PRAISE FOR HEATHER BLAKE’S WISHCRAFT MYSTERY SERIES
OTHER MYSTERIES BY HEATHER BLAKE
For baby J
with so much love, little one.
Something wicked this way came.
It blew into the Enchanted Village as surely as the warm breeze that rustled oak leaves barely unfurled from tightly wound buds.
Villagers had been coaxed out of their homes by an early mid-May heat wave to bask in the warmth after a long arduous winter. Flowers bloomed, morning dew glistened on vibrant green grass, and sunshine beamed down.
It should have been bliss, but as I stepped off the front porch at As You Wish—my aunt Ve’s personal concierge business where I both worked and lived—and scanned the village square, I couldn’t shake an uneasiness that had the baby-fine hair at the back of my neck standing on end.
My companion, Curecrafter Cherise Goodwin, paused in her descent of the steps to look at me, concern etched in her eyes. “Something wrong, Darcy?”
Wind suddenly gusted, carrying bad juju along with the sweet scent of lilac from colorful bushes dotting the landscape.
There was evil in the air, whirling around as surely as the magic that made this village so special.
Long strands of dark hair flew across my face. “‘Something wicked this way comes,’” I said, properly quoting Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Looking around, I tried to see something, anything, that would explain the feeling.
The Enchanted Village, a themed touristy neighborhood of Salem, Massachusetts, was truly magical, filled with Crafters, witches who’d lived on this land for hundreds of years. As a fairly new Wishcrafter—a witch who could grant wishes using a special spell—I believed it to be the most extraordinary place in the whole world. I’d moved here almost a year ago from Ohio, and now I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
Being enchanted, however, didn’t mean this village was immune to wickedness. There’d been several murders here over the past eleven months. Cases I helped solve. I’d become accustomed to trusting my instincts, and right now I couldn’t shake a strong sense of foreboding.
In her fifties, Cherise knew this village inside and out—and as a Crafter she knew not to dismiss seemingly random feelings outright. She had the decency to wait a few seconds.
“Nonsense!” She came down the steps and linked arms with me. “It’s a glorious day. A more flawless one I couldn’t have conjured even with the best weather spell out there. Breathe deeply, Darcy. Raise your face to the sun. Take it all in. It’s the perfect day to buy a house, don’t you think?”
If Cinderella’s fairy godmother had a cool hip sister, it would be Cherise. She had a kind round face, flawless skin, and razor-sharp eyes. A silver-blond bob accented a pointy chin, and chunky earrings tugged at her lobes. She was one of the first Crafters I met after moving in with my aunt Ve last June, and though our friendship started off a bit rough when a wish-gone-wrong made her daughter-in-law and granddaughter disappear (temporarily, thank goodness), we’d grown closer over time. Which was why we were together now.
Cherise had hired me through As You Wish to help her house hunt within the village. Years ago, she’d moved out of the neighborhood, closer to the Salem coastline, and was now at the point in her life when she wanted to come home, so to speak. She was looking for the perfect place to set up a home-based business. Though every Crafter in the village knew her as a Curecrafter, a healing witch, mortals knew her as a naturopath. Her talents were in high demand.
“You really don’t feel it?” I asked, rubbing my arms to get rid of the goose bumps. Squinting against the sunshine, I scoped out the village green. Tourists wandered around, browsing shops, picnicking, and enjoying the walking paths twining in and around the square.
Cherise let out a sigh. “No. Maybe you’re nervous about the upcoming election?”
My aunt Ve was running for village council chairman against her former fiancé, Sylar Dewitt. She’d thrown her name on the ballot as a last-minute decision when Sylar, a mortal, declared he was in favor of a proposal to allow a section of the Enchanted Woods to be razed so fifty new homes could be built. Representing most of us Crafters, Ve took a stand. The woods were . . . sacred. Magical. The section designated for the new neighborhood included the mystical meadow belonging to the Elder, the governess of the Craft. The land had to be saved. There was no other option.
Ve had been running around like a crazy witch the last couple of months, but Election Day was finally approaching. Next Tuesday the madness would be over, and next Wednesday would be the council vote that would decide the fate of the neighborhood proposal.
“No,” I said. “It’s not that.”
“Perhaps you meant, something witchy this way comes.” She laughed at her own joke. “After all, the Roving Stones are due to return this weekend. I know there’s a history between you and Andreus Woodshall.”
The village green, empty right now except for the picnickers, would start filling with numerous tents and booths tomorrow in preparation of opening to the weekend crowds. The Roving Stones was a traveling rock and mineral show that made stops in the village a few times a year. The last time the show was in town its director, Charmcrafter Andreus Woodshall (nicknamed Mr. Macabre), who specialized in black opals, and I had been mixed up in a murder case. We hadn’t exactly parted as friends. “Maybe,” I said. It seemed the most plausible reason. If anyone carried around bad juju, it was Andreus.
“Would you like a calming spell?” Cherise asked, eagerly rubbing her hands together. “Serenity is at my fingertips. Om.”
