Once upon a time in a land closer than anyone might be comfortable with, a demon high lord was sent to destroy a small, starving (and, let’s face it, weird) band of settlers who were fleeing the last town they’d tried to settle in (a place eventually known as Kansas City, Missouri, the Show Me State, which did indeed show them tar and feathers and the road west). The group was composed of magical misfits and outcasts: a bloodaphobic vampire, a black-magic witch and her white-magic husband, a pack of amorous (translation: hump-happy) werewolves, and a man named John, who had gotten confused and joined the wrong wagon train. When the demon spied this ragged, rejected bunch, he (for a reason known only to himself but which had to do with uncontrollable random acts of kindness) decided not just to spare them but to create a magical haven for them.
And so, nestled in a beautiful valley in the Rocky Mountains, the town of Mysteria was founded. Over the years, it became a refuge for creatures of the night and those unwanted by traditional society. No one—or thing—was turned away. Magic thrived, aphrodisiacs laced the pollen, and fairy tales came true.
The first settlers eventually died (those that weren’t already dead or undead, that is), but they left pieces of themselves behind. The vampire invented a powerful blood-appetite suppressant for any other vampires with a fear of blood. The witch and the warlock created a wishing well—a wishing well that swirled and churned with both white and black magic, a dangerous combination. The hump-happy werewolves left the essence of perpetual springtime and love (translation: they peed all around the boundary of the city, so that everyone—or thing—that entered or left Mysteria was, well, marked). John, the only nonmagical being in the group, left his confused but mundane genes, founding a family that would ultimately spawn more humans of nonmagical abilities who remained in Mysteria because finding their way out was just too much like geometry.
Each of the settlers thought, as their spirits floated to the heavens—all right, some of them went straight to hell, the naughty sinners—that their best contribution to the fantastical town of Mysteria was a happily-ever-after for their descendants. If only they could have known the events that would one day unfold . . .
The Witches of Mysteria and the Dead Who Love Them
MEN suck,” Genevieve Tawdry muttered, “and not in a good way.”
She was tired, so very tired, of Hunter Knight’s hot and cold treatment of her. He was making her crazy, laughing with her flirtatiously one moment (translation: stringing her along without giving her any actual benefits, the bastard), then dropping her altogether the next moment, then laughing flirtatiously with her again.
She wasn’t going to tolerate it anymore.
Unfortunately, lovesick witch that she was, Genevieve didn’t have the strength to shove him from her life—which meant she would have to up her game. But how? Truly, she’d tried everything. Spells and incantations. “Accidental” meetings where she happened to be braless. “Accidentally” ramming her car into the back end of his Ford Explorer. Or the latest, an incident that happened only last night, “accidentally” tripping and falling into his lap at a mutual friend’s wedding.
Last night had been a “cold” night. Hunter had taken one look at her in her brand-new white silk dress (no, she hadn’t been the bride and yes, the bride had been pissed that she’d dared to wear the “sacred” color) and he hadn’t been able to get away from her fast enough. She sighed.
What would it take to make herself irresistible to him? To hold his attention for as long as she desired it? To at last put an end to the heart-pounding tension that always sparked between them when they were together? Whatever was needed, she’d do it. Anything. Everything.
“I’m seriously a stalker.” Frowning, she tapped her fingers against the desk surface.
Moonlight spilled through the window in front of her, mingling with the soft glow of lamplight, illuminating the unread book in front of her. Incense burned beside her, the scent of jasmine curling sweetly and fragrancing the air.
She sat in the office of the three-bedroom home, aka den of iniquity, she shared with her two sisters, hunched over the desk, dark strands of hair falling over her shoulders. Behind her, the TV emitted a crunch, crunch sound, as if someone on-screen was enjoying a tasty snack. A family of squirrels raced around her feet—her oldest sister’s newest save-the-world-one-animal-at-a-time “project.”
I don’t want to be Hunter’s stalker. I want to be his lover.
Over the years, he had become the bane of her existence, the mountain she’d tried to climb (naked) but couldn’t quite manage to conquer. But damn it. He liked her; she knew he did. Last night, before he’d run away from her, she would have sworn he’d had an erection and had been desperate to get to her, not away. Desperate to touch her. Desperate to taste her.
