to see you, Harper. Your gran sure is happy you’re home.”
“Oh God,” I groaned, “what has she done now?”
He laughed. “Nothing bad, I assure you! Although I’m not sure if you know she’s been putting up fliers around town announcing the grand new opening of The Dusty Attic?”
“She’s what?” I shook my head. No, I hadn’t known. I was signing the final papers this morning and collecting the keys. I was nowhere near ready for a grand opening. But that was typical Gran, ten steps ahead.
“She always was an interfering old biddy,” Whitney muttered.
Bruce looked at her with an expression on his face I couldn’t decipher. “On that note, I’ve got to run. Once again, welcome home, Harper, and congratulations.”
As he rushed out the door, Mike Palmer, owner of Palmer Construction, came in, talking on his phone. He paused when he saw me and smiled, lowering the phone for a second.
“Hi, Harper, welcome home.” Then his eyes landed on the coffees on the reception desk and he veered over, snatching up the one with his name on the lid. “Thanks, Christina, you’re an angel.”
“Come on, let’s go into my office,” Whitney grumbled, “it’s a madhouse out here this morning.”
I waved to Mike and followed Whitney. I’d thought her office would be immaculate, so I was beyond surprised at the chaos that greeted me. Boxes were stacked haphazardly, files were overflowing off the corner of her desk and onto the floor, her bookshelves were an absolute mess and there was clutter everywhere. Back in school Whitney had been the most organized—the most anal student of the entire school. What had happened to her?
“Take a seat.” She waved to where two chairs sat against the wall, both stacked high with magazines and various papers. I scooped a pile off a chair and gingerly balanced it on top of the pile on the other chair, praying I didn’t start a landslide. Dragging the chair up to Whitney’s desk, I sat.
She began typing into her computer, ignoring me. I decided to wait her out, knew she was doing a power play with me. She hadn’t liked me in school, I doubted very much she liked me now, and I’d seen the irritation on her face when the others had greeted me so warmly. Ten minutes dragged by and my patience was wearing thin. Pulling out my phone, I glanced at the time.
“Look, if you’re not prepared, we’ll have to reschedule,” I finally said. “I have another appointment to get to.”
Her eyes snapped to me. “I’m prepared.”
“Well then? What’s the hold-up?”
“Listen”—resting her elbows on the desk, she leaned toward me, her face a mask of dislike—“you may be used to the fast-paced city life, but that isn’t how things are done here in Whitefall Cove. I’m in charge. I’m the realtor, not you. From what I hear, you got fired as a librarian.” Her tone told me that my previous occupation as a librarian was barely above that of a dog walker in her eyes. I bristled at her insinuation that being a librarian wasn’t an honorable or worthy occupation. It was. I loved books; I’d spent hours at Whitefall Cove’s only library as a teenager. To lose my job in East Dondure had hurt, but the silver lining was returning home and buying a bookstore. As Gran said, it was meant to be.
Sucking in a deep breath, I remained seated, closed my eyes and fought for inner calm, before releasing my breath and opening my eyes to look at her.
“Like I said, it doesn’t look like you’re prepared.” I stood, preparing to leave. “Give me a call when you are and I’ll come back and sign the papers.”
She didn’t respond. Instead, she rummaged on her desk and opened a folder and slid a sheaf of papers toward me.
“Sign where indicated.” She didn’t offer a pen so I dug in my handbag for one and obediently signed the papers. Five minutes later I was done. The Dusty Attic was mine.
I waited for Whitney to say something, but when she didn’t, I prompted, “Keys?”
Her face darkened, and I saw the blush of color creep up her neck. Her eyes darted away, and her fingers curled into fists on the desk.
“Can I deliver them to you later?” she asked. I could see the level of control it took for her to keep her voice even, so I could only assume that she’d misplaced the keys. I decided to take pity on her. I could see how having to deal with me was grating on her nerves.
“Sure.” I stood, slinging my bag over my shoulder. “Let’s meet at The Dusty Attic at ten.” I’d give her an hour to find the keys.
Nodding curtly she said, “I’ll see you then.”