Her exuberance made me smile. “Thank you, but I’ll be okay.” I didn’t like to take advantage of my friends’ abilities. Often. “I’ll just keep an eye out.”
Tipping her head back, she laughed. “Let’s focus on the positive. Let’s look at the Tavistock house and decide once and for all if I should increase my bid. Come, come.”
The village’s real estate market hadn’t suffered from the recent crash that shook most of the country. Sales remained strong—one of the reasons Sylar claimed the village needed more housing. Even so, the response to the sale of the Tavistock house—calling it a “fixer-upper” was putting it mildly—had astonished me. In the two weeks it had been on the market, there had been so much interest that a bidding war had broken out. Last night, the real estate agent listing the house, Raina Gallagher, had contacted all interested buyers and told them to bring their best offer to the table by midnight tonight. A final decision would be made in the morning.
To make matters more exciting, the transaction was being overseen by a national TV producer who wanted to set a house-hunting show in the village, so the whole venture had turned into a job interview of sorts for Raina. She was the front-running choice for hosting the show, and it made sense. With her short jet-black hair and dark eyes, she was exotically pretty and also vivacious and outgoing. The life of the party. Not to mention she was a Vitacrafter, a witch who was able to read people’s energy, which made her extremely good at her job.
We were due to meet Raina at ten a.m. to have another walk-through of the property, and we were running late. Fortunately, Cherise and I didn’t have far to travel. One lone residence stood between As You Wish and the Tavistock house. The sandwiched home belonged to Terry Goodwin, who happened to be the ex-husband of both Cherise and Aunt Ve. The elusive Elvis look-alike and my aunt had rekindled their love affair last fall, but their relationship was fizzling more than igniting. As a Numbercrafter who worked as an accountant, Terry had been swamped during tax season and had little time for dating, and now Ve had her election to deal with, and Terry wasn’t exactly a supporter. He thought she was busy enough as it was and that running for office would further strain their relationship.
His stance hadn’t been a popular one with Ve, and they’d had a couple of arguments about it already. I had the feeling Ve was using her campaign as an excuse to distance herself from him. Because at the heart of the matter was the fact that Ve had commitment issues. Big ones.
Archie, a scarlet macaw who lived with Terry, sat in his elaborate cage in Terry’s side yard, regaling a group of tourists with a dramatic reading of the opening text crawl of Star Wars (the original).
There was little Archie enjoyed more than being dramatic.
“‘Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents,’” he intoned, his deep voice rich with a rising and falling British accent.
Enraptured tourists looked on with awe. I waved to Archie as we passed by, and he winked at me. The tourists didn’t know Archie wasn’t just a parrot with a good memory—he was a familiar, a Crafter spirit who had chosen to take on an animal’s form.
Once upon a time he’d worked as a London stage actor. He clearly hadn’t lost an ounce of his theatrics.
Cherise slowed to a stop in front of her dream house, and leaned on the wrought iron fence that enclosed a weed-infested yard.
The old Tavistock place.
Over the years the large bungalow had been maintained only enough to appease village ordinances. The prior owner, Eleta Tavistock, a Geocrafter who’d lived in this house her whole life—seventy-four years—had been agoraphobic, never once leaving the house in all the time I’d lived here.
Her unusual behavior fostered a rumor that she had also cursed the house itself to keep people out. I had the sneaking suspicion Eleta herself had spread that gossip so people would leave her alone.
Apparently others shared my suspicion, if the bids on the home were any indication. There was no lack of potential buyers.
I personally had never met Eleta, but I’d felt a great sense of sadness after her death two months ago because her lone living relative, a distant cousin, had no interest in Eleta or her funeral. Only a handful of villagers had attended her services.
The cousin had opted to sell the house, and it had taken a bit of time to go through proper probate procedures until now here we stood.
Cherise’s hand curled possessively around a bulbous finial as though she already owned it. “It needs some work, I admit. But I think it’s a good investment. Don’t you?”
The two-story Craftsmanesque bungalow had three gables, one centered on the second floor, and two smaller ones that flanked it on the lower level. The front porch sagged, and a rotting pergola to the right of the house had collapsed under the weight of out-of-control wisteria vines. A few of the stacked stones on the front porch columns had long crumbled, and the blue-stained clapboard facade desperately needed new paint and repair. Overgrown shrubs and a large oak tree in the front yard practically begged for a good pruning. A wooden post with a dangling Magickal Realty FOR SALE sign cast a long shadow across an uneven brick walkway invaded by grass.
I wrinkled my nose. “Don’t you think the cottage on Maypole Lane is a better choice? The location isn’t as good, true, but it’s cheaper and it needs only minimal renovations.”
The sun made Cherise’s eyes sparkle. “Darcy, you’re not trying to talk me out of this house so you can have it for yourself, are you?”
I had to confess to a pang of envy. Something about this house had drawn me in the moment I found out it was for sale. It was a visceral connection. One I couldn’t quite explain. I’d love to own it, to put my stamp on it, and bring it back to its original glory. “You know I do love it, but it’s simply not for me.”