Heat had blazed in his emerald eyes, scorching, white-hot. Enough to blister. He’d reached for her, his fingers caressing her with phantom strokes, before he dropped his arm to his side. He’d licked his lips and taken a step toward her before catching himself and striding away.
Why, why, why did he continually do crap like that?
If not for moments like those, she might have given up long ago and forced herself to forget him. Yet, he’d beaten John Foster to a bloody pulp for trying to kiss her. He always walked her home if he saw her in town. And it was her he’d called when his father had died, seeking comfort. Her he came to when he had a problem at work and needed help finding a solution.
That meant something. Didn’t it?
“Maybe you should offer to ride him like a carnival pony,” Glory said from behind her. “That always works for me.”
Genevieve twisted to face her younger sister. “What are you doing in here?” she gasped out in surprise.
Glory brushed away the cheese dust on her lips. “Uh, spying. Hello. I say sleep with some other man and forget Hunter.”
Always the same advice. Genevieve eased slowly to her feet. “How would you like it if I cast a spell, bringing every one of those chips to life and letting them exact their revenge against you?”
Glory’s hazel eyes flashed. “You wouldn’t dare!”
“Oh, really? Keep talking, then, and by tomorrow morning the entire town will be talking about the Great Doritos Death.”
“Is that before or after they talk about Stalkerella and her unwilling victim?”
For several seconds, she and Glory glared at each other. Hunter was a sore spot for Genevieve; food was a sore spot for Glory.
Finally Glory expelled a deep breath, and her features slowly softened. “Evie, when are you going to realize Hunter will never want you the way you want him? He dates everything that moves and even some things that don’t. But not you. Never you. He just, well, I didn’t want to be the one to tell you this, but he pities you.”
“He does not.”
“Yes, he does.”
“No, he desires me.”
“That’s delusion talking, and something every stalker says.”
“I’m not stalking him,” she said with a stubborn tilt of her chin, even though she herself had thought the very same thing. “I’m seducing him.”
Her sister rolled her eyes and popped another chip in her mouth. “That’s like saying murdering your neighbor is merely giving them a big send-off.”
“Girls, please.” Godiva, the oldest sister, strode into the room, her silver-white hair streaming behind her. She wore ripped jeans and a faded blue T-shirt, both of which were streaked with blood, dirt, and dark fur. “I’ve got an injured wolf in the kitchen and your arguing is upsetting him.”
“You brought an injured wolf into the house?” All traces of color abandoned Glory’s cheeks. “I can live with the squirrels and the wood mice, but a wolf? No way. They’re dangerous killers, Diva. They like to claw witches like us into bite-sized nibblets and feast on the pieces.”
“We have nothing to fear from him.” Godiva anchored her hands on her hips. “He’s too weak to cause us any harm.”
“Where is he?” Genevieve asked, trying to push Hunter—and Glory’s remarks—to the back of her mind. Her sister didn’t understand. How could she? She’d never been in love, never been consumed by the emotion. Never wanted more from a man than temporary satisfaction.
“He’s in the kitchen, and I could use your help.”
“Of course.” Following behind her older sister, Genevieve dragged a protesting Glory down the hall and into the kitchen.
Glory immediately flattened herself against the wall, surrounding herself with faux plant leaves, maintaining a safe distance from the large—very large—animal lying on the black and white tiled floor. As if she could hide with hair as vivid red as hers. Godiva bent over him, dabbing a steaming cloth over the jagged, bleeding claw wounds on his belly. He whimpered up at her, his eyes big and brown and glazed with pain.
Genevieve crouched beside her oldest sister. “What do you need me to do?”
They spent the next several hours murmuring peace spells, applying salve, and stitching the poor wolf’s wounds. He drifted in and out of sleep, but through it all he responded to Godiva’s every touch, recognizing her voice, her scent, and calming whenever she approached.
“He likes you,” Genevieve said.
“I think he recognizes me and feels safe. I’ve seen him before, in the forest. I was gathering herbs, and he was watching me.”
Genevieve wished Hunter responded to her half as much as this wolf responded to her sister. Since the day Hunter had saved her from gracing the dessert menu of a rabid gnome, she’d loved him.
She’d been seventeen years old at the time and he twenty-two, but she’d known she belonged with him. They’d even kissed that day, a delicious, mind-shattering kiss she’d never forgotten. Yes, she’d relived it in her dreams over and over again.