Though I wished it were. I really did, which was all kinds of silly. My life was . . . settled.
I couldn’t really imagine moving out of As You Wish, leaving behind all the things that were starting to feel like home. Then there was village police chief Nick Sawyer to think about. Our relationship had never been better. We’ve been dating for almost a year, and it was becoming clear it may be time to take the next step, and he and his daughter, Mimi, already had a lovely house a couple of blocks away. Having two homes was a complication we didn’t need to take on.
But this house . . . I sighed. It felt like it was supposed to be mine.
“And hardly a realistic possibility,” I added, trying to talk myself out of the impossible. Though I had a decent inheritance from my late father, it wasn’t near the money I’d need for a house like this. “I don’t have your kind of resources, Miss Moneybags.”
She laughed again, and squeezed my arm. “If I get it, I promise to take good care of it.”
If I couldn’t have the home, then Cherise was a great choice. She would honor the character, the history. But it was a big if. The other buyers didn’t seem to be backing down.
“Let’s go have another look, shall we?” Cherise finally let go of that poor finial, and I followed her to the front door. She knocked, then tried the knob.
“Locked,” she said, glancing at her watch. “It’s unusual for Raina to be late. She’s always early.”
“I’m sure she’ll be here soon. It’s a busy time of year for her.” The spring housing market had exploded. Magickal Realty, owned by Raina and her husband, Kent, had dozens of listings in and around the village. “And don’t forget Scott Whiting is following her around, asking every question under the sun.”
Scott Whiting was the producer in charge of the home show that had its sights set on filming in the village.
“True enough,” she said, grinning. “What a hoot it would be to have a show taped here, no?”
“Maybe,” I reasoned. “But some things around here aren’t easily explained.” Like how Wishcrafters showed up on film as bright white starbursts.
“True, true,” Cherise said, nodding as though just considering those kinds of issues.
Currently, there were two obstacles that stood in the way of the show starting production. The first was that a special filming permit needed approval from the village council—which was also going to be voted on at the next village council meeting—and second was that Scott Whiting had to definitively decide on a host for the show.
As Cherise and I sat on the sagging top step to await Raina’s arrival, I glanced next door at Terry’s house. A curtain suddenly swished closed in an upstairs window—he’d been watching us, and I had to wonder what he thought about possibly living between two ex-wives.
If I were him, I’d consider selling his place.
“Oh, here comes Calliope,” Cherise said, standing up and dusting off her knee-length shorts.
Calliope Harcourt had her head down, reading something on her phone, as she hurried along. When she made an abrupt right turn to come up the walkway, she gasped when she finally looked up and realized she wasn’t alone. She dropped a binder she was carrying and laughed as she picked it up. “I should pay more attention. Hello!”
Mid-twenties, Calliope had just earned her master’s degree from Boston College, and intelligence shone in blue eyes that slanted downward at their corners. She was a tiny thing—barely five feet tall with an oval face, rectangular glasses, and shiny auburn hair pulled back in a loose bun. Wearing dress pants, a short-sleeved floral-print top, and ballet flats, she looked every bit a bookworm.
When I first met her, Calliope had been working part-time for Sylar Dewitt at his optometry office. It wasn’t long after he married the atrocious Dorothy Hansel, one of his optician assistants, that Calliope had started looking for a new job. I didn’t blame her. I could only imagine how overbearing Dorothy had become after marrying the boss. Where Dorothy was concerned, walking away was often necessary before something homicidal happened.
Been there, done that.
Kent and Raina had hired Calliope straight off, and she’d been working for them almost a year now, but their time with her was limited. She’d been sending out résumés for her dream job as a museum archivist for a few months now and it was just a matter of time before she found a position.
“You looked engrossed,” Cherise said, smiling.
“An e-mail from Kent to draw up a contract when I’m through here. He and Raina are running me ragged. Plus, dealing with the TV show details . . .” She smiled, not seeming to be bothered in the least. She glanced around. “Raina asked me to meet her here with papers for you to sign, Ms. Goodwin. Is she inside?”
“She’s not here, dear,” Cherise said. “We’ve been waiting for her to have our walk-through.”
“That’s strange.” Confusion filled her eyes, and her eyebrows dipped. “I know she had a morning meeting with Scott Whiting. Maybe it ran late.” She shrugged. “Let’s go in. At least you can look around while we wait for her to get here.”
Calliope tucked her binder under her arm and bent to tackle the lockbox on the door. A second later, she had the key in her hand and was slipping it into the door. A one-carat crystal-clear diamond sparkled on her ring finger. Her boyfriend, Finn Reardon, had popped the question last Valentine’s Day.
“Go on in,” she said, stepping aside. “I’m going to send Raina a text message to remind her we’re waiting, and then I’ll be right in.”
My envy level spiked a little as we walked through the door, still wishing this place was mine. Sunlight streamed through the windows, and dust particles danced in the beams. The house had been emptied of furniture and all that remained were the bare bones of the place and a few knickknacks like a clock that no longer worked, a fireplace poker and shovel, and an old footstool.
Although those bare bones were in need of a little TLC, they were . . . extraordinary. The scarred wooden floor, the original hand-carved mantel and fireplace surround. The built-in bookcases. A wide archway led through to the dining room, which had French doors opening to the spacious backyard.
“The ceiling needs a lot of work,” Cherise said, eyeing it critically.
It did. Water stains looked like rusty clouds. “You’ll need to find out where that water came from. My guess is the roof.”
“Undoubtedly. Did you see the rotting shingles?” She fanned herself with her hand. “Central air-conditioning would be nice, too,” she said, adding to the list.
It would. Saunalike, it was hot and humid in the house, and I longed to open the windows to let in some fresh air. Unfortunately, all the sashes had been painted shut. The single-paned windows were one more thing needing updating.
Cherise headed into the kitchen and looked around. “It’s beyond repair.”
Old cracked wooden cabinets hung from loose hinges. The white-tiled counter was stained, a lot of the tiles chipped. The linoleum flooring seemed to have been waxed with a layer of grease, which made footing slippery.
Cherise lifted a pale eyebrow. “What would you do in here?”
“Maple cabinets, bronze hardware, a light-colored granite countertop,” I said, lying through my teeth. I didn’t want Cherise to know what I’d do—it would be too painful to see it be built in someone else’s house. I’d enlarge the window above the kitchen sink, which I’d replace with one in a deep farmhouse style. Soft white cabinets, brushed nickel hardware, and a Carrara marble countertop.
She eyed me suspiciously, and I had the feeling she knew I was lying.
Finally she said, “I was thinking so, too. It would be lovely.”
As she headed for the staircase, Calliope came inside and glanced around. “It sure has potential, doesn’t it?”
“It does,” I said softly, trying to hide my longing as I admired the craftsmanship of the banister. “Any more offers come in?”
“A few,” Calliope said, trailing behind me as I climbed the steps. “The deadline is still tonight, however. Best and final.”
“Any hint of how high the bidding has gone?” I asked.
“Sorry. You know I can’t say.”
Pesky real estate rules.
Upstairs, Cherise wandered around the master bedroom, chatting with Calliope about the changes she’d like to make, including busting out a wall to add a balcony or a deck.
“Oh, and I’d love to knock this down”—Cherise motioned to the wall dividing the master from the second bedroom—“and create an expansive walk-in closet.” She strode across the room, to the adjoining bath. “Then I’d take out the existing walk-in closet and enlarge the bathroom.”
I walked over to the closet to see how much space it would add to the bath. Pulling open the door, I happily inhaled the scent of the cedar boards that lined the space. As I scooted far enough inside to grab the chain dangling from the light, I stepped in something wet and figured the roof had leaked in here, too. But as the light flashed on, I looked down to find I’d stepped in a large puddle of . . .
A little farther into the space, Raina’s body lay curled in a fetal position, her eyes wide and vacant. The blood had come from a gaping wound on the side of her head.
Instantly woozy, I stumbled backward, nearly knocking down Cherise and Calliope as they raced over to see what was going on. I leaned against the doorframe and concentrated on breathing deeply, trying not to pass out. I hated the sight of blood.
Calliope shoved her phone and binder at me and slapped her hands over her mouth. “I think I’m going to be sick.” She ran for the bathroom.
I knew the feeling.
Peeking through one eye, I saw Cherise move in for a closer look. She took hold of Raina’s wrist. Looking for a pulse.
Light-headed, I forced myself to look around, to take in the scene. Sunbeams glinted off a golden chain resting in Raina’s open palm, and I could see a flash of color from a gemstone amulet.
The hairs rose on the back of my neck again, and I took a closer look at the closet. A few of the cedar panels had been pried loose, but clear as day the letter A had been written in blood on one of the wooden boards.
Something wicked . . .
“Do you feel a pulse?” I whispered, not sure I could speak any louder if I tried.
Cherise shook her head and sadness filled her eyes. “We’re too late. Raina’s dead.”
“I need new shoes,” I said, staring down at my freshly scrubbed toes. The police had confiscated my sandals as evidence. “Maybe even new feet. Do you have a spell for that, Cherise?”
We sat side by side on As You Wish’s porch swing, watching a village police officer cordon off the street. It wasn’t Nick. He, as the chief of police, was inside the Tavistock house. A medical examiner’s team was on the way. The investigation into Raina’s death had begun.
The clothes I’d been wearing were now in the wash (with extra soap and hot water), and I’d changed into comfy khaki-colored linen pants and a light pink T-shirt.
“Shoes?” Cherise asked, her thin pale eyebrows raised in question.
With an oh-geez smile, she patted my hand. “No.”
Missy, my gray-and-white Schnoodle (half schnauzer, half mini poodle) lay between us, her head resting on my thigh. She flicked a glance upward at me, and I swore she was smiling, too.
I hadn’t been kidding.
“But the heebies . . .” I shuddered, easily imagining Raina’s blood on my feet even after washing them three times. It was like my own version of Lady Macbeth’s damned spot.