They were meant to be together, damn it. The way he sometimes treated her like a curse of hemorrhoids, no anti-itch cream in sight, had to stop! Did he think she meant to use him as a sexual toy then kick him out of her life? If so, he should love that. Did he think she meant to ruin their friendship? Well, she didn’t. She wanted to love him (hard core).
She would never, ever do anything to hurt him. Well . . . she bit her bottom lip. Fine. That wasn’t exactly true. Once she’d cast a seduction spell over him, hoping he would become sexually enthralled with the first woman he saw (which would have been her). Instead, she’d made nearly every woman in Mysteria, a town known for its weirdness, fall into instant lust with him. Even her sisters had been trapped under the spell. For days the entire female population had followed him everywhere, ripping at his clothes, begging him to make love to them.
“Even if the wolf saw you before,” Glory said, the sound of her voice breaking into Genevieve’s thoughts, “that’s not reason enough for him to respond so favorably to you. He acts like he adores you.” She frowned. “Hey, did you give him one of my love potions?”
“Of course not,” Godiva said. “I think he senses that I mean him no harm.”
At Glory’s words, a wonderfully frightening idea danced inside Genevieve’s mind, an idea she’d always discarded before—and no, she wasn’t going to injure Hunter to gain his attention (although she wouldn’t rule that out, the sexy bastard). What if she drank a love potion? What if she made herself so irresistible he wouldn’t think of turning her away? She’d never dared drink one before; there were simply too many uncertain variables.
For one night in his arms, though, she was now willing to risk it. Risk the deflation of her inhibitions, the danger of enticing the love of a legion of other men. The danger of loving him forever and him only loving her for a single night. Hell, she already loved him and she didn’t see an end in sight for the emotion. For Hunter, she’d risk anything. Everything. Except . . .
Genevieve uttered a sigh. Did she really want to win him because of a potion and not because he simply wanted her? Yes, she decided in the next instant. The stubborn man needed a push in the right direction, and she was tired of waiting for that to happen naturally. Her patience was frayed beyond repair.
Besides, if she had to watch him flirt and laugh with another woman one more time, just one more time, she’d fly into a rampage worthy of the Desdaine triplets, the town’s most notorious troublemakers.
Now that she had a plan, urgency rushed through her. She glanced at the clock above the refrigerator. Ten P.M. Knight Caps, Hunter’s bar, would be open for at least four more hours.
“Will you be okay on your own?” she asked Godiva.
“Hey, she’s not alone. I’m here,” Glory said with a pout.
“Oh, sorry. Will you be okay with Glory standing in the shadows and doing nothing?”
“I’ll be fine.” Godiva nodded. “Candy Cox should be here any minute. She’s going to sit with me.” Candy—oops, Candice—was the high school English teacher and Godiva’s best friend. “My big boy is finally resting peacefully. Why? Are you going out?”
“Yes.” She offered no other explanation. Neither of her sisters approved of her obsession with Hunter.
“Where are you going?” Glory asked suspiciously. She inched to the kitchen table, keeping the long length of the hand-carved mahogany between herself and the wolf.
“I’m. Going. Out.”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it.” She paused, then her pretty face scrunched in disgust. “You’re going to see him, aren’t you?”
Genevieve’s back went ramrod straight. “So what if I am? You got something to say about it?”
“Nope. Not a word. Except, if you want to make a fool of yourself over him again, go for it. Just know that the town isn’t laughing with you, they’re laughing at you.”
Her fists clenched at her sides. “You’re just begging for a piece of me, Glor.”
Awakening, the wolf raised his head, his lips pulling tight over his fangs.
“Don’t listen to them,” Godiva cooed at him. She smothered her fingers over his thick fur, giving her sisters a pointed glare. “They’re showing their stupidity, and it’s quite embarrassing.”
“We’re not embarrassing,” Glory said. “You’re embarrassing! You treat that mutt better than you treat your beloved sisters.”
“With good reason.”