“Will pass,” Cherise assured.
Maybe. In a few days.
“You didn’t pass out,” she said brightly. “That’s something.”
It was. And I hadn’t tossed my cookies like poor Calliope, either.
My word. I was getting used to the sight of blood. Of seeing death. What has my life come to?
A colorful red, blue, and yellow blur swooped downward, circled, and landed gracefully on the porch railing, long gray talons clutching the wooden rail. Archie looked at Cherise. “‘The Grim Reaper’s visiting with you.’”
Horrified, Cherise jerked her head left, then right. Frantically, she said, “What?”
“Ha. Ha,” I said drolly, frowning at him as he laughed. I looked at Cherise. “It’s a quote from the movie Heat that Archie is using to compare me to the Grim Reaper. And it’s not the least bit funny.”
“Ah, right,” Cherise said. “Your movie quote competition.”
Archie and I had been playing a game of trying to stump each other with movie quote trivia since I had moved to the village. It usually made me smile. Not today.
“I’m tickled,” Archie said, an amused glint in his tiny eyes as he watched me. “And certainly you cannot deny you have an affinity for finding dead bodies, Darcy.”
“Affinity?” Cherise questioned.
“Affinity,” he stated firmly, stretching his wings out. From blue tip to blue tip, his wingspan was a few inches shy of four feet long.
I glared at him. “‘You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.’”
“You’re not even trying,” he accused. “The Princess Bride.”
I used my big toe to set the swing swaying. “It wasn’t meant to stump you,” I said testily as I rubbed Missy’s ears. “It was meant to demonstrate your need of a vocabulary lesson.” Affinity? No. There was nothing I enjoyed about finding dead bodies.
Investigating the crimes I didn’t mind so much, if I was being honest. But seeing death up close and personal? It was nothing short of . . . shocking.
His chest puffed, the scarlet feathers nearly standing on end. In his haughtiest voice, he exclaimed, “I beg your pardon!”
He did haughty well.
Pointedly lifting an eyebrow, I crossed my arms. “Consider it begged.”
With an exaggerated show of plumage, he flew over to Cherise’s side of the swing and perched on the armrest. His tail was so long it nearly touched the porch decking. In a loud stage whisper, he leaned in close to her ear and said, “Darcy’s in ill humor.”
“Can you blame her?” Cherise asked, using the same cheeky undertone. “After all, this is what? The third body she’s found in less than a year?”
“Fourth,” he corrected.
Actually, it was the fifth. I didn’t plan to correct them, however.
And that wasn’t counting all the incidental deaths I’d witnessed. Suspects who’d died. Friends who’d passed from natural causes. Murderers.
Good gosh. Maybe I was the Grim Reaper. It was a sobering thought—one I refused to voice. Archie was at his worst when he gloated. “Surely there must be someone else in the village you’d like to harass this morning.”
He cocked his head. “No. Starla, alas, is working and not running things over.”
Cherise chuckled. “It’s early yet. Give her time.”
I smiled despite myself. I wasn’t sure why—at thirty years old—Starla decided it was high time she learned how to drive. She’d gotten by just fine all this time, having lived in and around cities with public transit her whole life. As a Wishcrafter, she couldn’t legally get a license because of photo issues; however, like my sister, Harper, and me and Ve and every other Wishcrafter around, she already had a fake ID, procured through the black market. But suddenly she was determined. And her boyfriend, Vincent Paxton—madly in love with her and unaware of the dangers—took on the task. Exactly how she explained to him why she didn’t know how to drive but had a license I still didn’t know.
What I did know was that Vince was braver than I ever gave him credit for.
Over the past week, Starla had run over countless curbs, sideswiped a tree, and narrowly missed a fire hydrant. Her spatial issues needed work.
A lot of work.
“Besides,” Archie said, his tone shifting from snarky to imperious, “I come not only to harass, but to deliver a message.”
I set my foot flat on the porch, stopping the swing. Missy took advantage and leapt to the ground, hurrying over to the gate to get a better look at what was happening out on the street. Her tiny tail wiggled as she watched the comings and goings.
Shifting on the bench, I faced my feathered friend head-on. Archie’s missives usually came from one person only. The Elder. I, and many others, didn’t know her identity (it was top secret), but every Crafter knew Archie was her right-hand bird. “Is this about Raina’s murder?”
“It is indeed,” he said smugly.
Many months ago, the Elder had given me a job as an investigator. As a protective measure, I was to snoop into criminal offenses that involved elements of the Craft. It was imperative mortals did not learn of our heritage, as the last time it had been uncovered in Salem, it hadn’t ended so well for our ancestors.
It’s important for me to mention the Elder’s job offer hadn’t been an offer at all. It had been an order.
I was the Craft snoop whether I liked it or not.
Truthfully, I happened to like it. Snooping fed my nosy nature, and solving cases satisfied the fixer in me. I wanted to make everything right at all times. Justice for all. I was a sap that way.
Plus, I enjoyed working cases alongside Nick. Even though he’d grown up mortal, he knew of the witchy world through his ex-wife, Melina, a Wishcrafter. Through marriage Nick had become a Halfcrafter (half mortal, half witch), someone who learned everything about the Craft but had no powers. Knowing the ins and outs of our magical world allowed him to support his Wishcrafter daughter Mimi’s quest to discover more about her heritage. Also, as a Halfcrafter, he knew that around this village witch law outranked mortal rules.
Archie bowed. “The Elder relays you are now on the job. Raina’s case is yours.”
At his words a spark of excitement and a thrum of justice-driven urgency rushed through me. Since the moment I’d spotted her body lying at my feet, I wanted to know what had happened to Raina. She’d been a nice woman, and I couldn’t begin to fathom why someone would want to hurt her.
“Hot damn,” Cherise exclaimed. “Do you need a sidekick? I’m up for the job. I look great in a leather jumpsuit.”
Archie let out a wolf whistle.
I wanted to scrub my imagination as vigorously as I had my feet.
“I think Harper has first dibs.” My sister was one morbidly curious witch. Though she had no interest whatsoever in Wishcrafting, she geeked out over CSI.
Her boyfriend, Lawcrafter Marcus Debrowski, was currently out of town at some sort of law conference that sounded like a snooze to me. Harper, my fiercely independent little sister, had been moping since he left.
She’d fallen hard and fast for him, and though she once swore she’d never marry (I believe she mentioned the term “shackled for life”), I had the feeling she’d be revisiting that decision soon.
A crime scene was definitely going to lift her spirits, and she’d be bugging me for details in no time. And as much as I hated to admit it (because she was a notorious gloater), in the past she’d been helpful to my cases a time or two.
“Where are you going to start?” Cherise kicked the swing into motion again.
Missy trotted along the fence line as I glanced across the street, toward the village green.
Something wicked . . .
Andreus Woodshall was a Charmcrafter who crafted amulets.
Was it merely a coincidence there had been an amulet in Raina’s hand?
And the letter A written in blood on the wall?
Possibly, but I didn’t think so.
It creeped me out to know I was going to have to track him down and talk with him. Talk about heebies.
“I don’t know,” I said, trying to avoid bringing up Andreus’s name at this point. “I’ll probably start with Nick.”
Cherise grinned and elbowed me gently. “Well, sure. If I were you, I’d start there, linger, and go back for seconds.”
Archie woefully said, “Likewise.”
Even as I rolled my eyes, I couldn’t stop an embarrassed flush from climbing my neck. As my cheeks heated, I had to (silently) admit lingering with Nick was nothing short of amazing.
Yes, working with him was definitely a bonus.
It completely made up for the lack of salary with the snoop job.
“Kent is another good place to start,” Cherise suggested. “Though he isn’t nearly as alluring as Nick, aren’t spouses the usual suspects?”
Kent Gallagher. “How long had he and Raina been married?”
Archie tipped his head, beak to the sky, as he pondered. “Nearly seven years, I believe.”
Kent and Raina had been a handsome couple, both in their mid-thirties with magnetic personalities. I knew Raina was a Vitacrafter, but wasn’t sure about Kent so I asked.
“A mortal,” Cherise answered.
I raised an eyebrow. “Does he know about the Craft?”
“Clueless,” she said. “Raina didn’t want to lose her ability to read clients, so she kept it from him.”
When a Crafter married a mortal, they had two options. To tell or not to tell. In telling, the Crafter forfeited all powers, but children conceived through the union would inherit their magical abilities (as had happened with Nick and Melina). Not telling led to living a life of subterfuge. Lies upon lies. It made for a shaky foundation and most marriages in this vein didn’t last long.
So knowing Kent and Raina had been married seven years told me one thing of particular importance.
Raina was an excellent liar.
My gaze shifted to movement in the street. The police officer who’d strung the tape moved it aside to let the medical examiner’s van pass. It crept down the road and stopped in front of Terry’s house.
The officer in the street was new to the force, replacing my nemesis Glinda Hansel, who’d resigned her position in January under reprehensible circumstances. We’d done our best to stay out of each other’s way around the village, but with its size, total avoidance was impossible.
Only last week I’d bumped into her at the Crone’s Cupboard, our local grocery store. Awkward didn’t begin to cover it. As far as I knew she’d moved on from her crush on Nick and her obsession with me, and was happily making a living using her Broomcrafting talents. I was beyond grateful she wouldn’t be assigned to this case.
Bumping into her occasionally, though uncomfortable, was a coexistence I could deal with.
Working side by side with her was . . . not.
“Do you know if Kent and Raina were having any marriage trouble?” I asked, trying to push thoughts of Glinda out of my head. They tended to make me irritable.
“I haven’t heard a peep,” Cherise said. She glanced at Archie. “You?”
“It seems there was something.” Tapping his chin with a wing, he was silent for a moment, obviously concentrating. Suddenly, his head came up and his eyes brightened. “Yes, yes. A week or two ago, I witnessed them arguing in front of Spellbound.”
“About?” Cherise asked.