As they argued, anticipation and nervousness zinged through Genevieve’s veins. Not for the proposed trip into hell, but for the coming night. Now that she’d decided to do it, to love-potion the pants right off of Hunter, she didn’t want to waste another minute. “Glory, I’d like to talk with you privately,” she said sweetly. She motioned to the living room with a tilt of her chin. “I don’t want to fight.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Okay, stay here then. I’m sure the wolf won’t regain full strength soon and be disoriented and afraid. He won’t fly into a rampage and—”
Glory jolted backward with a gasp. “Alright. Fine.” One tiny step, two, she scooted around the table, around the wolf. “I’ll meet you in the living room.”
Dissatisfied with such a gradual pace, Genevieve reached out, grabbed her younger sister’s hand, and tugged her into the next room. In the center, she whirled. She was almost bubbling over. Tonight might be the night all her dreams came true. . . . Glory’s love potions were legendary. Each sister specialized in a different area of magic. While she herself wielded the darkest power, that over vengeance, Godiva’s strength was in healing, both spiritual and physical, and Glory’s was in love.
“I want to drink one of your love potions. And don’t say no.”
Glory pursed her lips and crossed her arms over her chest. “How about: hell, no.”
“Nein. Nay. Non.”
She pushed out a frustrated breath. “Why not?”
“Evie,” her sister said, her expression softening, “he’s not good enough for you. When are you going to realize that? I’m more inclined to turn him into an impotent troll than help you win his affections.”
“It’s one night, Glor. What can that hurt?”
“It wouldn’t be one night for you. You’d want more.”
True. So true. Deep down, she hoped Hunter would be so enthralled by her that he’d become addicted to her touch. “If he doesn’t want me after the potion, I’ll take a blood oath never to speak to him again.” A small lie, really, since she only planned to leave out one word. Never.
“Please. I’ll bake those eye of newt muffins you love so much.”
“Oh, you bitch. I love those.” Several minutes passed in thick, brooding silence, before she shook her head. “Nope, sorry. I simply can’t allow you to endure more hurt because of him.”
“I’ll wreak vengeance upon your greatest enemy. I’ll go total witch on their ass.”
Glory opened her mouth, then closed it with a snap. Opened. Closed. Her hazel eyes gleamed hopefully, glowing with otherworldly power like they did just before a spell. “Horrible, painful vengeance?”
“Even if it’s, say, against Falon Ryis?”
“Hunter’s best friend? He’s your greatest enemy?” Genevieve blinked in surprise. “I didn’t know you and Falon had even spoken to each other. Ever.”
Glory’s jaw clenched stubbornly. “I’m not going to explain. You make his life miserable, I’ll give you the potion. Take it or leave it.”
She didn’t have to think about her answer. “I’ll take it.”
Glory slowly smiled. “Then the potion is yours.”
“Thank you, thank you!” With a joyous whoop, she threw her arms around her sister. Sometimes family was a wonderful thing.
“What’s going on in there?” Godiva called.
Glory said, “Genevieve accidentally conjured a male stripper, and we’re placing dollar bills in his G-string. Just ignore us.”
“Ha, ha. Very funny,” came the muffled reply. Then, “I’ll be there in a sec.”
“Come on.” Glory extracted herself from the bear hug and flounced down the candlelit hall, through thickly painted shadows, toward their bedrooms. “It’s in my room. I really hope you know what you’re doing,” she murmured.
Did she? Genevieve mused. Not really. Did she care? Hell, no. Thoughts of lying naked in Hunter’s arms eclipsed all else. He’d trace his fingers over her breasts, roll her nipples between his fingers. He’d kiss a path down her stomach, lingering, licking . . . “Uh, can we put a rush order on that potion?”
Glory unlocked her door with a quietly muttered “Open” and a wave of her delicate hand. Instantly the thin slab of wood creaked open. They stepped inside the room.
Genevieve’s jaw nearly hit the ground. She rarely ventured in there and was momentarily shocked by the total chaos. Clothes and empty food cartons were scattered all over the floor, a sea of reds, blues, greens, and sweet and sour chicken orange.
“I need a minute,” Glory said, already tossing shoes and other items aside as she scrounged through the mess.
“No, you need a maid.” She pinched the 38D bra hanging from the lampshade between her fingers before dropping it on top of the matching panties at her feet.
“I’ve been depressed and haven’t cleaned. Big deal.” Pause. “Ah-ha! I found you, you little sneak.” Smiling, Glory jumped up. A red bottle dangled from her fingers. “Love potion number thirteen.”