“Too far to eavesdrop properly,” he said, clearly disappointed by the fact. It was one of his favorite pastimes. “Kent was doing most of the shouting, and Raina looked most displeased indeed.”
Across the green, I could barely see the awning of my sister’s bookshop, Spellbound, through the trees. Had she overheard the argument? Knowing her, she probably had—nosiness was a family trait.
I didn’t find it unusual that Raina and Kent had been fighting—most couples did. Especially when one of them was trying to hide her witchy heritage. However, most couples didn’t usually fight so publicly, especially when business appearances counted a great deal in the real estate profession.
I quickly decided that after checking in with Nick, I’d talk with Harper. And maybe in a day . . . or five . . . I’d go looking for Andreus.
Missy let out a happy yip, and I looked up to find Ve charging toward the gate, a long roll of bulky plastic in her arms. Color had settled high on her plump cheeks, and her coppery hair was coming loose of its twist.
“What a hullaballoo!” she said when she spotted us. “I heard about poor Raina Gallagher. Dear, dear thing.”
By her mellow reaction, I figured she hadn’t yet heard that Cherise and I had been the ones to find the body. Otherwise, Ve would be peppering us with questions with relentless focus.
Harper had inherited her morbid curiosity straight from our aunt.
I hopped off the swing to open the gate for Ve, enjoying the feel of soft grass under my bare feet. Much better than the heebie-inducing phantom blood feeling. “What’s that?” I asked, nodding toward the plastic roll.
Ve’s golden blue eyes flashed with excitement. Shifting the bundle, she bent to pet Missy’s head. “My new election sign and campaign slogan. Want to see?”
“Of course,” I said. It was a nice distraction.
With a flourish, Ve unrolled the sign across the lawn. The theme (patriotic with red, white, and blue lettering) was immediately obvious, but the slogan was another story, as it was upside down.
“Oh dear,” Ve murmured, quickly making adjustments. “There.”
A VOTE FOR VE IS A VOTE FOR YE.
Laughing, she clapped her hands. “Isn’t it fabulous? It’s terrible enough to be memorable and cheesy enough to be fun. Like me.”
Coming down the steps, Cherise deadpanned, “Terrible and cheesy?”
Ve flicked her friend an annoyed glance. “Memorable and fun.”
I glanced between the two of them. Though they’d been friends for years there was always an undercurrent of something beneath the affection. Competitiveness, maybe.
“I like it,” I said of the banner.
Missy barked as though agreeing with me.
Personally, I felt as though Ve didn’t need any signage at all. She had most voters on her side. Not many around here wanted expansion, fearing it would destroy the village’s quaintness.
Archie swooped down to the grass for a closer look. “I feel the usage of ye is sadly lacking in modern day vernacular. I approve.”
“Thank you, Archibald,” Ve said, patting his head. “I’ll be glad when this election is over and done with.”
Me, too. Ve had been running mostly on adrenaline these past few weeks, and I was having trouble picking up the slack with As You Wish. I’d actually had to turn away a few requests this past week.
As a personal concierge service, we were in the business of assisting clients with anything and everything. From house-hunting to housecleaning. From planning parties to gift shopping. Due to the name of the business, a lot of times clients simply wished flat-out for what they wanted done. That was when my job was easy, because I could use my talents as a Wishcrafter. A simple spell later, and the task was complete. It was when no wish was made that it became fun and exhausting, fulfilling, and time-consuming.
Running the company wasn’t something I was comfortable doing on my own, and it made me wonder what would happen if Ve won the election. Could she juggle both jobs?
“My lovely ladies, I must bid farewell,” Archie said, bending into a deep bow. “I have conversations which to overhear at the Tavistock house.”
“You’ll fill me in later, right?” I asked.
He cleared his throat and said, “‘Get used to disappointment.’” He lifted off.
“Are you throwing The Princess Bride back at me?” I called after him as he circled above. “The nerve. The gall. The . . .” I searched my brain for more overdramatic barbs.
“If the gibe fits!” His laughter resonated as he quickly disappeared over Terry’s rooftop.
Ve glanced at me, humor wrinkling the corners of her eyes. “You two might be spending too much time together.”
It was entirely possible.
“How do you remember all those quotes?” Cherise asked.
I shrugged and plucked a dandelion from the lawn. “Good memory.” I didn’t mention all the hours I’d spent watching movies while growing up and during my bad marriage. Some things were better left unsaid.
“Amazing,” she murmured.
“Now tell me, Cherise,” Ve said as she crouched to roll up her sign. “This business with Raina. What’s to happen with the sale of the Tavistock house? There was a deadline for tonight, correct?” She winced. “Bad choice of words, considering . . .”
“We don’t know.” Cherise looked crestfallen. “I don’t exactly want to contact Kent right now to inquire.”
Ve looked upward, assessing her friend. “Do you really still want to live there after someone was killed inside?”
“Oh, that doesn’t bother me,” Cherise said, waving a hand in dismissal. “A cleansing spell or two and the place will be good as new. Would it bother you?”