Genevieve frowned. “I want love potion number nine.”
“Trust me. Nine sucks. You want to ride a man like a bronco at peak rodeo season, you go with thirteen.”
“I’ll take it.” Genevieve grabbed the crimson container and gently rolled it between her fingers. Dark liquid swirled inside, mesmerizing her. This was it, the answer to her prayers. Her heart drummed in her chest, faster, faster, then skipped a beat. This innocent-looking bottle was about to gift her with the best night of her life. Eager to begin, she reached for the cork, but her sister’s next words stilled her hand.
“Drink half just before you walk into the bar, not a moment sooner. Only half. Understand?” Urgency rang from her voice like a clarion of bells.
“Uh, hello. You’ll have every man in Mysteria following you and fighting for your attention if you drink it now. And the full bottle will cause . . . too much passion in you. Now go. Get out of here before I change my mind.”
Genevieve needed no further prompting. “I love you.” She kissed her sister’s cheek and raced to her room. Quickly she changed into the sluttiest outfit she possessed. A black dress with a V neck so low it nearly touched her navel. The hem dangled mere inches below the curve of her ass. A little uncomfortable with the amount of skin showing, she slipped on a pair of tall hooker boots that hit just above her knees.
She left her hair down, the brunette tresses hanging along the curve of her back in sexy disarray. She spritzed jasmine perfume between her breasts and swiped do-me-hard red gloss over her lips. There. Done.
After grabbing a quarter, she grabbed her broom and skipped outside. Flying would be faster than driving. A cool night breeze kissed every inch of visible flesh—and boy, was there a lot of it. Amid the romantic haze of moonlight, insects sang a welcoming chorus, interspersed prettily with the buzz of fairy wings. Once she’d settled on top of the skinny broom handle, careful to cover her butt so she didn’t moon the entire town, she commanded the contraption to fly.
“High, high my stead will soar. Touch the ground we shall no more.” As the words left her mouth, the broom inched higher and higher into the air, then sped forward, moving faster than any car. Long tendrils of dark hair whipped her face, slapping her cheeks. Plumes of pink pollen whizzed past her, leaving behind an erotic scent.
When the lights of the town square came into view, framed by towering, majestic snowcapped mountains, she lowered and slowed. She stopped at the One-Stop Mart and bought a package of condoms from the pink-haired kid at the register. Outside, she popped back onto her broom and stuffed several foil wrappers in her dress.
Ever upward she soared again, past the tall pines. Whitewashed wooden buildings, dirt roads, and friendly people came into view, each weirder than the next. Psychics, vampires, trolls, fairies—Mysteria turned no one away.
As she flew over the town’s wishing well, a lovely arching marble structure that glittered in the moonlight, she swooped low and dropped her quarter inside. “Let tonight be exciting,” she said, wanting the wish to come true with every fiber of her being. Wisps of magic ribboned in the air, curling into the sky, making her shiver. She grinned.
Soon Knight Caps entered her line of vision, the tall stone structure bursting with people, laughter, and gyrating music. She slowed. Her heart raced when she finally stopped at the side of the building. Her palms began to sweat as she hovered, hidden by the shadows. What if Hunter was somehow able to resist the potion? She swallowed the sudden lump in her throat. What if she failed to attract him? What if—
Her teeth ground together. No. No thoughts of failure. Not tonight. Tonight wishes came true.
Stiffening her shoulders, she hopped to the ground. Her broom fell with a thump. Already she could sense Hunter’s presence inside. His warm essence swirled around her, layered with a subtle fragrance of sex appeal and man. With shaky fingers, she studied the bottle one last time, only then seeing the warning label on the side.
“May cause dizziness,” she read. “This drug may impair the ability to drive or operate machinery. Use care until you become familiar with its effects. Seek medical attention if liquid comes into contact with eyes.”
Nothing she couldn’t handle, she thought, popping the bottle’s cork. “Bottom’s up, Evie.” She drained the contents. If half would make Hunter love her for a night, just think of what the full bottle could do. There was no such thing as too much passion. The bitter liquid tasted foul on her tongue, and she felt its quick descent into her stomach. Burning, burning. So hot. She coughed and doubled over. Her blood boiled, setting fire to everything inside her. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to scream, but no sound emerged.
Thankfully the burning soon faded as if it had never been.