Ve shrugged. “Maybe. Darcy?”
“I’m with Cherise on this one. After a cleansing spell . . . and hiring a good cleaning company, I’d be fine.” I’d learned to accept a lot about death over the course of the past year. I wasn’t afraid of it. Killers, yes. Death, no.
The blood, however, had to go.
Ve nodded thoughtfully. “A cleaning crew is a must.”
Cherise said, “I suspect the murder won’t take away from the home’s appeal. Those interested will still be interested. The house’s location really can’t be beat.”
Ve stopped rolling the banner. Suspicion clouded her eyes. “Because it’s next door to Terry?”
I glanced over at Terry’s place and saw him peeking out the window again. He might actually be nosier than I was. Which was saying something.
His startling likeness to Elvis was one of the reasons why he was so reclusive. Any time he emerged, he was overwhelmed by tourists convinced he was in fact the remarkably well-preserved King of Rock and Roll who had simply been hiding out all these years.
Cherise laughed, but I would swear I saw a smidgen of guilt in her eyes as she said, “Don’t be silly. For my home-based business.”
Interesting. Was Cherise looking to steal Terry? It wasn’t all that preposterous, considering it had happened before. . . .
Slowly, Ve stood, giving Cherise a long once-over. “Uh-huh.”
Cherise gave her a little shove. “Stop with you now.”
The more she denied, the more I wondered if Ve had hit on something.
Unblinking, Cherise smiled broadly. Finally, she said, “Oh, look. Kent Gallagher’s coming this way.” She quickly rushed past us to the gate, clutching the picket like a lifeline.
Kent’s arrival was good timing for her. A perfect change of subject.
Ve slid me a curious look. I shrugged.
With our blatant nosiness on full display, we lined up to watch Kent, dressed in a fancy suit, as he walked across the green toward the Tavistock place. Even Missy had her gaze set on him.
I was a bit surprised to see the little dog still in the yard. She was a notorious escape artist, and I’d become accustomed to her disappearing in the blink of an eye. Yet she always returned home. In the past week, she’d escaped twice and was found by Scott Whiting both times. It seemed the little dog had a crush on the TV producer. It was only a matter of time before she got loose again.
Missy glanced up at me as though sensing what I was thinking. She blinked innocently, then turned her attention back to the street.
“Kent doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry, does he?” Ve pointed out, a judgmental eyebrow raised.
No, he didn’t.
“Is he . . . skipping?” Cherise asked, heavy disapproval in her low tone.
It sure looked like he had a kick in his wing-tipped step.
Joining in on the judgment, I narrowed my gaze on him. As he dipped his sage green tweed flat cap at someone passing by, I noted he didn’t look all that distraught. No concern. No tears. No . . . torment.
It baffled me. If someone had just told me Nick had died, I’d no doubt fall instantly to pieces. The thought alone sent anxiety coursing through my veins.
But Kent Gallagher?
He certainly didn’t appear to be a grieving widower.
As we continued to watch Kent stroll toward the Tavistock house, a sudden chill went through me, once again raising goose bumps on my arms. I rubbed the pebbled skin and couldn’t shake the feeling I was being watched.
I knew this feeling.
I’d experienced it before. Last summer. When Charmcrafter Andreus Woodshall had stalked me, hoping I’d lead him to a missing magical amulet he wanted desperately. The amulet would have granted him unlimited wishes. Anything and everything.
With senses heightened, I glanced around.
Sure enough, Andreus Woodshall, not so fondly known as Mr. Macabre, leaned against a birch tree on the village green. His thin frame blended in with the multiple trunks, making it seem as though he was just another limb.
A dark, dangerous one.
“What’s wrong, Darcy dear?” Aunt Ve asked.
“Look.” Using my chin, I motioned toward the birch.
Pushing fifty years old, Andreus was tall with a dignified air, but he was a man of two faces.
In light, he was handsome. Debonair with his silver-streaked dark hair slicked back into a modern pompadour. Dark soulful eyes. Dignified. Regal.
In darkness, his appearance morphed into something evil. Sinister. Malevolent eyes. A malicious countenance.
Currently, the tree’s leafy canopy cast Andreus’s face in shadow, giving him an eerie, evil look.
Not for the first time he reminded me of Dracula.
He gave us a curt nod of recognition, then turned and strode away.
“I hadn’t realized he’d arrived in town already,” Cherise said.
Ve fussed with her banner. “I saw him two days ago at the Witch’s Brew, so he’s been here for a few days at least.”
“Perhaps he was indeed your source of foreboding earlier, Darcy,” Cherise said.
“Foreboding?” Ve questioned, turning her attention toward me.
I explained the uneasiness I’d felt this morning. The wickedness. After finding Raina’s body, I attributed my feelings to the murder, not Andreus.
But now I suspected the two were somehow connected.
It was a theory I had planned to keep to myself, but after seeing Andreus standing there, watching us, I couldn’t help but share my thoughts.
“But,” I said, after voicing my concerns, “what does Andreus have to do with Raina? I don’t know of a connection, do either of you?”